The Seed & the Soil

A weirdly strange notion about human procreation – that a child’s identity is derived exclusively from its father – is given wide-spread credence throughout the Middle East. The consequences are tragic, infinitely cruel and extremely bloody …..

….. editorial by Paul D Kennedy

The concept of the seed and the soil is the idea that during sexual intercourse the man plants his seed in the soil of the woman which then nurtures his seed. Only the man’s seed contains the essence of the child and all the woman’s soil does is provide sustenance for the embryo as it grows. This notion is the basis of an extreme form of patrilineage that is prevalent throughout the Middle East.

The seed and soil view of procreation is accepted as fact almost universally throughout the region by members of all religions – Sunni and Shia Muslims, native Christians of all denominations, Zoroastrians, orthodox Jews, Yezidis, and so on – even though it is not mentioned directly in any of the holy books of these religions.

And it is not just the ignorant who believe in this ludicrous idea. Though the concept contradicts the most basic notions of genetics, it is given credence at all educational levels, even by scientists and other professionals who have been educated in the West, be they Arabs, Kurds or Persians, a credence that is reflected in local mores and laws.

Why Middle Easterners should choose to believe in this unscientific notion so firmly I have no idea. It is certainly strange because they, Arabs in particular, are famous for their animal husbandry and breeding skills, so they must realize that offspring inherit characteristics from both parents.

The answer may be that when a concept is deeply ingrained in the mind, evidence to the contrary, no matter how strong, is either ignored or inventively explained away. When asked why a particular child seems to take after its mother, the stock answer is that the father produced weak seed that was not able to fend off ‘corruption’ seeping from the soil during gestation.

The matter is never discussed above a whisper, of course, because to do so would be to ridicule the man’s manhood and cause grievous offence.

However, whatever the reason for the belief in the seed and the soil notion, the result is an extreme form of patrilineage in which a child’s identity depends exclusively on its father, ie a child’s family and ethnic identity, religious identity and social standing come solely from his or her father. The mother is considered as contributing nothing to an infant’s physical or cultural identity whatsoever.

Some of the consequences of this extreme form of patrilineage can be seen in the legal rules that govern citizenship in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. In Kuwait, for example, the children of a Kuwaiti man married to a foreign woman are automatically granted Kuwaiti citizenship even when they are born overseas. However the children of a Kuwaiti woman married to a non-Kuwaiti man have no right to Kuwaiti citizenship even if they were born in Kuwait.

The concept of the seed and the soil has deadlier results than a denial of citizenship. Did you ever wonder why rape is used so extensively in the Middle East during times of war? And have you ever thought why, in these sectarian wars, when houses and villages are attacked, the majority of those killed are men, not women?

In the Middle East when a man from one tribe or religion rapes a woman from another tribe or religion, he is seen as planting, in her womb, an enemy who will emerge nine months later. Even if the child is reared as a member of the mother’s family, the expectation is that eventually his or her true identity will emerge and the child will betray the host tribe. No group in the Middle East will take a chance on that happening.

The victim of rape and her family are presented with a stark choice – they must choose between rearing an enemy child and killing one of their own – and the result usually is that the violence of rape is compounded by an honour killing. The killing is carried out by a member of the woman’s tribe, usually her father or a brother. In the few cases where this does not happen, the woman may kill herself in a form of honour suicide to preserve the safety of her family or tribe.

The same concept also requires that enemy males, the bearer of seeds which once sowed would strengthen the enemy group, must be killed. So it’s not just the men who are old enough to fight who are killed in these sectarian wars but also the young boys who will have, once they mature, the power to produce more members of the enemy tribe or sect.

These two staggeringly cruel consequences of the ludicrous seed and soil notion come together when a man is forced to watch as his wife and daughter are raped and his sons killed before he himself is killed. The man dies knowing that his line is ended and that those of his family who survive will probably be rearing enemy children.

This happened many times during the Lebanese civil war as sectarian groups sought to extend their power by eliminating the leading families in rival sects.


 Copyright © June 2008 Paul D Kennedy

Reprint and distribution rights: You may print and distribute this article as long as you print the entire article and you do not edit it in any way, and include the copyright statement, the about-the-writer information and all website addresses. You may also distribute this article on the Internet subject to the same conditions and provided you keep all links active.

About the writer: Paul D Kennedy (http://www. is a business consultant and writer with extensive experience in the Middle East. A short-story prize winner, he was the founding editor of Kuwait this month. His book Doing Business with Kuwait (Kogan Page, London, 1997 and 2004) is the definite guide to that country. Paul’s Arabic Tales for the young and the curious (, his’s recreation of Arab folk myths, is available on Amazon. Paul D Kennedy offers writing services to solve corporate writing challenges and imbue business communications with clarity, impact and persuasiveness at

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