The Ruling of First Cousin Marriages: A Balanced Perspective

Author: 
Dr. Asim Yusuf

Question:

My question relates to marrying first cousins. Although it's permissible in Islam, I was wondering as regards to arguments against this as many people cite health issues and high rates of disabilities among children. I’m struggling to get my head around a ruling in Islam that potentially puts people or children at risk. I am in no way saying the Islamic ruling is wrong as I would never oppose anything in Islam but rather I would like clarification so as to have a better understanding as non-Muslims often ask why we would have this ruling and always cite particular studies.

Answer:

Thank you for your question and your concern for supporting the religion.

As you have quite rightly pointed out, the default legal (shari`) ruling is that first cousin marriages are permissible. However, there is no intrinsic animosity between ‘fiqh and fact’, as it were; and indeed the opinions of experts in fields such as medicine and astronomy have always been taken into consideration when issuing fatwa. It is important to bear in mind the difference between the ‘fiqh’ (which is the general or default ruling) and the ‘fatwa’ (which is a specific legal opinion that considers individual circumstances).

Examples abound in the legal literature, with a prominent case being the determination of the qibla through reliance on astronomical and mathematical findings. In addition, and perhaps more pertinently to your query, expert medical opinion plays a central role in applying various dispensations regarding purification, prayer, fasting and hajj.  Before looking more closely at the specific medical evidence regarding consanguinity (the marriage of close relations), though, it might be worthwhile exploring something of the nature and philosophy of Islamic law.

The Shari’a As Mercy

Our scholarly tradition, from the very outset, has recognised that the fundamental principle underlying the whole of the Divine Law is mercy, which is defined as ‘the intending of good to those in need.’

Allah says that, ‘the All-Merciful taught the Qur’an,’ and the commentators on this verse explain that the guidance contained within its verses is the greatest explicit manifestation of His ineffable mercy [cf Qurtubi: al-Jami']. One of the aspects of our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings upon him) honorific ‘Mercy unto the worlds,’ is that he was sent with a way that is a manifestation of pure mercy; and one of the understandings of the hadith, ‘the religion [in its entirety] is pure well-wishing,’ is that the shari’a is nothing but the manifestation of Allah’s intending pure goodness for human beings [ibn Rajab: Jami' al-'Ulum wa'l Hikam].

Foundational concepts such as this are crucial for our own understanding of our religion; they ground us in our relationship with Allah, and transform what can seem mundane, repetitive tasks into transcendent signs (ayat) that point to the Creator. In addition, however, they provide a framework with which to explain our religion to others. It is the failure to discern the general wisdom underlying specific rulings of the Sacred Law - and our failure to express it - that puts many people off Islam as a whole.

To a non-Muslim, making the point that ‘Islam is mercy,’ might come across as an easy platitude. It is important, therefore, to understand that our ulama took this fundamental truth and laid bare  its operation at the very core and marrow of the shari’a. Behind every specific ruling of the shari’a, they discerned a deep wisdom, which they summed up as follows: ‘the basis of the rulings of sacred law is to avert harm and accrue benefit’ [al-Izz: Qawa'id al-Sughra (paraphrase)]. They further specified the higher purposes of the shari’a as being: ‘the preservation of religion, life, intellect, lineage and wealth.’ [Ghazali: al-Mustasfa].

With this in mind, we note that fiqh rulings - and especially specific fatwa - give particular weight to sciences such as medicine as a means of determining where benefit and harm lie. For example, the obligatory fast of Ramadan may actually be prohibited to individuals who - in their physician’s considered opinion - are at significant risk of serious harm. In this case, the avoidance of (physical) harm takes precedence over the acquisition of (spiritual) benefit. In cases where one’s actions are likely to result in harm to others, this principle is even more emphatic. For example, it would be impermissible for an HIV positive man to have unprotected intercourse, because of the high risk of infecting his wife (and unborn child) with a lethal disease.

Consanguinity (Close Relation Marriages)

The upshot of the preceding paragraphs is that the shari`a legislates in the best spiritual and material interests of individuals and societies, and medical evidence is a valid means of determining where benefit and harm lie. The pertinent question, then, is: what does the medical evidence indicate about consanguinity? The field of genetics is an extremely complicated and rapidly expanding one, with new findings being regularly presented and critiqued.

Currently, there have been about seventy major peer-reviewed studies performed on consanguinity, and their consensus findings would certainly suffice as evidence on which the fuqaha might base legal rulings.

Their conclusions can be briefly summarized as follows:

1. One-off consanguineous relationships lead to a slight increase in the risk of genetic defects. As the incidence of many of these defects is very low anyway, the absolute risk still remains low.

2. Repeated cross-generational consanguineous relationships (known as endogamy) have a significantly higher risk of genetic defects (up to 10 times in some studies).

3. Most of these defects are mild to moderate, and can manifest in childhood developmental disorders (such as deafness or mild mental retardation) or adult illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and mental disorder.

4. The major problem occurs with consanguineous relationships in the context of certain rare hereditary illnesses known as Autosomal Recessive conditions. These are severely disabling conditions for which there are few effective treatments, often resulting in early death. Consanguineous relationships mean that both spouses are likely to be carriers of the defective gene, which in turn leads to a greatly increased risk of children suffering with these severe illnesses. As an example, if a couple such as this had three children, there would only be a 30% chance of all three escaping unaffected.

Summary

Thus in summary, one might state that:

1. The shari`a permits first-cousin marriage because the absolute risk of harm to the child remains low.

2. Endogamy is a cultural practice not specifically encouraged by the shari`a, and although it has been widely practiced by Muslim societies, major figures such as Imam Ghazali (citing Sayyidina Umar, no less) have cautioned against excessiveness in this - precisely because it ‘weakens the offspring.’  [Ghazali: Ihya XII]

3. In specific cases, where medical evidence indicates a very high risk of harm to future children, such marriages might even be deemed unlawful.

4. Prospective couples felt to be at risk of transmitting such genetic defects to their children would be expected to take the means to quantify the risk (though genetic counselling and medical consultation) and then seek expert legal opinion in their specific case.

5. Thus, as with most matters, the shari’a takes the middle path - between an excessive reliance on medical evidence that is nuanced in its findings, and a willful rejection of science as somehow antithetical to trust in the Divine.

‘And so have We made you a median nation, that you may be witnesses to mankind, and We have made the Prophet a witness over you.’

‘Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you … that you might glorify Allah for what he has guided you to, and that you might be thankful.’

*Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Dr. Asim Yusuf is a teacher, author, vocalist and medical doctor. He was born in London and grew up in Manchester, before emigrating to South Africa with his family for a ten year stay.  He has been studying the sacred sciences for many years with many notable scholars including Shaykh Rasool Bakhsh Saeedi, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi amongst others. He is the academic director of the Path to Salvation (www.pathtosalvation.co.uk), an integrative modular syllabus of Islamic studies. He has been authorized to instruct students in a number of Islamic sciences, and currently teaches theology, jurisprudence, spirituality, tafsir and hadith. Dr. Asim is also a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and is currently pursuing his Masters in Medical Education.
 

Comments

I dont see why people seem to be making such a big fuss pot about this issue. In Islam to get married to your cousin is allowed, end of. The fact that science proves disabilities can happen well thats a slight chance, not always the case. Most of my family members have married within the family itself and all the children and kids are FINE...FINEE I SAID!!

WHAT IS THE BIG ISSUE?

What about the children that are disabled and the parents are no way related at all? Its ridiculous. It's all up to Allah swt who creates the child within the womb of the mother.

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.

It's just that children born from first-cousin marriages are more likely to be born with a disability. That's all. Where's the big deal...that some people don't accept this scientific fact?

Ocean wrote:

In Bradford, many non-married couples are some how related to each other. How cool is that?

Lol

 

This article had some big, posh words! :/

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

Well, he does seem to be an educated guy.

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.

ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

Do you need a gangsta translation yo?

ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

I like it Smile and I prefer reading an article like this, than something which is all slangy

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.

Bijou wrote:
ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

I like it Smile and I prefer reading an article like this, than something which is all slangy


Fool erm ofcourse its better - if you can understand it! I don't like slang but those words were beyond my level of comprehension! lol

@ Sephy simple english would do! actually I don't need the translation, i get the gist of it! I just meant it was hard to understand it fully because of some high level vocab Blum 3

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

Bijou wrote:
ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

I like it Smile and I prefer reading an article like this, than something which is all slangy

Same, but the inconsistency is like totally random :S

I think if all the articles were written like this, it would be a whole different style of mag.

#Before you look at the thorns of the rose , look at it's beauty. Before you complain about the heat of the sun , enjoy it's light. Before you complain about the blackness of the night, think of it's peace and quiet... #

Ocean wrote:
MakeMeRawr_8TeenF wrote:
Bijou wrote:
ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

I like it Smile and I prefer reading an article like this, than something which is all slangy

Same, but the inconsistency is like totally random :S

I think if all the articles were written like this, it would be a whole different style of mag.

yep. I enjoyed reading that article because it was well written!

hmm shall we have very sophisticated looking mag next issue?

I think the magazine is popular because of the mixture of articles and language. But when I create my own one I think I will aim for an older audience...or just a particular style of writing..hmm....

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.

Sephy wrote:
ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
This article had some big, posh words! :/

Do you need a gangsta translation yo?

I would've said:

Yo, ya'll need a gangsta translation?

But your way was funny regardless!

Jihad of the Nafs (The Struggle of the Soul)

Truth's_Razors wrote:
:

Yo, ya'll need a gangsta translation?

But your way was funny regardless!


sounds american.

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
Truth's_Razors wrote:
:

Yo, ya'll need a gangsta translation?

But your way was funny regardless!


sounds american.

Too much American TV!

Jihad of the Nafs (The Struggle of the Soul)

Truth's_Razors wrote:
ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
Truth's_Razors wrote:
:

Yo, ya'll need a gangsta translation?

But your way was funny regardless!


sounds american.

Too much American TV!


Well you need to cut down, missy! Blum 3

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

Oh Good

My cousins are gorgeous Wink

Unfortunately they're also up to like 10 yrs old aha.

I actually can't believe people even consider this ¬_¬

#Before you look at the thorns of the rose , look at it's beauty. Before you complain about the heat of the sun , enjoy it's light. Before you complain about the blackness of the night, think of it's peace and quiet... #

OOOOOOOOH I SPY IRONY

Like that some Muslims indulge in incest which is seen as massively taboo here

yet they go on about the 'sexually promiscuous' 'West'.

HMM.

#Before you look at the thorns of the rose , look at it's beauty. Before you complain about the heat of the sun , enjoy it's light. Before you complain about the blackness of the night, think of it's peace and quiet... #

MakeMeRawr_8TeenF wrote:
OOOOOOOOH I SPY IRONY

Like that some Muslims indulge in incest which is seen as massively taboo here

yet they go on about the 'sexually promiscuous' 'West'.

HMM.


?!

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

ThE pOwEr Of SiLeNcE wrote:
MakeMeRawr_8TeenF wrote:
OOOOOOOOH I SPY IRONY

Like that some Muslims indulge in incest which is seen as massively taboo here

yet they go on about the 'sexually promiscuous' 'West'.

HMM.


?!

lmao!

i meant this cousin thing aha!

I just realised what that looks like and burst out laughing.

My bad! You know what i mean >.<

#Before you look at the thorns of the rose , look at it's beauty. Before you complain about the heat of the sun , enjoy it's light. Before you complain about the blackness of the night, think of it's peace and quiet... #

I don’t want to be rude to anyone but please please stop this cousin marriage thing happing in this day and age in the world we live in today or at least UK EU US because look at it this way your cousins share the same grand parents meaning they share the same blood line as you it would be like marring your own brother and sister so the people who think that its right to marry there cousin should just marry there brother or sister why draw the line if you think that its right to marry your cousin?

The main reasons why this corrupt practice is still followed is because of family pressure because the family want to keep there Property, Land, Jewellery, Money and wealth in the family and a lack of education along with village culture and the greed of coming to UK EU USA because UK has a benefit system along with free health care known as the NHS (National Health Service) every one on benefits is treated free of charge, and because theses families are uneducated and stupid they are all on benefits just to rub more salt in the wound they are known to abuse the benefit system in many different ways. They try to send as much benefit money as possible back to there poor families often living in poor housing or no housing at all, In most cases- they also have lots of children If your thinking why do they have lots of children its because they are uneducated they don’t have a job so that’s the only why they keep there self’s busy and they live in a joint family system meaning they have an extra load on there backs in the event of old parents to look after

I am sure that for a Visa and passport to the countries mentioned above they would do any thing

Also the people who incest marry cousins there children are born with major mental and physical defects along with learning difficulties and the kids suffer through no fault of there own and because the parents are un educated and are unaware of genetic problems that can be caused by cousin marriage think that it’s the will of god (ALLAH DI MARZI) as shown in Dispatches When cousins marry programme, it is NOT the will of Allah it is made the will of Allah by parents who want children to marry there cousins I am providing evidence with you tube videos

why would Allah want any one to have a disabled child?

UK should educate these people in as many ways as possible in there own languages about the dangers of Incest cousin marriage yes it will cost money but the money that this education campaign would cost would be less then the treatment of Insect cousin marriage children in total

This corrupt practice must cost the NHS millions and millions of pounds MAYBE IF THE NHS REFUSE TO TREAT THESE INCEST COUSIN MARRIAGE CHILDREN
THEN THE PARENTS OF THE KIDS WHO WANT THEM TO MARRY THERE COUSINS MIGHT HAVE SECOND THOUGHTS ?

At least children living in UK EU US should refuse this kind of marriage
no matter what the outcome is of that refusal and they should seek help from places like the forced marriage unit which is set up by the govt which I think is a very good step

Please help stop this sick corrupt practice of incest cousin marriage

My English is not very good

...Also the people who incest marry cousins there children are born with major mental and physical defects along with learning difficulties and the kids suffer...

This is not the case with all or even most such cousin marriages. Granted there is an increased chance with this and some may not know this, but this has been known for a long time, I have been told there is a hadith that mentions it and there was a tribe at the tribe of Hadhrat Umar (ra)'s caliphate which had many children with weaknesses and defects and they were encouraged to marry from different tribes.

Incest is between siblings, so please keep it for that.

Consider cousin marriage distasteful if you will, but that does not make it the same as siblings (and at what "distance" would you consider if safe.)

A question for you - however distasteful you may find it, what if two cousins WANT to marry? would you still consider that troublesome and force it to be banned?

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.

Cousins are like your brother and sister because they shere the same grand parents as you do

Yes I would ban it and I would ban it in the entire world if I could
Why would any one want to marry there cousin?

My English is not very good

stopincest wrote:
Why would any one want to marry there cousin?

You cannot account for taste.

Cousins are like your brother and sister because they shere the same grand parents as you do

If you go far enough, everyone is related. Even you and einstein.

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.

You wrote:
stopincest wrote:
Why would any one want to marry there cousin?

You cannot account for taste.

Cousins are like your brother and sister because they shere the same grand parents as you do

If you go far enough, everyone is related. Even you and einstein.

Its not taste most cousin marriages are forced marriages

every one is not as closely related as cousins

My English is not very good

stopincest wrote:
Its not taste most cousin marriages are forced marriages

So campaign against forced marriages. That will have a larger number of people who will support you without thinking they are being targetted or singled out etc.

Since you assert that most cousin marriages are forces marriages, fixing this problem will fix your problem too. win win.

PS einstein married his cousin.

Maybe that is where there was no Einstein Mark 2...

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.

Both things are linked together

My English is not very good

Marrying a cousin can actually be a good thing
so many marriages are successful after marrying cousins
and the thing about having disabled children when u marry a cousin
is so not true
Children come from Allah, disabled, not disabled,
my mom and dad are cousins, me or my siblings, none of us are disabled,
Any marriage can fall out, even if its not to a cousin, no one is perfect and whats is in your kismat (Destiny) you get
whoever you marry, marriage has to be done, its half of the Imaan (Faith)

Aisha Ali wrote:
Marrying a cousin can actually be a good thing
so many marriages are successful after marrying cousins
and the thing about having disabled children when u marry a cousin
is so not true
Children come from Allah, disabled, not disabled,
my mom and dad are cousins, me or my siblings, none of us are disabled,
Any marriage can fall out, even if its not to a cousin, no one is perfect and whats is in your kismat (Destiny) you get
whoever you marry, marriage has to be done, its half of the Imaan (Faith)

Crux of article:

Repeated cross-generational consanguineous relationships (known as endogamy) have a significantly higher risk of genetic defects (up to 10 times in some studies).

2. Endogamy is a cultural practice not specifically encouraged by the shari`a, and although it has been widely practiced by Muslim societies, major figures such as Imam Ghazali (citing Sayyidina Umar, no less) have cautioned against excessiveness in this - precisely because it ‘weakens the offspring.’ [Ghazali: Ihya XII]

5. Thus, as with most matters, the shari’a takes the middle path - between an excessive reliance on medical evidence that is nuanced in its findings, and a willful rejection of science as somehow antithetical to trust in the Divine.
‘And so have We made you a median nation, that you may be witnesses to mankind, and We have made the Prophet a witness over you.’
‘Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you … that you might glorify Allah for what he has guided you to, and that you might be thankful.’

IMAGE(http://www.inminds.co.uk/Boycott-Israel-006.jpg)
IMAGE(http://www.vivapalestina.org/images/website/viva_banner-strap.jpg)

Aisha Ali wrote:
Marrying a cousin can actually be a good thing
so many marriages are successful after marrying cousins
and the thing about having disabled children when u marry a cousin
is so not true
Children come from Allah, disabled, not disabled,
my mom and dad are cousins, me or my siblings, none of us are disabled,
Any marriage can fall out, even if its not to a cousin, no one is perfect and whats is in your kismat (Destiny) you get
whoever you marry, marriage has to be done, its half of the Imaan (Faith)

Marrying a cousin can never be a good thing at least for the children
and there are many proofs today that marring a cousin is dangerous and it leads to disabled children

Marriage does not have to be done no matter what the case may be

My English is not very good

I was thinking, if two cousins get married and have a child who is unhealthy due to genes whether this would be a valid reason for divorce. hmmm

(I realise this isn't really a discussion Q but one for the scholars)

"How many people find fault in what they're reading and the fault is in their own understanding" Al Mutanabbi

I dont think I get this "valid reason for a divorce" stuff.

divorce is allowed and doesnt need a reason.

It is only christian law afaik, where marriage is "til death do us part" where some excuses have been put into the system to allow divorce.

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.

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