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Genetics, Religion & Identity: A Study of Bangladeshi Muslims in Britain


Religion has become an increasingly important dimension of personal identity for British Muslims over the last two decades. But what does Islam mean in the lives of British Muslims in relation to the crises of everyday life?

Aims of Project

  • To create a new body of data on how information about genetics is transmitted across different generations of Bangladeshi Muslims in Britain.
  • To understand how decisions are made about genetic information in relation to health care and religious professional opinion, and the role of religious discourse in negotiating and legitimating these decisions.
  • To evaluate the particular role of Islam in either accepting or declining genetic testing, and the use of religion as a resource in helping families to care for members affected by genetic disorder.
  • To build upon research in relation to the Pakistani community by identifying similarities and differences with Bangladeshi Muslims.
  • The project aims to enable genetics services to evaluate their policies and service delivery in relation to Muslim patients, especially those of Bangladeshi origin, and identify changing patterns of understanding and interpretation of genetic information, thereby furthering public knowledge about genetics.


The Economic and Social Research Council


2005 - 2007


  • The research uses qualitative and ethnographic methods, such as in-depth interviews and fieldwork observation. Dr Santi Rozario will interview family members in clinical settings and at home collectively and (where appropriate) individually.
  • We plan to study twenty Bangladeshi Muslim families from South Wales and Birmingham who have been referred for genetic counselling, half retrospectively, half prospectively. At least some of the families will already have a family member affected by a genetic disorder.
  • The research will include not only the patients themselves but also their extended family (particularly parents, grandparents, siblings, and any other extended family members living within the same household or nearby).
  • This is in order to establish the wider familial context in which decision-making about genetic issues takes place, and the way in which information about genetics is transmitted between generations.
  • Health care and religious professionals associated with patients in the study will also be interviewed.

Intended Outcomes

  • Improvement in the training of genetics counsellors through more precise understanding of the complex socio-religious context in which decision-making about genetics takes place for Bangladeshi Muslims across different generations.
  • Identification of patterns of change, so assisting genetics services to evaluate their policies and service delivery in relation to Bangladeshi Muslim patients, and to anticipate the future needs of this user group.
  • Creation of a new body of data of value to sociologists of health and sociologists of religion, indicating significant patterns of social and religious change in understanding of genetics.
  • Development of a methodology for empirical study of religious belief and genetics and inter-generational understanding of genetic information.
  • A resource for Islamic theologians, ethicists, and educators, showing how concepts such as halal and haram (unlawful), fate, destiny and 'duty', influence attitudes and decision-making.


This interdisciplinary study explores the role of Islam among Bangladeshi Muslims, one of the largest Muslim communities in Britain, in relation to genetic counselling. We seek to understand how Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK make sense of genetically-related disease. We ask questions such as: Are there specific ways of understanding these diseases among Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK? How (if at all) does information about possible genetic risk factors get transmitted from one generation to the next in Bangladeshi Muslim families? How do Bangladeshi Muslims make decisions about genetic testing, and how do they negotiate the possibly conflicting messages they may receive from health professionals and Islamic authorities? Does Islam play a role in accounting for genetic disorders and in helping families to care for affected members? Are there other cultural resources on which people draw in these situations? What specific problems are caused by genetically-related illness in a population where consanguineous and arranged marriages are still prevalent, and where the status of a family (and the marriageability of its members) may be adversely affected if others in the community learn of possible genetic problems? The study also investigates the differing roles played by different members of a joint or extended family in decision-making in relation to genetic diseases, in terms of their marital and generational status, and their gender.

Additional Information

Your interest in this project is warmly welcomed. Please contact Senior Research Fellow Dr Santi Rozario or Project Director Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray for further information.