|Muslim Scientist Profiles:
Dr. Ahmad Khan by Sameer Chouwadhary Upon arriving at Dr. Ahmad Khan's laboratory, I can tell from the boisterous way he says salaam that it is not going to be a typical interview. Dr. Khan, to say the least, is glowingly euphoric, and he seems to be consciously trying to lower the level of excitement in his voice. By all accounts this is the same Dr. Khan known to his geneticist colleagues as soft-spoken and shy- given to a calm, straight-faced demeanor. As he offers me some piping hot chai (tea), and bades me strenuously with his hands to sit within his office chambers, I begin to wonder if in fact I had heard correctly what he, to my utter consternation, had thought brought me to see him. Dr. Khan begins to tell me that he had not only found evidence of the Holy Qur'an's authorship, but, in fact, the authorship of mankind. Little did I know before walking into the sleek mirrored-face "GenLab" on the campus of the University of New Mexico, that on the fifth floor I would find a scientist, who by the sheer scope of his findings may very well end up as familiar a name as a Galileo, Newton, or Einstein.
I thought quite simply that I was going to be interviewing Dr. Khan about his book in development, which I was told previously was to be a synthesis of genetics and Islam. I figure, hey, a little about the morality of cloning here, another little bit about genetic engineering there, and badaboom badabang- a simple little volume which puts genetics in its proper perspective. My expectations exponentially surpassed, I ask my first question with my mouth agape - "You're kidding? Right?" "Nehi! Subhan Allah! Nehi!" He laughs, the largest conceivable grin on his face, as he brushes aside a few of the sundry piles of papers clogging his pigsty of a desk. I cast a glance at the wall behind his desk, bare save for a framed ayat-ul-kursi and a family portrait of his former beardless self along with his wife Nur, and their two small children. don't find any evidence of the ostentation one might expect from some one who graduated summa cum laude from Duke University. I distinctly get the impression that despite his status as a young (31 years of age) and up and coming geneticist, that his love remains solely for Allah and his research. Diplomas and awards are nothing more than clumps of paper to him.
My list of questions made irrelevant by Dr. Khan's revelation, I begin to try to ascertain what exactly he had discovered and how, asking him just to divulge a little of his research and how he had come about it. "For a few years now I have mused during my Ph.D. training that there was the possibility for information other than that for the construction of polypeptides to be encoded by individual codons or nucleotides of DNA. But it was only after a Jum'ah khutbah where I heard the Imam mention a verse in the Holy Qur'an where I put two and two together." Ahmad, as I now call him, rises up from his seat and reaches to the top of the massive bookshelf to the left of his desk, grasping hold of the Qur'an, by its looks very worn. An interesting combination I think to myself- a lab coat and a white kufi. But I have little more time for such musings on the fashions of the day, as he kisses the Qur'an and opens it to his selected verses. "Audhu billahi min ash-shaytan ir-rajeem. Bismillah Ir-Rahman Ir-Raheem. Sanureehim ayatinaa filafaaqi wafi anfusihim Hatta yatabayyana lahum annahu ul-Haqq, awalam yakfi birabbika annahu 'ala kulli shayiin shaheedoon." He pauses for a breath, and his index finger moves over to the English text: "Soon will We show them Our Signs in the furthest regions of the earth, and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses all things?" "Which Sura is that?" "It is from the forty-first Sura, Fussilat, the fifty-third ayat." "Shukriyya, go on..." "You may have heard of a study by a non-Muslim scientist by the name of Keith Moore?" "Yes, but if you could refresh my memory..." "Quite simply Keith Moore is the world authority on embryology, and after having read the Holy Qur'an he came to see that there was a remarkable correspondence of the Qur'an's description of embryos with the descriptions of modern science.
So we can see from this that indeed the Holy Qur'an has shown us a sign in our own souls, our own selves, by relating information that due to its microscopic nature could not have been known fourteen hundred years ago." "What I've come to realize is that the Holy Qur'an has many levels of meaning, some of which are known only to Allah subhana wa t'ala himself. But what I recognized is that if we look at the Arabic, the ayat in question uses the same word for Qur'anic verses- 'ayaat.' And it says as you read along, that those same verses are 'fi anfusihim'- are in themselves- in the human beings. Coming as I do from the specialty of genetics, I realized that the verses of the Qur'an could indeed be within each human being- coded within our DNA." "But aren't you just speculating that the meaning of the ayat is that ayaat from the Qur'an appear in some form or another within the genome?" "Yes, at first....At first it was speculation, but then I began to piece together more indications that there was a possibility that verses of the Holy Qur'an could be a part of the genome. What you must realize is that much of the DNA in our genome doesn't code for the production of proteins at all. The non-coding regions- introns- are often called junk DNA. Mashaa Allah. As it turns out, it is the farthest possible thing from junk, it is the words of our Creator, a great sign that it was Allah who gave us the breath of life." "So how did you test your hypothesis, and who else have you consulted?" "GenLab had a government grant to study the genetic roots of intelligence, and at the time this idea struck me, we were focusing on mapping the central region of chromosome 19. I talked with my younger brother, 'Imran, who is a systems analyst, and consulted with him about developing a way to see if any Qur'anic ayat could be found within the intron regions of chromosome 19 that had been mapped." "It was quite a project, because we had to figure out what Arabic letter each different possible codon stood for, by iterating each possible coding system through the introns and seeing if any of those combinations resulted in ayaat from the Holy Qur'an." "January 2nd, 1999. Two o'clock in the morning we found our first ayaat. Alhamdullilah! Audhu billahi min ash-shaytan ir-rajeem. Bismillah Ir Rahman Ir Raheem. Iqra bismi rabbika ladhi khalaq. Read in the name of your Lord who created! Region p38q!"
"The first ayat revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Salaam!?" "Yes, I was just as astonished as you are now. But the thing is, with each ayat we found, finding the next ayat came faster and faster, as we began to compile the full coding system. After that it has been a breeze. Our only trouble with finding more ayat has been that not enough of the genome has been mapped by geneticists to be searched. So far we only have found 1/10 of the Qur'an." "Although we obviously want to make our findings known to the greater Muslim- greater world in general, we are taking precautions to make sure our heads are screwed on right...you can never be too careful. In the past few weeks I've been talking with individual Muslim scientists, just so I could get some feedback, and make sure that our findings are ready to be published come next fall." "But I am confident that we've found a phenomenon of great interest, such that I am willing to put my entire career on the line. I've revealed my findings to my fellow geneticists here at GenLab, and believe me- this has been the first time I've found Martin or Clive [two of his co-workers] even willing to discuss religion or Islam. I've also written to two non-Muslim skeptics inviting them to analyze my findings: Dan Larhammar of Uppsala University in Sweden, and Aris Dreismann at the Technical University of Berlin. I doubt they'll remain skeptical for long..."
"There is such a tremendous amount of data that we're going to have to be analyzing it over the next few months, but I hope to create both a book for popular consumption as well as submit an abstract to Science very shortly." "I'm speechless! Subhan Allah! But can you show me some of the verses you 've found?" Just then I find out what some of the sheets of paper are on his desk. He hands two sheets to me, one covered with four roman letters, T, C, G, and A, sprawling across the sheet, separated in columns of three letters. The other in Arabic script is clear as day- after many 'lam's, and a couple of random 'ayn's and 'qafs' I see what looks like a sentence. I ask him the meaning. "From Sura al baqarah, the sixth ayat. In English it says: 'As to those who reject faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.'"
"The other page is a listing of the actual sequence of nucleotides, of which there are four types. Every three code for an Arabic letter." He pulls out a laminated table, with Thymine, Adenine, Cytosine, and Guanine written vertically for the first nucleotide, then horizontally across the top for the second, and horizontally again for the third." Instead of amino acids, as you can see from this table there are two codons for every Arabic letter, as well as for the ta' marbuta and hamza. There is also a code for the end of each ayat, just like there would be codons which would stop gene transcription." "Subhan Allah. I just feel so blessed to find such a miracle at such a young age- I can only marvel at what else we might find inshaa Allah, you know.. I can only hope that within our lifetimes other Muslim scientists find out the meaning of the other 'ayaat' in nature that Allah makes reference to." "Would you happen to have any last words for our readers?" "I just hope that after the publication of my book 'The Holy Qur'an and Genetics' that Muslims begin to better understand how Allah has made Islam a complete way of life. We cannot compartmentalize our religion, keeping Islam out of our politics, education, arts, and sciences without grave detriment to ourselves, and loss of the true meaning of the Final Revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace." "I also hope that non-Muslims see that there is no need for the controversies between religion and science, although no doubt some of them will ignore the evidence even if it is right before their very eyes." I take one last sip of my chai, looking intently at Dr. Khan's dark brown eyes and olive complexion, knowing full well, that inshaa Allah I am looking at the face of the Ummah's future.
Permission is given for reproduction and
distribution of this document in all media for non-commercial
use, provided that this notice is not deleted. Copyright
1999. Sameer Chouwadhary. This article is to appear in the
inaugural edition of "North American Muslim Science
Journal" to be published quarterly beginning with the Fall
1999 issue. For subscription information, or a list of submission
guidelines please write to:
This page was last updated: 11/11/07 05:23:34 PM