Due to the actions of Prophet Muhammad and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, marriage between cousins is explicitly allowed and even encouraged in Islam. The Qur’an itself does not discourage or forbid this practice in any way. In fact it implicitly allows it, as seen in chapter 4 verse 23:
So everyone besides these relatives named can be married. Such marriages in Muslim majority countries are often preferred and even encouraged in some regions. This is in contrast with China, India. most of the United States and some other nations where cousin-marriage is against the law and regarded as incest.
Even though there is some debate on this issue, scientists tend to agree it is genetically unhealthy. There are other problems with cousin marriages. According to the Hanafi school of legists, a man may give his daughter in marriage to his brother’s son without her consent. This goes against free will which results in unhappy marriages.
Prophet Muhammad himself married cousins, as he did with Zaynab bint Jahsh, who was not only the daughter of Umaimah bint Abd al-Muttalib, one of his father’s sisters, but was also divorced from a marriage with Muhammad’s adopted son, Zayd ibn Haritha. It was this last issue that caused the most controversy, with traditional Arab norms at the time being opposed, though not the Qur’an (Sura Al-Ahzab 33:37).
According to Ibn Sa’d, after Zaynab’s marriage to his adopted son Zayd, Muhammad went to visit him, but instead found a hastily clad Zaynab. Though he did not enter the house, the sight of her pleased him. Tabari states that Zaynab was only wearing a single slip, and the wind pushed away a curtain when Muhammad entered, revealing her “uncovered.” Thereafter Zayd no longer found her attractive and thought of proposing divorce, but Muhammad told him to keep her. Eventually, however, Zayd did divorce her.
Muhammad also allowed the marriage of his daughter, Fatimah, to his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who would later go on to become the fourth Rightly-guided Caliph of Islam.
Science and Statistics
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.
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.
Worldwide, it has been estimated that almost half of all Muslims are inbred:
Statistical research on Arabic countries shows that up to 34 percent of all marriages in Algiers are consanguine (blood related), 46 percent in Bahrain, 33 percent in Egypt, 80 percent in Nubia (southern area in Egypt), 60 percent in Iraq, 64 percent in Jordan, 64 percent in Kuwait, 42 percent in Lebanon, 48 percent in Libya, 47 percent in Mauritania, 54 percent in Qatar, 67 percent in Saudi Arabia, 63 percent in Sudan, 40 percent in Syria, 39 percent in Tunisia, 54 percent in the United Arabic Emirates and 45 percent in Yemen.
The British geneticist, Professor Steve Jones, giving The John Maddox Lecture at the 2011 Hay Festival had stated in relation to Muslim inbreeding, “It is common in the Islamic world to marry your brother’s daughter, which is actually [genetically] closer than marrying your cousin.”
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- Bewley/Saad 8:72; Al-Tabari, Vol. 8, p. 4; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 180; cf Guillaume/Ishaq 3; Maududi (1967), Tafhimul Quran, Chapter Al Ahzab
- Qur’an 33:37
- History of the Prophets and Kings 4/ 199 by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
- al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah 6/352 by ibn Kathir
- Flere dødfødsler blandt indvandrere (Danish language) – fpn.dk,February 27, 2009
- Justin Rowlatt – The risks of cousin marriage – BBC News, November 15, 2005
- Alan H. Bittles – The Role and Significance of Consanguinity as a Demographic Variable – JSTOR
- Polygamist community faces genetic disorder – China Daily, June 15, 2007
- John Dougherty – Forbidden Fruit – Phoenix New Times, December 29, 2005
- A. H. Bittles and M. L. Black – Consanguinity, human evolution, and complex diseases – PNAS, June 25, 2009
- More stillbirths among immigrants – Jyllands-Posten, February 27, 2009
- Consanguinity and reproductive health among Arabs – Tadmouri et al. Reproductive Health 2009 6:17 doi:10.1186/1742-4755-6-17
- Nicolai Sennels – Muslim Inbreeding: Impacts on intelligence, sanity, health and society – EuropeNews, August 9, 2010
- Jonathan Wynne-Jones – Hay Festival 2011: Professor risks political storm over Muslim ‘inbreeding’ – The Telegraph, May 29, 2011