COUSIN MARRIAGE AMONG MUSLIMS

by Saleem Ahmed, Ph.D.1

Fifty percent of Muslim marriages are reportedly among first cousins, rising to about 70% in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Cousin_Marriage_in_Islam). The unfortunate effect of such consanguineous marriages is probably manifested most strikingly in a Pakistani village where descendants of two tribes have been inbreeding since over 40 years. A report in Karachi’s newspaper Dawn (October 15, 2015) highlighted that every third home in this village of 350 households has children suffering from blindness, physical deformities, and/or learning problems. And while individuals from this village interviewed acknowledged cousin marriage was a major problem, they lamented they were tradition-bound to honor that practice.

Wikislam: (https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Cousin_Marriage_in_Islam) reports:
From a biological point of view it becomes clear that first cousin marriage is not recommended because close relatives have a higher than normal consanguinity which means an increased chance of sharing genes for recessive traits. With this high amount of shared DNA, you have a higher risk of birth defects in a baby. Even if cousin marriages are not performed, you can still have such genetic defects in populations where there is a restricted social structure.

In Pakistan, where there has been cousin marriage for generations, and according to professor Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen from South Danish University, the current rate is 70%, one study estimated infant mortality at 12.7 percent for married double first cousins, 7.9 percent for first cousins, 9.2 percent for first cousins once removed/double second cousins, 6.9 percent for second cousins, and 5.1 percent among non-consanguineous progeny. Among double first cousin progeny, 41.2 percent of pre-reproductive deaths were associated with the expression of detrimental recessive genes, with equivalent values of 26.0, 14.9, and 8.1 percent for first cousins, first cousins once removed/double second cousins, and second cousins respectively.

A BBC report discussed Pakistanis in the United Kingdom, 55% of whom marry a first cousin. Given the high rate of such marriages, many children come from repeat generations of first-cousin marriages. The report states that these children are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and one in ten children of first-cousin marriages in Birmingham either dies in infancy or develops a serious disability.[6]

The BBC also states that Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce “just under a third” of all British children with genetic illnesses. Published studies show that mean perinatal mortality in the Pakistani community of 15.7 per thousand significantly exceeds that in the indigenous population and all other ethnic groups in Britain. Congenital anomalies account for 41 percent of all British Pakistani infant deaths.[7][8][9][10]

Worldwide, it has been estimated that almost half of all Muslims are inbred:

This preference for cousin marriages reportedly goes back to the fact that prophet Muhammad married his first cousin, Zaynab bint Jahsh in 627 CE, after he was reportedly excited by seeing her only in a shift when he visited her home unexpectedly to talk to her husband, Zayd bin Haritha, who was the prophet’s adopted son. Zayd, subsequently divorced her, thereby enabling Muhammad to marry her (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaynab_bint_Jahsh). This story is discussed in the following Qur’anic verse and often quoted by Muslims to permit – in fact, encourage – marriage between first cousins.

33.37 Behold! You did say to one who had received the grace of Allah and your favor: “Retain (in wedlock) your wife and fear Allah.” But you hid in your heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: you feared the people, but it is more fitting that you should fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to you: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah’s command must be fulfilled. 33.38. There can be no difficulty to the prophet in what Allah has indicated to him as a duty. It was the practice (approved) of Allah amongst those of old that have passed away. And the command of Allah is a decree determined.

Two issues are raised by this incident:
1. Marrying the former wife of one’s adopted son: This verse clarifies that this was no problem;
2. Marrying one’s first cousin: Unfortunately, this issue is not discussed in this verse. The fact that Zaynab was the prophet’s cousin was only incidental in this episode.

And verse 33.50, while allowing the prophet to marry from among his close relatives, prohibited other Muslims from doing that:
33. 50. O prophet! We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have paid their dowers; and those whom your right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to you; and daughters of your uncles and aunts, and daughters of your maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Mecca) with you; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the prophet if the prophet wishes to wed her. This is only for you and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess, in order that
But somewhat different guidelines are provided by this verse:-

4.23. Prohibited to you (for marriage) are:- Your mothers, daughters, sisters; father’s sisters, Mother’s sisters; brother’s daughters, sister’s daughters; foster-mothers (who gave you suck), foster-sisters; your wives’ mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone in,- no prohibition if ye have not gone in; (those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful;-

And here are some hadith on the issue of marrying close relatives:
1. The prophet did not marry the daughter of his foster brother (Waqwidi 364).
2. Someone asked Muhammad, “Is not the daughter of Hamzah a suitable match for you? Muhammad replied, “Hamzah is my brother by reason of fosterage”. (Muslim 696).
3. The daughter of Abu Sufyan (who was already Muhammad’s wife) suggested to Muhammad, “Marry my sister”. Muhammad responded: “But that is not lawful for me.” She asked, “What about the daughter of Abu Salama.” He said, “Even if she were not my step-daughter, she would be unlawful for me to marry as she is my foster niece. I and Abu Salama were suckled by Thuwaiba”. (Bukhari 7.38).

The bottom line:

The book Our Dialogue (p 308, Vol. 2) explains: “The Islamic view is that while marriage between cousins is permitted, it is certainly preferable to choose a marriage partner from outside one’s family. We have to distinguish between what is permitted and what is advocated”. Our Dialogue also reports that Muhammad once advised a companion to choose for his son a wife from another tribe – and for his second son, a wife from still another.
While the prophet prohibited marriage between children raised by the same foster mother – to the extent that even ten sucklings established this foster relationship (for example (Al-Muwatta 30.12) – he did not prohibit marriage between first cousins, whose respective mothers were suckled the same grandmother. We don’t know the reason.

However, the above report in Dawn underscores the inherent potential danger arising out of such a relationship – a relationship that should be highly discouraged. At a minimum blood test should be made mandatory to weed out potential problems arising out of such consanguineous marriages. Also, only one of the prophet’s 13 wives was his cousin; the others were not related; three even came from a Jewish background, with the first, coming from a Christian background.

So, which option should Muslims follow?
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1 President, Pacific Institute of Islamic Studies, Honolulu; and President, All Believers Network, Honolulu. Professionally, he is President of Neem Ventures, LLC (offering neem products for personal care, pet care, and plant care); and Registered Representative with Park Avenue Securities, LLC, offering life insurance and investment services.

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