Muslim DNA in northern India
Genetic studies have suggested that Muslims in northern India are mostly descendants of local people who embraced Islam rather than repositories of foreign DNA deposited by waves of invaders.
The studies by scientists in India, Spain and the US indicate that while the Shias and the Sunnis in Uttar Pradesh are mostly descendants of converts, the former have some elements of paternal foreign ancestry.
But overall, the Shias and the Sunnis in Uttar Pradesh display higher genetic affinity to northern Indian caste populations than to western or central Asian populations.
The findings, based on the analysis of genetic material from 60 Sunni and 59 Shia volunteers, will appear in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
The researchers say their studies are the first to test two ideas on the ancestry of northern Indian Muslims — they may be descendants of local people who converted to Islam, or they may represent bloodlines of Muslims who arrived in several waves between the 8th and 14th centuries.
“Our results point to conversions in both groups, but greater foreign ancestry in the Shias,” said Suraksha Agrawal, a team member and head of medical genetics at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow.
Agrawal has tried to piece together maternal and paternal lineage of Muslims by analysing genetic material called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is acquired only from mothers, and Y chromosome, which is passed down only by fathers.
“In the mtDNA, we do not see discrete signals from outside India,” Rene J. Herrera, a biologist at Florida International University in the US and one of the collaborators, said. “Thus, both are, for the most part, descendants from local caste groups,” he told The Telegraph.
However, the Shias do show some signatures of foreign DNA from southwest Asia and North Africa in the Y chromosome, Herrera said.
“Until now, there has been no genetic study to explore the historical extrapolations of Muslim ancestry in India,” Herrera added. “History can get contaminated over time. But DNA does not lie.”
Indian Muslims are descendants of locals, says scientific study