Stop Marrying Cousins!

Muslim couple enjoying an evening together

By Wael Abdelgawad |

The religious and cultural barriers between men and women in the Muslim world (especially in the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent) make it difficult and even impossible to meet marriage partners outside one’s immediate circle. On the other hand, people see their cousins at family functions and are able to interact with them and get to know them. So they end up developing attachments and falling for their cousins.

The other thing that happens is that families arrange cousin marriages as a way of keeping wealth inside the family circle, or because they don’t trust outsiders, or as an expression of extreme racism and caste-consciousness.

The problem is that persistent cousin marriage is unhealthy for the children and for society.

Increased Chance of Birth Defects

I’m totally against first cousin marriage. For one thing, first cousin marriages have a statistically higher chance of resulting in children with serious birth defects. This is especially true when consecutive generations of first cousins marry.

A study of Pakistani families in Britain – which are known to have high rates of first cousin marriage – found a double than normal rate of children with congenital abnormalities. Six percent of all Pakistani-origin babies in the study had birth defects. Six percent!

I personally know of one married couple – first cousins – whose son is severely autistic, and another couple whose son is badly deformed and mentally retarded. Inbreeding causes a wide variety of maladies, collectively known as inbreeding depression.

Mad Royals

When we read about the royals and emperors of the past, so many of them were psychotic, retarded or physically deformed. The insanity of kings wasn’t just power madness. It was the result of persistent inbreeding among royal families.

King Charles II of Spain was a well-known example. He was severely disfigured from birth with a huge elongated head, a misshapen body and a jaw that could not close. He was considered an idiot and was given no education. Carlos’ relatives all died leaving him the throne and an over-bearing mother to rule in his stead. He thought of himself as bewitched because of his suffering, but today most of what he suffered would have been recognized as a result of inbreeding. Fortunately he was also infertile, and his death ended the Habsburg line forever.

History is replete with such stories of mad, inbred royals.

Narrow Mindedness and Tribalism

Beyond the increased incidence of birth defects, persistent cousin marriage leads to inbred mental attitudes, if you will. I’ve noticed that cultures that consistently interbreed tend to be narrow minded and tribal. They are closed off to new ways of thinking and doing things, closed off to different cultures, and suspicious of outsiders in general, even when those “outsiders” are Muslims.

If you examine the particular cultures that have the highest rates of cousin marriage, you’ll find that they are societies that are highly fragmented into castes, tribes, and religious sects. In some cases these societies are wracked by violence. I’m not saying that cousin marriage is responsible for that, but it’s reflective of a wider xenophobia in these societies.

Use Common Sense

Obviously Islam has allowed cousin marriage, so I’m not saying it should be banned. Remote tribes with small populations have no choice but to engage in cousin marriage. The occasional cousin marriage is not a problem. It’s when it becomes a persistent pattern that problems emerge.

There are many things that are allowed in Islam that are nevertheless unhealthy. One would not eat fried foods and half a pound of salt every day and expect to remain healthy. We know that constant overexposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. Yet these things are not haram. We must use common sense when making important life decisions.

We need to open our eyes and look beyond our own families for marriage partners. We must build bonds among the Ummah, bring in fresh blood and share our unique cultural traditions. The world is wide, and full of new and exciting cultures. Let’s open our minds and embrace people outside our circle. In doing so we will have healthier children Insha’Allah, and a healthier Ummah.

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  1. Islam allows us to marry cousins and here you’ve tagged this article saying stop marrying cousins based on ‘scientific evidence’, which by the way is both narrow and limited to Britain. Allah ordains everything. So if you have an offspring with a defect it’s not because of inter-marriages, but what Allah has ordained. In other studies no such risk has been mentioned, no significant findings. So how can you base your ‘assumptions’ on a study conducted in Bradford?

    I totally disagree with this article.

    • Yes I know that Islam allows it and I’m not saying that it should never happen. But when it becomes a persistent pattern, it leads to inbreeding, birth defects and negative cultural attitudes.

      It’s not just one study. The science is well known. The effects of inbreeding contributed to the near-destruction of the people of Easter Island, resulted in the common trait of hemophilia among British royalty, and is known to have produced effects such as a six-toed tribe in China.

      It’s basic genetic science: when two people with the same recessive gene marry, the gene can become dominant and manifest. Often these recessive genes carry very negative congenital conditions.

      • I think this is a multi-faceted issue. Am I right in saying the British royalty married to keep the blood line pure or worldly gains? Were they Muslims? Did they marry for Islam?

        I know we should take heed of science/medicine etc, but to what end? We marry for faith and if that someone happens to be your cousin, should we not pursue that marriage then?

        Just to clarify, are you saying marriages between cousins due to culture or reasons besides Islam are responsible for defects where generation after generation are married within family?

        Now if you’re saying this is a common practice within the community due to cultural commitments then I agree with you. Where anything in life intervenes with what Islam teaches us then we are dooming ourselves. What if this is a warning to them but not everyone?

        I know you said the occasional marriage is okay, that it becomes a problem if consecutive generations are subjected to this practice. But I think it has a lot to do with the intentions. We being Muslims marry for Islam and the sake of Allah. And if we do have issues we look at it as a test of our faith.

        • “Just to clarify, are you saying marriages between cousins due to culture or reasons besides Islam are responsible for defects where generation after generation are married within family?”

          Yes, that’s right. Certain societies give preference to cousins over outsiders for marriage. Over time it leads to inbred populations and increased chances of defects.

          If we’re going to marry for Allah, then why don’t we try to increase ties among the Ummah and overcome racial boundaries? Isn’t that better?

          • Yes it is better to expand your “tribe” as has been encouraged. And I believe most of the Ummah practices such teachings where applicable. Although such practice isn’t as common and applicable all the time. Do we not marry whom Allah has chosen for us, given we pray for guidance and let Allah guide us?

    • I agree, it’s the first time I have known about defects that 1st cousins will have. I’m sorry but the author of this article is ignorant. I am a graduate of Biology and I in whole part, disbelieve and did not see the reliability and credibility of what the author said, ” it leads to inbreeding, birth defects and negative cultural attitudes.” In Science , the whole findings of all countries are the facts, not just ONE single finding. Anyone can make their own findings/experiment but very few will be admitted to Science facts. This article is just as baseless opinion from a comic magazine that which serious people should not read. Resources itself are not credible enough, how can it be established? Anyways, 1st cousins in western perceptions is not followed because of that feeling that 1st cousins are like your siblings being so close to you. Aside from that… NOTHING. The question is , is there anyone who are not 1st cousins who did not gave birth to a person with birth defects? None. Even NONE- 1st cousins did gave birth to people with birth defects.

      The very truth that mostly of the books in medical courses and science books never mentioned about your own baseless article proved the heinous crime of misinforming the public, plus ignorance of the facts in Science. I hope we read more and more, forgive me, but we have to reveal facts not just mere opinion. Hope we can still distinguish what is facts from opinion… Sorry, I don’t mean to offend. 🙂

      • Brother, I’m not sure what school you studied Biology in, but I can’t even understand half of what you wrote. I am a writer and studied communications, journalism/media. Here, in the extremely developed western world, we do indeed have reputable universities that conduct studies of focus on these matters–and more than one institution and groups of researchers have concluded that marrying your first cousin doubles the percentage of birth defects. I am married to a Muslim man from N. Africa and once he grew upset with me for calling one of my male cousins “sweetie”. I looked at him strangely because I didn’t understand the problem. After a discussion, I was enlightened about the fact that cousin marriage is common in some parts of the world. I can’t even imagine it! These people are related to me closely by blood–and yes, someone mentioned that in the west they are seen as brothers/sisters, this is quite true. And Brother Wael has a great point when he says that just because Allah says something is permitted, does not mean that it is favored. Perhaps there are times when marrying a cousin is the only option, as in small remote tribes. But for the majority of Muslims, they can choose anyone else other than their own flesh and blood to marry. It does cause higher rates of birth defects as scientific research has shown, it does close the minds of the tribes and families that do this, and Brother Wael gave great examples for other things in life that are allowed and are halal–but it doesn’t mean that it’s the best option. I agree–100%. Al Hamdoulillah

  2. All I have to say is your cousin is one step away from your sister genetically.Think about it Peace be upon you

  3. Our tribe is the muslim tribe not your own personal genetic pool. The Prophet peace be upon him valued education for everyone but there are Muslims who still believe in a form of a caste system is that right. we need to educate to eradicate injustice to impower our muslim brothers and sisters so we can move forward with our faith even stronger Peace be upon you.

  4. I am a bit divided on this. I believe that every person has a right to decide who they want to marry provided the other allows for consent. Now in Islam, if two people are permitted to marry who are we to stop them? Also if there is even agreement among the families, who are we to stop them.

    That said there is strong scientific evidence that persistent cousin marriage can lead to birth defects. However a few facts are important:

    1. We all are cousins at some level.
    2. Even people who are not cousins (in actuality so distant that no one can trace any lineage) can have offspring with birth defects or genetic diseases. Do we stop them from marrying?
    3. Older women have a high risk of having offspring with birth defects. However do we prevent them from marrying. Then again some younger women have these problems.

    I prefer cosmopolitan societies where people freely marrying outside their culture and have enriching lives. However if people are not ready for that or comfortable with that then who are we to impinge on that right? I think gradual opening up will help.

    You have to let people make their own decisions and try to let them come along. Of course intervene if their are cases of forced marriage or violence. But if people are okay with it or happy with it, then you have to let them be.

  5. OK. The reality is that it isn’t just older women who are prone to having more children with birth defects – this is also the case for older men.

    In any event, inbreeding depression does exist, in humans and in livestock. In fact, if you are raising livestock it is something that you have to be very careful of, and there are all sorts of approaches to reduce the risks of inbreeding depression in smaller populations.

    However, I think it is equally concerning when individuals will only marry those of their own tribe or caste. This is particularly problematic in countries that are not traditionally Muslim, and where the masajid and community are fragmented beyond belief.



  7. I think its allowedin islam

  8. Salam Alaikum,

    I remember reading a hadith where the Prophet (SAW) said something along the lines of it is better to look outside of ones blood lines for marriage (indicating that getting married to a relation should be the last resort). I don’t know if this hadith is true or weak (I don’t have the narration to share). If anyone has more information on this please do share.

  9. Brother Wael,
    You are absolutely right. My maternal family actually has a serious genetic defect because of generation after generation of cousin marriages. They only got married to first cousins and from my grand parents to my uncle and my own mother have suffered and died from a genetic defect called Cadasil. Its a relatively rare disease so we didnt know about this till my uncle who is a doctor researched on it and researchers in America cnfirmed it to us that continious inter marriage have surfaced recessive genes and thus the problem.
    Its not that all cousin marriages in my family have led to defected children but the chances of it does increase because of it.
    Yes Islam allows it and yes there must be benefits of it too but its not a farz or wajib or even recommended. Its allowed. Its not a sin in the least but a little common sense in the light of science should be applied.
    I am just glad that somebody has spoken about it.

  10. I think each one of us alhamdulillah is smart enough to understand that marrying cousins or just marrying another is Allahs decision. This article only was to help us understand or enlighten us. Take it if u like it and if u dont then let it b. I dont think there is any need to argue about it. JazakAllah khair for the article tho. May Allah bless us all with the best of health. Ameen!

    • I’m not sure what you mean that it’s Allah’s decision. Allah has given us human beings free will. We have the ability to make choices in matters such as this.

      Wael Editor

      • Same here! Like do u mean we r the ones who makes our own decision and not Allah? There are times when u put all of ur energy to get wat u want but dont get it bcz Allah doesnt want u to have it.
        Yes have the free will but Allah knws everything. Even if we r free to make our choices Allah knws that too.
        PS im not here to argue.U could check articles about fate/taqdeer for better understanding mayb.

        • I understand Qadar quite well. You are confusing intentions / actions with consequences. The niyyah and the choice are up to you. The consequence or the result is up to Allah.

          Allah has given human beings free agency or free will. By this means we can choose between good and evil. When I wake up, I choose whether to pray Fajr or not, or at least I have the niyyah to pray, and I try to do so, unless a tornado blows the roof off my house, or I fall and break my leg.

          You might choose to marry someone, but something from beyond your control might prevent it. That is Qadar. However, Qadar will never force you to marry someone you do not want. Islam has given people the right to agree or refuse.


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