The debate on destiny (Taqdeer) and the ability of a person to change it has been going on for ever. We, as Muslims, believe that our fate or destiny has been written by Almighty Allah, but how much God has empowered us to define our own destiny is always debatable. Religious leaders, philosophers and poets all have touched this subject from all sorts of angles but, for some, a clear and convincible picture is not there.
In the last half a century science has progressed tremendously and has come up with knowledge on a molecular level on how things work in the world and more interestingly in our body. Science is coming up with details on the primary force which has been controlling our lives, how individual traits are transferred from one generation to the other and if we have any control on some of these aspects. Can we look at the subject of destiny based on the wealth of knowledge that we have today. It has been established beyond any doubt that DNA is the building block of every living thing in this world. Some scientists describe it as the “language of God”. With this unique language He designs, manages and controls every living thing. Since DNA determines our characteristics and traits, it should also have a significant role in our destiny, the destiny that we believe is pre-determined by Allah.
The Holy Qur’an describes the destiny in different places.
“Of what substance God created him. From a drop of semen. He create him and then established his Taqdeer.” (Sura 80-Abasa, 18-19)
At another place it is stated;
“We have indeed created all things by Qadar. And our command is but one (word), swift as the winking of an eye.” (Sura 54-Al-Qamar, 50-51)
“Who created everything and then determined its exact Taqdeer (Destiny, measure, makeup) (25-Al-Furqan, 2)
It is not only writing the Taqdeer but also writing in full details:
“There is nothing that We have left out from recording (the Taqdeer).
(Sura 6-Al-Anaam, 39)
Let us look at the establishment or writing of the Taqdeer with the DNA point of view.
The DNA designing is God’s most marvelous creation. The details started revealing when Watson and Crick first revealed the structure of DNA in 1953. A double helix with its intricate ladder like structure consisting of only four bases (chemicals) A, C, G, T. All these are part of the genes in chromosomes which is part of a cell. The genes are made of hundreds to thousands of the coding letters. It is like a computer language but far more complex. Each coding letter, called “Genetic code and the arrangement of these letters determines particular characteristics, not only for a person but for a plant or for any other living being.
When a child is born we always compare the features with his parents and relatives—oh, he looks like his father, no his features are more close to his mother. Oh, the forehead has some resemblance of his grand father; no it is more like his uncle. This is all the work of DNA. The arrangements of all the coding letters are attributed to millions of different possible characteristics. To make it more interesting and complex God has made things in pairs, male and females:
“All glory to Him. He created pairs of every thing that grows from the Earth, and out of themselves, and other things they do not know”. (Sura 30-Yaseen, 36).
When the DNA and the genetic codes of male and female combine during reproduction, a new individual is created, bearing characteristics of both the parents. Since this process is going on since ever, codes are transferred not only from the immediate parents but from their grand parents, great-great grand parents and so on and on. Not only it determines individual’s specific characters, but also determines if it is a smiling human baby or a sweet smelling rose plant or a snake full of venom. These DNA codes determine millions of characteristic of an individual, his color, his height, his body structure, his face features, and the way he acts and behaves.
To make it more organized and diversified, the genes transferring the traits are two types, the dominant ones and the recessive ones. The dominant genes transfer the main characters while the recessive genes are active sometime and dormant other time. Thus, some of traits or characteristics could skip a generation of offspring but show up in the next on or the next one. A monk scientist Mendel in early nineteenth century experimented with peas and came up with a methmatical model of how these two types of characteristics (genes) are transferred from one generation to the other.
Thus, God’s plans of propagation of a species are not haphazard but precisely calculated and planned to make everything interesting as well as diversified. Ay several place in Qur’an it is described “similar (in kind) yet different (in variety) (Surah Al-Anam, 99, 141). How intelligent is this Divine design working through a complex system of chromosomes, genes and ultimately DNA.
In human each person is so unique that no other individual can have the same DNA make up or DNA language. One person’s structure of eye, finger prints, face or body features are so individualized that no one ever in the history of the universe have had the same features and would not have the same features in the future generations to come. Isn’t that amazing? The DNA also determines individual’s behaviors, the way he or she thinks, the way that person reacts, struggles in his or her life, mind set and moods. This is the destiny or Taqdeer that is written as an exact DNA language so very précised and specific for that person.
“We have indeed created all things by Qadar (measure). And Our command is but one word, swift as the winking of an Eye” (Sura 54-Al-Qamar, 50-51).
“When He wills a thing He says “Be’ and it happens” (Sura 30-Yaseen, 82)
More recently scientists have started deciphering the DNA language and looking into the codes and their functions in genes. They had to sequence the DNA in a genome of a specific species (decoding the language) and then look into functions of different codes.
The Human genome was successively sequenced in the year 2000 and as Francis Collins, director of this project writes “The language of God was revealed” (The Language of God, F. Collins, Simon & Schuster, 2007). It is interesting to know that the basic gene functions of humankind and many rudimentary creatures like earthworms and flies are almost similar. Moreover, our genome language, which consists of 3.1 billion letters of DNA, is 99.9 % similar to that of Chimpanzee.
This shows that God’s language is so precise that a slight change in the language or the sequence of words ends up in a huge difference in the outcome. Interestingly this precision of the language is maintained in the reproduction and multiplication of cells and is passed on to the next generation cells. Even a minute change of one word in the sequence, if it occurs in the propagation of a cell, may cause serious problems. God has designed a built-in system of repair by destroying such transcription errors during the cell division and multiplication. In case if this transcription error skips the repair system, it causes serious diseases like cancer or many genetic diseases.
The whole language, its sequence, its attributes, its functionalities, and the millions of micro machines running in the body by this system are so complex and so enormous that if one wants to write these there would not be enough paper in the world to accommodate the information. And this is only one small aspect of the complex system of the whole Universe. This has been beautifully mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
“Say, if the ocean turned to ink for writing down the colloquy of my Lord, the ocean itself would be exhausted before the words of my Lord come to end, Even if we brought another like it for replenishment”(Sura 18-Al-Kahf, 109)
Now comes the second part that is a person’s own capabilities to make his or her ultimate destiny. Though some of our actions come from our dictating DNA, God has left a scope of change and improvement based on the individual’s efforts. Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory comes from this scope of improvement. We are not only capable of improving ourselves but also can transfer these improvements onto our generations to come. One can inherit bad temper and frown like his father but at the same time has capabilities to control the temper, develop a polite attitude, and smile more often.
One can get laziness from one of the parents but has capability to strive harder and become an active person and a great achiever. Scientists have studied some of the features in a chromosome and their association with a genetic trait. The association is found roughly 50%. Just to give some examples, general cognitive ability (50%), extroversion (54%), openness (57%), aggressiveness (38%), traditionalism (54%) (Bouchard and McGue. J. Neurobiology, 2003, 54:4). As Collins in his book “The Language of God” writes “half of our population carries a specific genetic variant that makes them sixteen times more likely to end up in jail”. The Socio economic, environmental factors and personal efforts influence significantly in making the person to go to jail or live a decent life.
Similarly Collins writes “heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be a gay is about 20%…..indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predisposition and not predetermination”
These facts indicate that God has given the power to change our inherited abilities. He wants an ongoing process of progress and improvement. He has given traits but has also given instinct as well as intellect to struggle and improve ourselves, excel in our life, and to be a better person. He has empowered us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong and chose the right path as given in codes of conducts established by a society as well as given in the religious guidelines.
Environmental, social, economical as well as religious influences play a very significant role in choosing a path, both the right one and the wrong one. As the famous scientist Galileo once wrote “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use”