DNA could illuminate Islam's lineage



For almost 1,600 years, the title Sharif, Sayyed, or Habib has been bestowed on Muslims who have been able to trace their roots back to the Prophet Mohammed through intricate family trees, oral histories and genealogical records. But now an American DNA lab says it may have identified the DNA signature of descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and perhaps the prospect of a direct, more accurate means of confirming or identifying such a connection.

Family Tree DNA, a genealogy and genetics-testing company in Houston, Texas, says it made the discovery after several clients, reputed by oral family histories and some supporting documentation to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed, asked to have their paternal DNA sequences mapped."With these various samples, we were able to identify an overlapping signature in their DNA, a common thread for all of them, which is their genetic lineage from the Prophet, if their oral tradition is accurate," said Bennett Greenspan, chief executive of Family Tree DNA, which is said to have amassed one of the largest DNA databases in the world.

The company declined to identify any of the men on the grounds of client privacy, but Mr Greenspan said "several samples came from men in different parts of the Arab world".Genetic testing can trace the maternal or paternal line by mapping the DNA in the sex chromosome passed on by parents. The father passes on the Y chromosome to his son and the mother her X chromosome, so only male descendants can trace both their patriarchal and matriarchal lineage. Female descendants, possessing two X chromosomes, can test only their matriarchal lineage, also known as mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA.

In recent years there have been many projects attempting to identify the DNA signatures of famous people, tribes and populations that inhabit specific regions - sometimes with surprising results.In 2003 a group of international geneticists found that eight per cent of men in what used to be the Mongolian Empire were descended from Genghis Khan. According to a ground-breaking paper in The American Journal of Human Genetics in 2003, this meant there were no fewer than 16 million descendants of the 12th-century ruler living today.

The DNA signature of Marie Antoinette is also said to have been determined, meaning anyone suspecting a genetic link to the former queen of France can confirm their royal roots by testing their mtDNA.Such analysis can create controversy. When the DNA signature of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was isolated, it appeared to give credence to the theory that Jefferson, revered as one of the America's founding fathers, had fathered a child with his slave, Sally Hemmings.

But it could not be confirmed beyond a doubt because although Eston Hemmings, the child of the slave, shared the same Y chromosomal DNA as Jefferson, he could have been the offspring of any of Jefferson's male relatives living in Virginia at the time.The Prophet Mohammed had no surviving sons but his daughter Fatima married her paternal second cousin, Ali, producing two grandsons: Hassan and Hussein. Both have a traceable line of male descendants.

Because Ali and the Prophet Mohammed share the same grandfather, their paternal DNA is identical.Descendants can confirm their lineage when they reflect similar patterns. Most Islamic scholars agree there is nothing objectionable about testing individual DNA - and countries such as the UAE encourage DNA use in criminal forensics - but there are complex rulings when it comes to using DNA in court for establishing lineage.

According to the Kuwait-based Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences, a forum where scholars meet regularly to discuss scientific and medical ethics in Islam, the use of DNA is permissible in certain cases."A mechanism called qiyafah, similar to an expert witness, existed at the time of the Prophet," said Sheikh Musa Furber, a scholar in Islamic law at the Abu Dhabi-based Tabah Foundation. "The Prophet would send the people to an expert who can look at overall physical resemblance to deduce who might be the father. Today, instead of qiyafah, we should consider DNA testing."

But Islamic courts do not accept DNA evidence in establishing the paternity of a child born in wedlock, as the law typically considers the mother's husband to be the father, assuming she was not pregnant when married. There is another issue that arises in the Islamic tradition when using DNA to establish lineage: "Lineage, or nasab, in Islamic law assumes lawful intercourse," Sheikh Musa said. "But since a DNA test cannot prove lawful intercourse, it cannot stand as proof of lineage from a legal perspective."

There are a few privately funded lineage projects in the region, such as the Arab DNA Project and the Arab J1e Y-DNA Project. The former is an online public forum with chat rooms and shared information for Arab men and women interested in their genetic lineage. The J1e project, accessible through the website of Family Tree DNA (at www.familytreedna.com) is more specialised. It is a forum for men whose Y chromosome belongs to the J1e haplogroup, a genetic grouping of Semitic tribes.

J1e is the genetic signature of the Hashemites, a clan to which the Prophet Mohammed belonged. The current King of Jordan, Abdullah II, is a Hashemite descendant, and one of the better-known living descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.Just how many will test their own DNA to find a link remains to be seen, officials say. "When it comes to the Prophet, I'd rather live in doubt than receive certainty that I'm not related to him," said Sheikh Furber.

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888


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