When an artist stares into the blankness of his white canvas, every stroke he makes will have an impact on generations to come. This can be likened to the way our DNA is embedded into our physical features differently due to different factors in our environment, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. The changes in the way our DNA is embedded into our physical characteristics can have an impact on our future generation, as DNA is passed down to our progeny. The artist in this case, however, is the desire man has to smoke, drink or impose unnecessary stresses upon himself which causes our clean canvas to alter.
Has mankind been provided the guidance it needs to steer clear of the dangers that are disguised as the joys of culture? Is the obedience of the commandments of Allah the key to keeping our DNA untouched by unrighteous conduct?
The creation of Allah is an awe inspiring sight, such as the intricacy of the eye, the perfection of the muscles and how they are reproduced and regenerated, to the transport of gasses around the body, to supply respiring tissues with oxygen for their respiration. However, when we delve deeper into the realm of the microscopic we see that Allah has created DNA, which is the primary source of many of the physical features, that we can observe the effects of today. Allah is our Creator, so surely He must be the Protector of our DNA, because in Al-Baqarah Chapter 2, Verse 108 Allah says: “And there is no protector or helper for you beside Allah”. Throughout this treatise I will present to you the beautiful way in which Allah has protected us from genetic ruin and prognostic harm to our children.
First, let us look at the structure of DNA. It consists of many molecules called nucleotides which are joined together. When many nucleotides join together they form a poly-nucleotide which can be seen as a string of molecules. A single nucleotide contains 1 of 4 nitrogenous bases; A, T, C or G.
DNA has a 3D double helix structure. This is due to two of these poly-nucleotide chains joining together and being twisted around to form a double helix.
The two poly-nucleotides join together through the formation of bonds between the bases. A bonds with T, and G bonds with C. These are called base pairs.
As we can see, the structure of DNA is very complex, but it is essential to understand in order to appreciate certain processes that DNA undergoes.
DNA has many functions. DNA is a hereditary material, meaning that it is responsible for passing genetic information from generation to generation. Sometimes a base can get changed or mutated which could cause a change in the physical appearance of the offspring who receives the mutated form of that portion of DNA. These changes can range from a different eye colour to developing diseases like breast cancer, which is caused by the mutated proto-oncogene (the gene that codes for the protein that regulates the growth of cells)
Let’s face the inevitable; the DNA strand has always been and always will be prone to changes to the way the genetic information contained in a gene is expressed into physical characteristics. In a nutshell, this is due to changes to the exterior structure of a specific gene; a gene is a section of DNA which consists of a sequence of bases that will produce a specific protein dependent on the sequence of the bases.
For example ‘AGT-GCT-CTA’ could produce a protein that is essential in the immune system of the DNA. These changes are heritable which means that whatever changes happen to the gene of a parent could possibly be passed on to the children. Welcome to the weird world of epigenetics.
Epigenetics literally means ‘on top of genetics’. This would start to become clearer once you progress through the article. If we delve into the causes behind these changes to the expression of a gene, we see that it is caused by different factors in our environment that have an effect on the body, such as smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol and other lifestyle choices. In order to visualise how these changes to gene expression occur, let’s use an example of a molecule called an ‘epigenetic marker’.
Increased Methylation of DNA Architecture
A methyl group (-CH3 a molecule containing 1 carbon atom bonded to 3 hydrogen atoms) is an epigenetic marker that attaches between the sequence of bases on a DNA strand. In a situation where there is an increase in the attachment of methyl groups (increased methylation), it alters the structure of the DNA in such a way that transcriptional machinery (enzymes involved in converting the base sequence of a gene to a protein) cannot bind to the gene to convert it. This means that the gene can no longer be translated into the protein it was coded to produce. This results in the gene being ‘switched off’.
The theory of this science does not sound daunting but it is the effects of these epigenetic changes that cause one to worry.
Everywhere we look in the world we see people losing their lives to smoking, alcohol and simply overeating. 19% of cancer cases are linked to exposure to tobacco smoke, which makes it the single biggest avoidable cause of cancer. As I have mentioned before, smoking can be responsible for changes to how genes are expressed (whether they are switched on or off). These changes can be tracked to being a possible cause of cancer.
Cancer is when your cells uncontrollably reproduce which may result in a tumour. In the worst case scenario the tumour would be malignant which means it can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.
The two genes involved in the control of cell division are proto-oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes. Do not feel overwhelmed by these long names; they are like any other gene, except with their own function. When proto-oncogenes function normally they stimulate cell division by producing certain proteins. And when tumour suppressor genes
function normally they slow the process of cell division by also producing certain proteins that stimulate this retardation. However, when a tumour suppressor gene becomes hyper-methylated (increased methylation) the tumour suppressor protein can no longer be produced as the transcriptional machinery cannot access the genes bases. This means that cells are able to divide uncontrollably which could result in the development of tumours.
The case is similar to the methylation of proto-oncogenes, except this is hypomethylation (decreased methylation). When the proto-oncogenes become hypo-methylated, it causes them to act as oncogenes (mutated form of proto-oncogenes) releasing more proto-oncoproteins than it normally does, meaning it stimulates uncontrollable cell division which causes tumours. This clearly emphasizes the danger of tobacco and how it should be avoided for the sake of good health.
God says in the Qur’an, “Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.” (Chapter 2 Verse 172). Guidance has been given to us and we must obey. Be it eating healthily or refraining from inhaling substances, the Qur’an’s glory is being ever exalted, when scientific research shows the reasons behind the guidance; it shows that the Qur’an is inlaid with beauties which we will never stop finding.
If we obey the simple commandment of Allah in eating the things that are good from what He has provided for us, the chances that our DNA would be affected by malicious heredity changes would decrease.
On the guidance given in the Qur’an, the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" gives a very beautiful direction on the matter of genetics as discussed throughout this article.
الشقی من شقی فی بطن امه و السعید من سعد فی بطنھا
“The misfortune one is who became unfortunate in the womb and the happy one is the one who became happy in the womb.”
This is a hadith full of wisdom and is clearly divinely guided. 1400 years ago in an age where scientific research was aimed at the heavens, before any inclination into the microscopic verities of the human body, a clear warning to the way we live our lives is given, and how it can have an effect on our children.
Aforementioned is how environmental factors can be a cause of changes to the way certain genes are expressed. We can, no doubt assert ourselves as the ‘cause’, as in, the one that causes the environmental factors to have an effect on the expression of our genes. The ‘effect’ on the expression of a certain gene can be seen in our offspring. This theme of cause and effect is evident in the above hadith, that the cause of the ‘misfortune’ in question can manifest itself as an unfortunate effect in the offspring borne from the womb.
The Arabic word ‘shaqi’ from the hadith could also mean someone who is misguided, or someone who has gone astray, just like ‘dhaaleen’ means those who are astray. This clearly points to the fact that those who are spiritually and physically ill, these features would be manifest in the offspring of the womb. Be it genetic information for an environmentally caused disease or that the parent is not on the path of Allah, which means that the offspring would also be raised in this mind set.
The research into epigenetics is new and slowly creeping and weaving its way into the newspapers. Ground breaking research into the effect on the offspring bears the banner of the hadith high and proud.
In an article published in Scientific American called ‘Traces of Genetic Trauma Can Be Tweaked’, Isabelle Mansuy, professor of neuroepigenetics at the University of Zurich researched into how a traumatic experience in the life of a mother or father can have a negative psychological effect on the offspring. This is due to epigenetic changes to the DNA being passed to the offspring. But this can be reversed if, after the traumatic experience, the parent experiences a positive environment. This can lead to the epigenetic markers being corrected in the sperm cells meaning the offspring will not suffer from the trauma of its parents.
This piece of research can be derived from the aforesaid hadith, that the unfortunate foetus is unfortunate in terms of their emotional well-being, due to the trauma that may have occurred in the mother or father’s life. This environmental factor could have caused a change in the expression of a particular gene, which led to the inheritance in the offspring. And the fact that before fertilisation, the changes to the DNA can be reversed meaning the zygote that starts to grow in the womb is free of any harm from the trauma. Thus the happy or fortunate one has, scientifically, been made happy in the womb. Because the correction of the epigenetic markers has happened before fertilisation has taken place.
1% Of Epigenetics
1% of epigenetic tags (methyl and acetyl groups are examples of epigenetic markers) on our DNA can pass directly to our offspring. For instance, a group of children conceived during the Netherlands’ desperate wartime famine of 1944-45 tended themselves to have smaller-than-usual offspring. This suggests that what men and women eat and smoke, and what toxins and traumas they are exposed to, can affect their children, but in this case it is the lack of food during the unfortunate famine of 1944-45.
Furthermore, in the Qur’an, Allah the Almighty says:
“From a sperm-drop! He created and proportions him”Chapter 80 Verse 20
This shows that at the point of fertilisation, the DNA of the child has been set forth, their genetic features and in some cases, their genetic diseases have been made clear for the rest of their lives. Allah describes them to be destined from the sperm drop which He has created. This can be due to the lifestyle that their parents chose to lead, so at the point of fertilisation their genetic details become manifest in the zygote.
In chapter 36, verse 13 of the Holy Qur’an Allah states:
“We write down that which they send forward and that which they leave behind; and all things We have recorded in a clear Book”
The possible implication on our progeny due to epigenetic changes to our DNA is noted by Allah, for Allah has knowledge over everything. In this verse it is described as what ‘they send forward’ as in the DNA that they pass down to their generations which may be harmful to the health or well-being of the inheritor. Some reasons why preventable genetic problems present in some offspring may be due to disobeying commandments of Allah by smoking or drinking alcohol. Allah records the choices we make in our lives, so be weary of Allah’s commandments.
This all bears testimony to the true, complete and living religion of Islam. The fact that 1400 years ago light was shed upon intricate scientific theories which are all contained in the Holy Qur’an, these scientific theories have now become predominant pieces of research that students, scientists and institutions spend their lifetime conducting.
The guidance has been given and it is up to mankind to choose whether to accept it or not. All reliance and trust should be put into Allah for He has set the code as to how we can live a righteous life. Every piece of guidance is in the Qur’an. If we listen and obey the commandments of Almighty Allah our spiritual state would climb ever closer to our Exalted Creator. Eating healthily and refraining from tobacco and alcohol as commanded by Allah would instil the essence of righteousness within us, in turn it will improve our physical health which then will improve our spiritual state in the eyes of Allah. This shows that one’s physical state and soul have a relationship with each other. Our beloved Imam of the age states in ‘Philosophy of the teachings of Islam’:
“The soul is affected by physical conduct, in the same way sometimes the soul affects the body. For instance, when a person experiences sorrow his eyes become wet, and a person who feels happy, smiles. All our natural actions like eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, moving about, resting, bathing etc., affect our spiritual condition.”
This is a beautiful explanation as to how our soul and our physical conduct are interconnected.
Thus the science has been set out for you. The word of Allah has been presented before you. If we do not grab tightly, with pure sincerity to the rope of salvation from Allah, surely our souls would fall to ruin through subsiding to the temptations that are scattered all around us, even if we perceive it not, Allah is the Knower of all things. Surely, obedience to Allah will allow us to maintain the pure canvas that Allah has set within us all, so that our progenies will be safe from genetic harms for generations to come.
“And there is no protector or helper for you beside Allah”The Holy Quran (2:108)