Y chromosomes of self-identified Syeds from the Indian subcontinent show evidence of elevated Arab ancestry but not of a recent common patrilineal origin
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Several cultural or religious groups claim descent from a common ancestor. The extent to which this claimed ancestry is real or socially constructed can be assessed by means of genetic studies. Syed is a common honorific title given to male Muslims belonging to certain families claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his grandsons Hassan and Hussein, who lived 1,400 years ago and were the sons of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. If all Syeds really are in direct descent from Hassan and Hussein, we would expect the Y chromosomes of Syeds to be less diverse than those of non-Syeds. Outside the Arab world, we would also expect to find that Syeds share Y chromosomes with Arab populations to a greater extent than they do with their non-Syed geographic neighbours. In this study, we found that the Y chromosomes of self-identified Syeds from India and Pakistan are no less diverse than those non-Syeds from the same regions, suggesting that there is no biological basis to the belief that self-identified Syeds in this part of the world share a recent common ancestry. In addition to Syeds, we also considered members of other hereditary Muslim lineages, which either claim descent from the tribe or family of Muhammad or from the residents of Medinah. Here, we found that these lineages showed greater affinity to geographically distant Arab populations, than to their neighbours from the Indian subcontinent, who do not belong to an Islamic honorific lineage.
KeywordsPatrilineality STR Islam Human Population Genetics
For the collection of comparison data, we would like to thank Neil Bradman, Steve Jones, Leila Nadjiba Laredj, Erik Jelinek, Mohamed Farouk Elamin and Pat Smith. We would also like to thank Zahid Parvez and the Muslim Council of Britain for their comments and advice on the manuscript, and the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity (CECD) for supporting this research.
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