Stop Marrying Cousins!
By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com
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.
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.