Marriage between cousins

Published March 11, 2008

REFERENCE is made to the news (Feb 15) regarding the Bradford Teaching Hospital, UK, reporting 10 times higher than general population birth defects such as deafness, degenerative nerve disorders, small heads, and learning disabilities in the children of Pakistanis giving birth. The researchers attributed this to inbreeding and the practice of marrying cousins.

There was an uproar in the Pakistani community and their organisations after statements on the subject were made by some British politicians. These people took objection to the connection of the inbreeding practice to Islam made by the politicians. I learned that marriages between cousins is practised by Jews as well, after I myself went through this tragedy of sickness and young age deaths of my two daughters who were born with cerebral palsy. The second daughter`s birth was monitored in the US and yet that did not help.

The doctors told me and my wife, who is also my first cousin, that all of us have minor defects of some kind not obvious or affecting our lives but if close relatives such as first cousins who share 25 per cent of genes marry, then there is a good chance that those shared defects will have a synergic effect and thus severely impact the lives of their children.

Marriage between cousins is practised by Jews and Muslims because it is cultural (Middle Eastern practice) and also because their religions do not prohibit these marriages. For Muslims, the Holy Quran in the Surah An Nisa (refer 422- 424) does not include marriage between cousins on the list of the prohibited marriages and thus it is allowed. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) married his first cousin Zaynab (bint Jahsh) whose mother Umayma was the sister of the Prophet`s father Abdullah. Also, his daughter Fatima was married to his cousin Ali, son of Abu Talib.

Pakistanis and their leaders, rather than taking offence and politicising the research reports and statements from the British, should note that those marrying close relatives such as cousins are taking a chance and risk of birth defects in their children. The message that they should refrain from marrying close relatives, if they want healthy children, should go out to all young and old in the rural and urban areas alike.

Later, in a letter (Feb 20) the writer referred to a saying of the Holy Prophet that one should marry away from one`s relatives. Social workers, religious leaders and community heads should refer to this saying of the Holy Prophet while conveying the results of the medical research statistics to prevent them from taking this risky step.

ABDUL MUQTADIR

United States

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