Cousin Marriages: A Fair and Balanced View

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The Muslim Times’ Chief Editor’s comments: Please read my thoughts in the comment section below, in my attempt to make this a more fair and balanced presentation. Zia H Shah MD

Additional reading

First Cousin Marriages in Pakistani families Leading To Disabilities among Children

Why Ban Cousin Marriages?

Cousin Marriage – Why? – Why Not?

This presentation was made to the Canadian Youth and is not meant to promote Cousin Marriages

By Dr Amtul Qudoos Farhat, MBBS, DCH (UK), FCPS (Pediatrics)

Introduction

We have chosen this topic in view of the current Propaganda going on, on the Internet and in Public. We have also come across views of Muslim youth who seem to perceive some kind of stigma associated with cousin marriages. Here we discuss the Islamic, historical, cultural and research views on Cousin Marriage.

We will touch upon the background as to why the topic has emerged all of a sudden and has become an important issue in the western world.

What is a Cousin Marriage?
It is generally regarded as the marriage between two close blood relatives. There are various terms being used in this context. These terms are of legal importance and have implications in genetic and Inheritance issues. Cousins may be:

  1. First Cousin
  2. Second Cousin
  3. Parallel cousin (two brothers or two sister’s children) Chacha, Taya, Khala
  4. Crossed Cousin (a brother and her sister’s children) Mamoon zad, Phoophi zad
  5. Double first cousin—two persons are Double first cousins when both of their parents are first cousins.
  6. Consanguinity is the degree of closeness the common ancestor

Forbidden Marriages:

Sura Al Nisa explains clearly what sort of marriages are prohibited in Islam and it does not include first cousins.

 “Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your fathers’ sisters, and your mothers’ sisters, and brother’s daughters, and sister’s daughters, and your foster-mothers that have given you suck, and your foster-sisters, and the mothers of your wives, and your stepdaughters, who are your wards by your wives unto whom you have gone in — but if you have not gone in unto them, there shall be no sin upon you — and the wives of your sons that are from your loins; and it is forbidden to you to have two sisters together in marriage, except what has already passed; surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful”. (Al Qur’an: 4:24)

These verses present the  summary of the prohibited marriages in Islam and it does not include Cousin in the list.

The Holy Quran also tells us not to marry the step mothers.
However if your father has passed away and he leaves behind a wife who is not your mother, you are allowed to marry her although it is a foul, hateful and an evil way

“And marry not those women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed. It is a thing foul and hateful and an evil way.” (Al Qur’an: 4:23)

Married Women are also forbidden for marriage:

So a woman, unlike a man, cannot have two husbands at one time.

The above account shows that Islam does not prohibit cousin marriages. This is according to the Law of Nature which is followed in all the Islamic Teachings. Islam is known as Deen e Fitrat which means the Religion according to human nature.

Kufoo’V
Generally one likes to marry someone who is more or less similar to oneself in every way/ many ways. This is called marrying in your own Kufoo’v. Compatible kufoo’vs make people more compatible in relationships. Cousins; especially when raised in similar environment; mostly make appropriate Kufoo’vs and Islam recommends marrying within Kufoo’vs.

Cousin Marriage is Halaal but not an obligation. The concept is parallel to Halaal foods. For example; even though grain is Halaal and Tayyab yet, many of us may not take it for medical or otherwise or no reason at all and there is nothing wrong with that.

Important Cousin Marriages
There have been many eminent cousin marriages in all religions and cultures.

In Islamic History:

  1. The Holy Prophets’ wife Hazrat Zainab binat Jahash was the daughter of the Holy Prophets aunt.Hadhrat Fatima was married to to Hadhrat Ali and HadhratAli was Hadhrat Abu Talib’s son who was an Uncle to the Holy Prophet (sa)
  2. Several other members of the Prophet’s family and inner circle were married to their cousins.
  3. Hadhrat Masih i Maud(AH) first married Hurmat Bibi at the age of 16 who was his first cousin.
  4. Many Arab kings and queens and eminent people including Sadam Husain (wife: Saghira) were married to their cousins

Cousin Marriage in Judaism
Endogamy was a norm in Judaism. Cousin marriages were so common in Jewish ancestors that Hadhrat Yaqoob’s (Jacob) eight sons had only six grandparents. The eminent cousin marriages include:

  1. Hadhrat Abraham to Hadhrat Sarah
  2. Hadhrat Isaac to Rebecca
  3. Hadrhat Jacob to Leah ad Rachel

Leviticus is the book of Laws in Judaism. Most of its teachings are also followed by Christians too. According to Leviticus (Book of Law): ch: 18, following are the forbidden relations for sexual life.

  • your mother
  • your father’s wife
  • your sister, (whole or half) “whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere” (v.9)
  • your grandchild
  • the daughter of your father’s wife (step-sister)
  • your mother’s sister (aunt) “as she is your mother’s close relative”
  • your father’s sister (aunt) “as she is your father’s close relative”
  • your father’s brother’s wife (aunt)
  • your son’s wife
  • your brother’s wife
  • with both a woman and her daughter
  • your wife’s sister as a rival wife (to spite your first wife)
  •  with your neighbor’s wife

We notice that all the relations are same as cited in the Holy Qur’an. And above all it does not include COUSINS!

Cousin Marriages in Christianity
Cousin marriages were commonly practiced in Europe in middle ages. Even today the Christians in Middle East frequently marry first cousins.
Church discouraged the tradition to burst the social life of clans. It was an effort to make people visit church to seek social life and therefore to reinforce the significance of Church. It was not for medical reasons at that time. Following eminent Christian personalities married their cousins:

  1. Hadhrat Maryam (Mary) and Joseph—(Ref: Catholic Encyclopaedia)
  2. Robert Einstein
  3. Charles Darwin—had Six children out of her first cousin wife Emma
  4. John McDonald First prime minister of Canada
  5. Queen Victoria of UK to her first cousin Prince Albert
  6. Prince William Fredrick , Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh to his first cousin Princess Mary
  7. Tsar Nicholas 11

Prevalence of Cousin Marriages Worldwide:

  • The Muslim world have the highest rate—up to 50%. A survey carried out on children born in hospitals in Iraq showed that 46% were born to cousin parents.
  • 3
  • Chinese and South Americans are next: 5-10%
  • The rate is less in so called ‘developed’ world……1% in Europe. However the rate is up to 60% in Muslim communities living in Britain.
  • Turks have low rate. Marriages outside the clans were encouraged by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the Revolutionary leader who tried to make Turkey culturally at par with rest of the European world. Many Turks are married to Danish people.
  • It is illegal in many western countries. A mid-fifty-survey in USA showed 0.2 % Cousin Marriage in USA. It is a legal practice in 27 USA States

Many American states allowing first cousin marriages (blue color in map). These include the highly populated states like New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, California, and Texas. It is also allowed in shaded states in certain cases.

4
Following diagram shows the type of marriages approved in the world:

2

Accordingly 39% of the world approves of first cousin marriage. 27% of the world does not approve it.
34% of the world does not approve first cousin but allow second cousin or consanguineous marriages. Overall simplified version looks like this:

1

Medical Stigma-BBC Report
Medical stigma was attached to cousin marriages in view of a report published by BBC. It stated that Pakistanis in Briton, 55% of whom marry a first cousin, are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and that, one out of ten children born in cousin marriages either dies in infancy or develops a serious disability. Thus Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce “just under a third” of all British children with genetic disorders.
Pakistanis in Britain

Genetic Researchers
Subsequently, some eminent researchers studied the issue ethically and published their results in the most renowned journals of Genetics. These Researchers included:

  • Professor Diane Paul from the University of Massachusetts.
  • Professor Hamish Spencer from the University of Otego in Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Robin L. Bennett, a Genetic Councillor at the University of Washington & the President of the National Society of Genetic’
  • Dr. Arno Motulsky, a Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington

Results of These Researchers
The risk of congenital defects was found to be 2% higher than Average (3%)
Professor Spencer said: “Women over the age of 40 have a similar risk of having children with birth defects and no one is suggesting they should be prevented from reproducing.”

In view of these results, scientists at the University of Massachusetts in Boston called for the taboo on first-cousin families to be lifted.

Is Cousin Marriage Recommended?
The answer varies and depends upon the medical history and need for social ties of the couple. If there is history of certain disease in the family, the best would be to choose unrelated marriages. For example, Thalasemia is very common in Cyprus. The Cypriot Law demands testing prospective couples for Thalasemia gene before marriage. This is a preventative action in view of the prevailing disease.

Similarly if one needs to develop further social relationships, one may like to marry a non-cousin.

For same reason the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once told one of his Companions to choose a wife from a tribe different to his, and then to choose for his son a wife from a third tribe, and to seek for his second son a girl from yet another tribe.

In Qs & As Session, Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih 4 was asked a similar question and he replied in this video:

So Why all this Propaganda?
We have reviewed the religious, cultural and medical background. There was no propaganda about cousin marriages before; even when there were concerns regarding the incidence of congenital abnormalities. So why the topic has emerged recently and why Cousin Marriages is becoming a taboo?

In Invidualistic societies, an individual is supposedly sincere to the State more than his family. Therefore the elite sociologist thinks that the “Family Ties” should break to facilitate One World and One Government.

The issue came up during Iraq invasion. Sociologists concluded that the high prevalence of consanguineous marriages among Muslim World is a bar to the development of democratic process. Clans are sincere to kin more than to the state.

Consanguineous marriages make clans and extended systems which are threat to the ONE State Agenda. Countries like Iraq cannot become modern civil societies until the sincerity within clans are lost.

Propaganda Books
Many books were written on the theme. Randall Parker, an economist, explained the problem in his book: Consanguinity Prevents Middle Eastern Political development
Steve Sailor , an American Conservative to build Iraq Society wrote Cousin Marriage Conundrum: the Ancient Practice Discourages Democratic Nation
Frank Salter a political writer wrote Risky transactions in Germany

Some of the messages given in the book are as follows:
The main message was that the Cousin Marriage is a big Threat. It promotes:

  1. An Ideological Model which is enemy of civil society
  2.  Nepotistic relations
  3.  Loyalty to nuclear families.
  4.  Power, unity, rule and economy with in clans.
  5.  It is the Biggest Underestimated factor in Middle East politics
  6. High inbreeding interferes with our plans.
  7. Civil society formation is difficult
  8. Threat to powers.

So Governments were on move. A veteran MP in UK called for a ban on cousin-marriage which was prevalent in South Asian Muslims in Britain. It was claimed that such marriages are leading to a striking rise in the incidence of rare recessive disorders, many of which are fatal.

Scientists View on These Laws:
Commenting on these laws Professor Spencer, an evolutionary zoologist, said that these laws should be repealed, especially in America, where they were drafted in a way that discriminated against the rural poor and immigrants. He said;

Neither the scientific nor social assumptions behind such legislation stand up to close scrutiny.”
“Such legislation reflects outmoded prejudices about immigrants and the rural poor and relies on over-simplified views of heredity.”
“No scientific grounding for it.”

So think twice and wise before getting married to a cousin!

11 replies

  1. It’s a fantastic article covering all the aspects of cousin marriages. Good effort.
    There is a logo “I LOVE MY COUSIN, GO BABY CRAZY” at the top of article. Could you please explain what message you want to give by this logo?
    Regards

  2. loved the topic,but i think at times to save girls from marrying out of the jamaat it is necessary families ask for their proposals from within.but i dont always recomend cousin marraiges

  3. I also do not recommend marriage among close relatives specially consistent or between common paternal grandfathers. Marry someone from a different race but of same faith and mindset is the best.

    But the best marriage is one which is held by Allah’s will and plan and such marriages are extremely rare and he or she is blessed who is bestowed with this great reward from Allah.

  4. Does the verse (Sura Al-Ahzab 33:50) below not prescribe cousin marriage for the Holy Prophet (SAW) only? Allah knows best!

    It says:
    “… this is only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order there will be upon you no discomfort…”

    In Sura Al-Ahzab (33:50),

    O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives] and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you and a believing woman if she gives herself to the Prophet [and] if the Prophet wishes to marry her, [this is] only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order that there will be upon you no discomfort. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful

    • I agree. Prohibited for marriage in 23:5 it clearly states brothers daughters and sisters daughters which is what a cousin is. It does not use the word cousin but the description is clear.

  5. Great article. Muslims these days have a problem. They defend what is not necessary to defend. Any permission granted in the Holy Quran is taken as an order and defended to death. In the above article the following sentence is the key:
    “Cousin Marriage is Halaal but not an obligation. The concept is parallel to Halaal foods. For example; even though grain is Halaal and Tayyab yet, many of us may not take it for medical or otherwise or no reason at all and there is nothing wrong with that.”
    So the cousin marriage is not prohibited but not preferable or necessary. Especially when the scientific data shows that the risk of congenital defects increases to twice as much in first cousin marriage compared to non cousin marriage, then why insist on this.
    The social aspects and downside is easily observed in the Muslim societies. Family ties pressurize people to do the wrong thing. It is necessary for a just society to overcome the family ties and consider the national interest first.
    I am glad that the message is getting through. The next generation Muslims will be much wiser than the ignorant Muslim leaders of today.

  6. In Yoruba culture, it is an abomination to marry a cousin or anybody having blood relation with one. Even the Alfas and other Islamic scholars in the south west Nigeria see it as a taboo. With the scientific condemnation if cousin marriage, I think it is high time this ugly marriage stopped !

  7. If we eat too much of Halal food we become obese, which in extreme situations can be even lethal. In similar fashion, we need to realize that frequent cousin marriages certainly lead to problems. Some times big and drastic issues.

    Cousin marriages can offer several social advantages, but, one needs to be able to see any good science with an open mind. For now in my opinion the punch line is that the prevalence of congenital disease in non-cousin marriages is 3% and it is twice as much in cousin marriages.

    Again, the risk of congenital problems is 3% in general marriages and doubles in cousin marriages and perhaps increases further if there are repeated cousin marriages in the family.

    Read an important news item in the Guardian:

    Marriage between first cousins doubles risk of birth defects, say researchers

    If anyone must do cousin marriage and have resources and money, they should consider test tube baby after genetic testing, this will almost completely take out any risk from cousin marriage plus more. The way to go if you have money.

    To begin to know about genetic issues begin to read Lee Silver.

    Lee M. Silver (born 1952) is an American biologist. He is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of molecular biology of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University.

    Silver is the author of the book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998). In the book he takes a positive view on human cloning, designer babies and similar prospects. In this book he coined the term reprogenetics to describe the prospective fusion of reproductive technologies and genetics, which will allow positive eugenic actions on an individual level.

    His most recent book, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, was released in June 2006.

    Silver is the co-founder of GenePeeks, a genetic research company which owns a simulation for screening genetic disorders.

    Suggested Reading
    PGD, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis for Genetic Disorders Preventing genetic diseases by testing IVF embryos

    New Tech Allows Parents Genetic ‘Preview’ Before Conception

    I will keep updating this comment of mine over time and add links to useful information in here.

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