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Consanguineous Marriages

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي الأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى إِلَى السَّمَاءِ فَسَوَّاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

"He is the One who created for you, all things on earth and then turned to the heavens and made them seven heavens. He is knowledgeable of all things." (Qur'an 2:29)

In one verse of the Qur'an, Allah specifies family relations with whom marriages are forbidden. In this list of prohibited marriages, cousins (first or second) are not mentioned, thereby indicating that marriages to one's cousins are permitted.

"Prohibited to you are:- Your mothers, daughters, sisters; aunties from father's side, aunties from your mothers' side; nieces from your brothers, nieces from your sisters, your foster-mothers, your foster-sisters; your mother-in-laws; your step-daughters under your guardianship born from your (past) relationship - no prohibition if not from you; your biological sons' lawful wives, [also forbidden] is marriage to two sisters at the same time, except for what has already happened in the past; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." (Qur'an 4:23)

In this verse, nor anywhere else does Allah mention a prohibition towards marriages with cousins. Consanguineous marriages, namely marriages to first cousins are a point of controversy for many people who are even Muslim, but grew up in an environment where such marriages are uncommon. Other contributing reasons for views held against consanguineous marriages include:

1) Personal dislike / lack of sexual feelings towards cousins in general.
2) Heard of / seen cases of birth-defect/s from consanguineous marriage.

The Qur'anic prohibitions on marriages with women of certain ties are not purely due to genetic concerns over future children. This is because it also prohibits marriages to mother-in-laws as well as foster sisters who are not genetically linked to the man. The reasons to why Allah prohibits marriages to certain relationships lie with his infinite knowledge. Therefore, the prohibitions are not made purely based on concerns over potential genetic problems with children born out of such wedlocks. Likewise, permissibility to marry cousins come as part of Allah's infinite wisdom. If however, there was a justifiable genetic concern, the Qur'an would not permit consanguineous marriages. It should also be noted that one should remain impartial with their personal preferences when discussing this topic. This is because how sexual attraction works differs among people.

Wedding, couple

"Worldwide, consanguineous marriages occur regularly in at least 20 percent of the population, and as many as 8% of the children worldwide are of parents who are related."

Board on Global Health, Institute of Medicine, Reducing Birth Defects:: Meeting the Challenge in the Developing World, pp. 27

Despite consanguineous marriages occurring among 20% of the world population (concentrated mainly in the Middle-East & South-east Asia), the sense of controversy or concern among some (even among Muslims who accept this permission) in the modern day era, it appears is a 'risk' associated with conceiving healthy children. So, how big is the risk associated with conceiving a child with a first cousin?

"Say, 'do you inform Allah of something He does not know in the heavens and the earth?'" (Qur'an 10:18)

There is a misconception, or exaggerated understanding of the risks associated with consanguineous marriages. It is not commonly realised that with every conception whether it be with a relative or a totally unrelated spouse, there is always risks involved of birth-defects. Risk of genetic abnormality is not only restricted to consanguineous marriages. Actually, most babies born with birth-defects are from completely unrelated parents (marriage to a relative / cousin is not the main reason for birth-defects). In the field of genetics, the more genetically distant the two parents are, the lower the risk of an abnormality in the baby. Thus, marriage between two people of the same race carries a higher risk of a birth-defect occurring than inter-racial marriages. Now, simply this trend alone does not warrant one to disprove marrying ones own race, nor encourage one to marry outside one's race. Therefore, risk reduction cannot be a reason on its own in choosing a marital partner. The next step is to see how much the risks increase in consanguineous marriages and how justifiable is it to discourage consanguineous marriages based on this.

"Historically in Europe, consanguineous marriage was prevalent until the 20th century, and was associated with royalty and land-owning families (Bittles., 1994). During the 19th and 20th centuries, consanguinity was practised more in the Roman Catholic countries of southern Europe than their northern European Protestant counterparts (McCollough and O'Rourke, 1986). Since the 16th century in England, marriage between first cousins has been considered legal."

Quý Toàn Đõ̂, Sriya Iyer, Shareen Joshi, The Economics of Consanguineous Marriages, pp. 4

Recent findings show that the risk of genetic disorder in pregnancies from a first-cousin spouse (with no previous genealogical history of consanguinity) is approximately 5%. This means there is a majority 95% chance of a healthy child being born from a cousin marriage. The risk of genetic disorders in non-consanguineous marriages is 2.5%. Although this figure shows the risk is doubled in consanguineous pregnancies, it is still extremely small and the couple will mostly likely have a healthy child. The following statistics further demonstrates how only in a minority of the cases of cognitive deficiency could consanguinity be the cause.

"Dr. Barr finds (only) 49 out of 4050 cases of idiocy (or 1.21 per cent) in which there was a family history of consanguinity. This is little higher than the average frequency of first cousin marriage, and an analysis of 41 of these cases does not show one case that can be attributed to consanguinity alone."

George B. Louis Arner, Sriya Iyer, Shareen Joshi, Consanguineous Marriages in the American Population, pp. 47

All humans carry some mutations in their genomes that are recessive - they do not show up in the individual but will show up when combined in reproduction. The probability of a damaged recessive gene being common in the both spouses is rare, but slightly higher in consanguineous couples due to their shared lineage. As stated, such gene-combinations could happen even in unrelated couples and the overall genetic risk in consanguineous couples is still very small. Late-pregnancies in women increase genetic risks to levels much higher than in consanguineous pregnancies. It is important also to realise that consanguinity does not cause birth-defects per se. It is the likelihood of common genes which intensifies certain hereditary traits - this includes beneficial traits.

"The laws of heredity seem to indicate that a consanguineous marriage increases or intensifies in the offspring whatever peculiarities exist in the family. If a family is characterized by the large proportion of persons who enjoy good health and live to old age with unimpaired faculties, then a consanguineous marriage in such a family would probably be beneficial, by increasing and intensifying these desirable characteristics in the offspring."

George B. Louis Arner, Sriya Iyer, Shareen Joshi, Consanguineous Marriages in the American Population, pp. 47

"It is thus possible to account for the large proportion of deafness among persons of consanguineous parentage by the simple action of the laws of heredity. Why then should we go out of our way to look for a cause of the defect in consanguinity itself? When two explanations are possible, the simpler explanation is the more probable, other factors being equal; but in the present problem the factors are not equal, for the evidence points strongly toward the simpler hypothesis of intensified heredity, while there is little or no evidence that consanguinity is a cause per se. "

George B. Louis Arner, Sriya Iyer, Shareen Joshi, Consanguineous Marriages in the American Population, pp. 47

In recent times, there has been an over-exaggerated understanding of the genetic risks involved in consanguineous marriages. Although the risks increase, it is still too small to discourage or criticise consanguineous marriages. The laws of heredity should be the point of focus rather than consanguinity in the discussion of genetic risks. Provided consanguinity has not been a continuous practice in lineages of both the members of the same couple, probability of intensification of genetic traits are low and they stand a very healthy chance of conceiving a perfect baby. Therefore, there is no abnormality in the Qur'an in permitting believers to marry their cousins.

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