Why ban cousin marriages in America?

Published: January 31, 2013

I believe the “Disease-Incest-Einstein” line of American reasoning to ban cousin marriages is flawed and should be rebutted.

Cousin marriages – while common in Muslim societies – are a big taboo in the US. In fact, 25 US states actually ban such marriages. And the Muslim youth, inadvertently, is buying into this idea.

On the contrary, acceptance for same-sex marriage is gaining such popularity that President Obama invoked gay rights in his inaugural address. My advice; never go to a barber shop in America while you are still mulling over such controversial topics because your mind may sputter a question like,

“Why do we smother the discussion on the topic of first cousin marriages?”

And you may get a response like,

“Well, you don’t have to be an Einstein to know that incestuous relationships lead to diseases in the babies.”

This actually happened to me last week.

In one succinct sentence, my barber spelled out the three oft repeated reasons to justify banning cousin marriages. That they cause diseases, that they are incestuous, and that banning such marriages is a no-brainer.

But there is only one problem; all three reasons should be debunked.

Let’s be clear. I don’t intent to promote cousin marriages, but when a free society supports a ban on such marriages, somebody’s got to question it.

I believe the “Disease-Incest-Einstein” line of American reasoning to ban such marriages is flawed and should be rebutted. So let’s confront them one by one.

Disease:

The risk of birth defects in children born to first cousins is increased from a baseline of 3-4 percent to 4-7 percent according to the National Society of Genetic Councillors (NSGC). In this modern age, this risk could be mitigated by mandating — as the State of Maine has done — pre-marital genetic testing. The NSGC, however, considers the risk to be so insignificant that it does not recommend additional testing or screening.

But wait. It gets complicated; because the risk of birth defects increases with other scenarios too.

As the maternal age exceeds 35, the incidence of foetal abnormalities creeps up to the 4-7 percent range. Should we also ban such women from having children then?

Hereditary diseases are more prevalent in certain ethnicities; cystic fibrosis in Caucasians, beta thalassemia in Italians, sickle cell in Blacks, phenylketonuria in Irish and Tay-Sachs in Ashkenazi Jews.

Why then, allow these groups to freely marry within the same ethnicity?

Incest:

As you cross the scientific hurdles, you will be confronted with a mountain of taboo cloaked in words like “gross”, “icky”, “yucky”, but where do such taboo feelings originate from? Not a single verse in the Torah, Bible or Quran - books revered by three billion followers of the three Abrahamic religions – prohibits cousin marriage, which were common in Jewish, Christian and Islamic history.

The Bible even mentions various accounts of cousin marriages, such as Jacob and Rachel, Milcah and Nahor, and Jacob and Leah, in the book of Genesis. And please don’t quote the incest prohibitions listed in Leviticus 18. It never mentions first cousins.

Granted, the fact that something is “allowed” does not always mean that it is socially accepted. So if you still feel grossed out by the thought of marrying your cousin, that’s ok.

Hold on to your personal feelings; why impose them on others?

Einstein:

This is the ultimate argument made in support of banning cousin marriages. It’s so obviously wrong that “you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure it out”.

In the evidence driven societies, we have a different word to describe such claims; myth.

Myths are best broken by data. The fact that 20 percent of global marriages take place between first cousins and most societies, including Europe and Canada, consider cousin marriages to be legal should give us a pause.

Muslim Americans have not taken a strong position on this issue. The youth politely decline the option of marrying their cousin and those who may have married their cousins, don’t talk about the fact as if it were a crime.

After I published this piece, a friend – who married his cousin and lives in Texas – tweeted;

“Apparently I am a felon as per the Texas penal code.”

I have learnt my lesson.

America has no appetite to have a rational conversation over the topic of cousin marriages. And I am certainly not having this discussion in the barber shop again. Because after all the research for this article, I realised that actually, you have to be an Einstein in order to believe that there is nothing wrong with cousin marriages.

Why?

Because in 1919 Albert Einstein married Elsa Löwenthal – his first cousin.

Do you approve or disapprove of cousin marriages?

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This post originally appeared here.

Read more by Faheem here or follow him on Twitter @Faheem

Faheem Younus

Faheem Younus

The writer is clinical associate professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA. The author can be followed @Faheem twitter.com/#!/FaheemYounus

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sinclair

    Didnt realize this was still a topic of discussion! I will give you the number one reason for banning cousin marriages for all time:

    It fosters an unhealthy, insecure atmosphere for girls at home – when they feel unsure about who is their brother and who wants to be their beau. Thats pretty messed up. Recommend

  • Amna

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this article. I like how everyone uses babies as an argument against cousin marriages. Gay people do not intend to have babies when they have sex, so why is that okay and not cousin marriages.
    This being said, I do not want to or plan to marry any of my cousins, and I think it causes too much family drama anyway. But like you mentioned, a society that claims to be ‘free’ should not allow people to be victim to such unnecessary stigma. I would say since sex for many is all about two consenting adults having a good time and making their own choices, especially in the US- babies are not the primary reason for having sex; even actual incest can not be banned using logical arguments. This is because having sex for fun and for babies are now considered two totally different unrelated things, with all the advancement in healthcare.
    But of course, we know logic is not the primary driver for popular perception and opinion in most of the world including the United States. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    Those conversant with the religious myths of the so-called Abrahimic Religions, can some one explain how could one of the two brothers, Cain and Abel found a girl for marrying? Their was no one else around.
    .
    They were the only progeny of Adam and Eve, two male children.
    This lacuna has been bothering me.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    I think this is a rational viewpoint on a topic which attracts strong opinions. Even in India, within Hinduism, there are different approaches which are poles apart. The gotra approach in the North which classifies same-gotra marriage as incestuous (even if there are no shared relatives for generations) at the one end, and the Southern states where the avunculate or matrilineal cousin marriage is a perfectly acceptable at the other; if we consider the Roman Empire, cousin marriages were the norm among nobility, and seemed fairly incestuous and distinctly scandalous based on today’s morality because often one of those being married would be the adopted son of his wife’s father – a good example is Tiberius, who married Augustus Caesar’s daughter, Julia, even though he was his adopted son – contrast this against Kacha in the Mahabharata, who refused to marry the daughter of his Guru, saying that is amounted to incest; if we move back further to consider evolution theory (which muslims ironically argue against), a large percentage of human population growth may have been through mating among close relatives – but the final question is does that make it right? I don’t know. The data provided in the article is very interesting, but fails to address the impact of generations of inbreeding on the health and intelligence of the child. Would be interesting to see this info as well.Recommend

  • John B

    Well, each civilization has its own code and incest is variously defined in the same civilization differently over a period of time and the common law either approved, disapproved or banned such marriages.

    Of all the women available, why does one want to marry a first cousin anyway. All cousin marriages are arranged marriages, and arranged marriages can also seek non cousin spouses. So why first cousin marriage so desperately ?

    Even brother sister incestuous marriages were practiced all over the world once upon a time and it is also recorded in old testament, Zorastrian literature, and Egyptian papyrus. Does that mean we should continue that practice?

    If first cousin marriage is okay then why not allow brother -sister union as well. After all, the arguments in favor of first cousin marriages (family relations, family unity, wealth preservation etc) are also equally applicable to brother-sister union and argues strongly in favor of this type of incestuous union as compared to cousin marriages. So, why not allow incestuous marriage; or why the society moved away from this type of union very early in the civilization development ?

    The laws in the US are the same everyone in each state in the US and federal law trumps over state law, so take it or leave it.

    Human civilization has progressed a long way. And yes, after three generations of continued cousin marriages, inherited diseases do appear at higher gene frequency. Also, the infertility rates among first cousin marriages are high. Recommend

  • Ahm

    Thought Provoking!Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Faheem, most excellent post. You so rightly point out that instead of following the Quran, Bible and Torah, Muslim youth today is being seduced away from the Islamic path. Because of ignorance, it has become fashionable to decry cousin marriages for no purpose at all (as you pointed out). Its blind critics ignore the tradition’s many many benefits. Before we marry someone, we are called upon to know them. Can we know anyone more easily and better than our cousins? It will be hard to imgaine. We also need strong families, and cousin marriages are the best means of strengthening the bonds of any family. Cousin marries allow families to keep their hard-earned money within family. This natural saving is the surest, although unrecognized means to long-term community prsoperity and national progress. It teaches us the value of cooperation, adjustment, and love – which are all deeply regarded Islamic values. The institution of cousin marriages needs to be protected from unfair criticism and widely promoted. We need to explain to non-Muslims why it is really the best means of finding a spouse for anyone – as Einstein’s case proves it. Recommend

  • Ilyad

    good one doctor sahib,Recommend

  • http://UK MSS

    Your arguments are using other situations to justify what is happening in only Muslim societies. Long time ago, when Islam was born and Christianity and Judaism before that in the same geographical area, the populations were small within each faith. There was a serious shortage of females and males, particularly males because of constant fighting and disease amongst other factors. So first cousin marriage was allowed in Islam though it was deemed ‘incest’ in other cultures. Also, people (including the so called wise men) did not know the long term genetic mutational effect that this kind of pairing would inflict.
    Then there was the benefit of keeping property within the same clan if not the family. If you look at times much earlier than that, researchers have found from DNA samples taken from bodies buried near each other or within the same area that brothers and sisters had produced off springs, a reality born out of sheer necessity. However, that happened long long ago. The world is over populated now, the medical facts are known, so why continue with te same practice? You are trying to justify an obviously a wrong practice. The percentages you quoted translate into a huge number of physically or mentally challenged children. The anguish and pain this situation brings on families who have to bear it is only understood if one lives through it. Then there is the resource implication for the individual, the family and the state. All this just to justify the culture? A culture is meant to be dynamic to accommodate the needs of people not static to feed itself on the vagaries of societies.Recommend

  • Nayla

    a single cousin marriage in a family’s lineage isn’t the problem, it’s when families CONSISTANTLY marry their cousins down through their family tree. Say, a couple who are 1st cousins marry. If their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. also married their 1st cousins within their families, the likelihood of their children having genetic defects go way up because of the higher genetic depression factor.Recommend

  • DM

    Agreed 100%
    Pathetic policies!!!Recommend

  • American

    The author is trying to mislead by applying false logic…
    Increased potential for birth defects in case of mother’s advanced age is not equal or same (as argued by the author) that due to first cousin marriages.
    They are independent, have nothing to do with each other, and are, in fact, “cumulative”.
    That is, the risk due to advanced age of mother should be ‘added’ to the risk due to first cousin marriages.
    So you then get a double dose of potential risk. You can keep adding additional risk factors…all of which ‘add up’…they are not substitutes for each other…like smoking, HIV, genetic disorders,etc..etc.,
    Pakistanis, even those living in USA, make spurious arguments that don’t add up.
    What has Einstein marrying his first cousin got to do with this at all…?
    If the risk is say 5%, that means that in 95% of cases, immediate offspring may be OK; but they may carry recessive gene mutations that may show up after one or more generations (depending in risk factors in each mating generations).
    It is like saying that a person crossed railway lines every day for 10 years…and nothing happened. Except once. That time, the train hit him.
    So..which one do you want to take…99% of the time that nothing happened OR 1% when risk became real ?Recommend

  • Insaan

    Many Muslims I know in USA are married to their cousins and no one has bothered them. Main reason Muslims marry cousins is lack of trust in other non-related Muslims. Inbreeding over time can definitely increase birth defects by increasing defective genes in the pool. I support Muslims right to marry their relatives.Recommend

  • mr.president

    There are reliable scientific studies that show that an offspring from a cousin marriage has 7% higher chance of having some kind of defects. If the author can counter those studies, I would like to hear it. The only benefit cousin marriage has is that the groom and bride are well known to both the families and often each other. Recommend

  • Adnan

    Someone has a crush on their cousinRecommend

  • mr.president

    There are reliable scientific studies that show that an offspring from a cousin marriage has 7% higher chance of having some kind of defects. If the author can counter those studies, I would like to hear it. The only benefit cousin marriage has is that the groom and bride are well known to both the families and often each other, there is no other benefit.Recommend

  • Fed Up Indian

    “A BBC report discussed Pakistanis in Britain, 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.”

    Here’s the link.
    An easier way to figure out would be to ask any doctor in Britain about how Pakistani origin people are clogging the NHS thanks to their repeated inbreeding. The fact that many of these people don’t have full-time jobs and live off benefits doesn’t help either.
    .
    By the way, Einstein’s marriage to Lowenthal did not produce any children.Recommend

  • some-one

    I read a few blogs from this dude. They are really toxic.He goes to some extent in wrong direction to prove anything Islam is glorified and correct. Recommend

  • Obaid

    Awesome research and amazing finisher :)Recommend

  • Farid S. Rahman

    Author’s defense of marriages of first cousins is fundamentally flawed when he talks about an increase of risks from 3-4 percent to 4-7 percent. It might be so, the first time it happens. But don’t the risks increase a lot more when first cousins from first cousin marriages get married? And the increase in risks most certainly doesn’t stop with the second generation – it gets worse as first cousin marriages are perpetuated for generation after generation.

    Furthermore, without the taboo, every uncle will be wary of his nephews casting lustful eyes on his daughters and in the wait for hanky panky within the family environment. The taboo makes for a much healthier familial dynamics.Recommend

  • Anwar

    Can any one comment this issue in light of Quran & Sunnah (Islam) ?Recommend

  • The Khan

    Cousin marriage leads to diseases and stupidity is debunked so many times- i don’t even know why people keep on repeating it.
    Case in point, me. My mom and dad are first cousins and I am a chartered accountant in Canada working for Deloitte and my sister is studying medicine. No diseases so far although i did get chicken pox and food poisoning(from eating roadside gol gappas back in Karachi), don’t know whether it counts or not. Recommend

  • http://pakistaniteen.wordpress.com pakistaniteen

    Why?

    Because in 1919 Albert Einstein married Elsa Löwenthal – his first cousin.

    Ha – You said it all ! Recommend

  • harish

    No Offense, but cousin marriage has been proved to reduce the IQ level of children over a period of time. A honest broad look at societies practicing it confirms the trend.Recommend

  • s shah

    There are often several generations of first cousin marriages in the same family or clan. First cousins marrying first cousins over several generations would lead to problems I think.Recommend

  • Pragmatist

    The author must move to Pakistan if he intends to marry his first cousin.Recommend

  • http://karachi hyderabadi

    My first cousin brother had a crush on his own sister. So coming up next is marraige between brothers and sisters followed by uncles and neices.Recommend

  • Westerner

    You’re a professor at a medical school and you’re claiming there is nothing wrong with cousin marriages? The figures you show only relate to one generation, the risk becomes cumulative when generations of cousin-cousin marriages occur, as it is usual with Islamic communities and countries (and the rednecks, some Indians and others). The risk of genetic diseases will sharply rise as cousins ​​from a closed population more than average marry with each other.

    Arabs are among the people who suffer the most by genetic disorders. Among the Arab population there are more than nine hundred genetic diseases. On the basis of a report by the CAGS there are approximately two hundred of these genetic diseases occurring among the Arabs in the Gulf States alone. Over 60 percent of the genetic disorders among Arabs is a result of marriages between cousins​​.

    While British Pakistanis account for three per cent of the births in Britain, they are responsible for 33 per cent of the 15,000 to 20,000 children born each year with genetic defects.The vast majority of problems are caused by recessive gene disorders, according to British genetic scientists.
    One in ten children from these cousin marriages either dies in infancy or develops a serious life-threatening disability.
    These include blindness, deafness, blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, heart or kidney failure, lung or liver problems and myriad complex neurological or brain disorders, and a lower IQ.
    The same health issues have come to light in recent years in other European countries like Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. In Germany, for example, in the Neukölln district of Berlin an increasing number of children are born with birth defects. The reason is the large number of marriages between close relatives, that is prevalent among Turkish immigrants who marry generation after generation in the same family gene pool. These defects include mental diseases, metabolic diseases or disorders of the central nervous system. Several sociologists already speak of the ‘Turks Ghetto’ Berlin, where the problems are very large. Moreover, the family often do everything possible to find a marriage partner for their disabled children, which only magnifies the problem in the coming generation further on.

    And as I recall Einstein did not have any children with Elsa. Now did he?Recommend

  • SK5

    Go to the southern states and you’ll find a whole lot of first-cousin marriages. I have an isreali friend here in OZ and his brother also married his first cousin. This certainly isn’t a “muslim” thing.Recommend

  • faiz

    @Farid S. Rahman:
    “I don’t intent to promote cousin marriages, but when a free society supports a ban on such marriages, somebody’s got to question it.”

    Your response? Do you think that there should be an absolute ban? I think that’s the discussion. Not that people should keep on marrying cousins.Recommend

  • faiz

    @Westerner:
    “I don’t intent to promote cousin marriages, but when a free society supports a ban on such marriages, somebody’s got to question it.”

    Your response? Do you think that there should be an absolute ban? I think that’s the discussion. Not that people should keep on marrying cousins.Recommend

  • Riaz Haq

    5 bucks says that this blogger is married to his first cousin.Recommend

  • doom

    @The Khan:
    I’m afraid one generation of one family is not an appropriate sample size to base judgment on. As others have pointed out the negative effects of incestuous marriages (all marriages to blood relatives are technically incestuous) will become more pronounced when it occurs consistently with multiple cousin marriages within the same lineage, and when cousin marriage is common in a society as a whole.

    So for example Europeans and Americans are in general taller than us. We are also more likely to have e.g. have high bad cholestrol and low good cholesterol than Europeans and Americans (for genetic reasons). I would imagine that the incidence of all genetic diseases would be higher here. Such outcomes (height let’s say) over the very long term would depend on many things e.g. historical food supply and nutrition in a region. But surely the fact that cousin marriages are prevalent in our region will be responsible in part too for these long term outcomes. I wonder if there is a study on this…Recommend

  • omar

    absolutely correct, cousin marriage must be discoureged.Recommend

  • Working Woman

    Well reasoned article.Recommend

  • shariq

    My Allah said that Allow Cousin marriages now it is up to my choice to opt this or not so any law to restrict cousin marriages is against the free society at all.Recommend

  • Something Clever

    The biggest reason to ban it is looking at the actual big picture of it all. If you block out everything and look at a single cousin marriage and their children you’re not going to get it. It’s not even about disease. It’s something that is progressively harmful if you do it too much. It causes genetic deterioration of intellectual faculties.
    The proof is your own Muslim societies that have practiced it as if first cousins were the best choice for generations. That’s not even an attempt at an insult. It’s completely obvious and I am far from the only one that notices.Recommend

  • Working Woman

    No point banning Cousin marriages… How come modern, free US air tell anyone to marry X and not Y because Y is your cousin.

    p.s. *Where goes LOVE hype? *Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    Biggest reason against cousin marriage: You get to meet other people. Recommend

  • Westerner

    @faiz:

    Personally I think that the government should not have a say in it. Let people decide for themselves whether they find it justified or not to marry your cousin and have children. But the more I ponder about the issue, the more I think a ban would be more than reasonable. Think of it, cousin-marriages that run generation after generation have wider implications on the society, beginning with children themselves being handicapped, to huge medical care. How else are you going to convince these people? Should we educate them, not restrict them? I don’t believe that education would help. Habitual cultural patterns require rather experienced and confident choosing of ‘our’ world.
    Before we can point out the risks of cousin marriages we should indicate that such relationships are undesirable. Only then can you really discourage people and educate them.
    A ban would not be effective and highly symbolic, but it would be a primary step in discouraging such behavior.

    By comparing cousin marriages to other groups the author is not only wrong, but he uses an invalid argument as well. He looks purely at the ‘effect’ of the act and not the act itself. So the act of having a child after you’re 35 years old is equal to father a child with a cousin. For we in the West find it normal to have children so late in life as other cultures find it normal to marry a cousin.

    However, the author forgets that cousin marriages eventually lead to more consanguinity. If it is a cultural practice to marry your cousin, what stops you as a offspring of a cousin marriage not to follow the example of your parents? What about the effects of generations of consanguinity? Are the risks the same as the other mentioned risk groups? Recommend

  • Sobriquet

    @Abid P Khan:
    Abrahimic theology states that Cain was born with a twin sister and Abel was a triplet with two twin sisters. Cain and Abel each married the sister born with them. According to some theologists, a quarrel over who would get to marry the third sister led to Cain slaying Abel. So first ask yourself what did all this make Cain and Abel? Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @John B:

    The writer actually explained it in a good way.

    You cant tabboo some thing if you dont like it. In one hand you say you liv in a free world and than because You cannot understand or accept you call in incest.

    Regarding Brother and sister the percentage is not 4-7% rather very very high. You need proper research to discuss on the topic. But like the writer explained, that people in US or many other part of the world just dont want to….simple irrational behavior.Recommend

  • Shahzad

    I find this argument very informative. Yes gays marriages are more important than anything else in this world :) Recommend

  • gp65

    A thoughtful fact based approach to discuss a sensitive issue. Frankly the only reason I have against cousin marriages is the one articulated by @Sinclair.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @American:
    again the same logic. On which the writer has already argued.

    The einstein part is the answer to the so called statement that you dont need to be Einstein to understand.

    Coming to your second point. I see here in Germany so many abnormal german babies who parent got married and were not cousins. So wht should I do, not make kids at all????
    The point of the writer is simple a certain risk is always there and being a cousin increases it 1-2%. Getting child from direct sibling increases it far more. Simple scientic point, is not difficult to understand. But again if you mind is made up not to understand than you cannot do any thing about it.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @Farid S. Rahman:

    Your point is pretty freaky.

    If a uncle has eyes…he will have them in any ways……like please dont start with moral discussion.

    Secondly are you trying to tell me that gay marriage shows better morals??????? are you kidding meRecommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @MSS:

    So you are trying to explain to ban cousin marriage and go for gay marriage….????? do you know how strange I felt when I was just writting it….lameRecommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @Westerner:

    again the same point….in west we talk about freedom. In west we are ready to allow gay marriage or lesbian in that regard but are against cousin marriage.

    Like whts the point.?????? I dont get it????? Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    To all one thing …the writer is a professor at school of medicine… so called googled research against the cousin marriage, you can keep with you.Recommend

  • Sarmad Bukhari

    This article gave me cancer. Not the kind you get better from.
    For people who want to read and understand unbiased genetic basis of cousin marriage problems should start by reading this;
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage#GeneticsRecommend

  • Sane Muslim

    Abid P Khan – The girl Cain and Abel were fighting over was their sister.

    This blog is so full of crap. The scientific reasons for not marrying cousins are aplenty. Increased risk of disease, weaker genes and deformities. Most cousin marriages are arranged. In stupid desperation by parents to prevent their children from marrying ‘out’. And for mothers to get a ‘malleable’ daughter-in-law. The family dynamics are completely screwed up. And contrary to perception, there is greater disharmony in families where the spouses are first cousins. The indulgent aunt suddenly becomes the demanding mother in law.

    The odd thing is that our Prophet actually recommended marrying into tribes different from one’s own. For very obvious reasons he didn’t apply this to his own family. 1400 years ago, that would have meant people hankering to do so just to manipulate the Prophet. That’s my take on it at least.

    With all the millions of Pakistanis out there and billions of Muslims, why do we still need to marry into the family? And for that matter, each of us knows at least one if not dozens of happy marriages of Muslims and non-Muslims. Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @The Khan:

    ahhaa…nice one.Recommend

  • http://UK MSS

    @Shah,
    1. I did not mention gay marriages even once. Read it again please. To me gay relationships are abhorent.
    2. Your rejoinder that the author is a professor of medicine is actually a sad thing. I hope this professor is not allowing his personal and cultural views to override the medical views and statistics. He should teach with a neutral mind. Genetic imbalances at 7%(using his higher figure) in one generation will set up a chain reaction like scenario. Ask the UK NHS and they will tell you the costs involved in dealing with this problem emanting mainly from Pakistani community.
    Societies need to change for the better with time, not stick to dogmas.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    How the author managed to link gay rights with allowing cousin marriages, is beyond me. Incest is not a ‘sexual orientation’, but an actual choice.

    Also, you either deliberately or through insufficient research, failed to mention that the birth-defect rate from consanguineous relationships is cumulative. For instance, if I marry my cousin, and then my children marry their cousins, they would be at an even higher risk of having a child with a birth defect.

    This is significant because there are people who have been marrying within the family for many generations now.Recommend

  • http://UK MSS

    @Shah,
    There is another mostly ignored aspect of this cultural constraint. Limiting the number of available prospective marriage partners to just near family members means reduction in social circles, lack of opportunities to interact with people from different areas and a rigid tendency to stick to too much tradition and reluctance to accept or promote change in social behaviours.
    Even where people are open minded in this kind of social binding, at most, they become intellectual ponds rather than flowing streams merging into a river or a sea, far less than an ocean of ideas. In a small but significant way this too a contributory factor in keeping the Muslim societies backward.
    This is a limited space to discuss issues such as this, but I am glad some people are taking the first steps.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Successive cousin marriages have been proven to result in children with a much, much higher chance of genetic defects.Recommend

  • Nobody

    When I first started reading this blog I thought I wouldn’t like it or agree with it, but you’ve been fairly successful in putting a teeny tiny dent in my anti-cousin marriage stance (emphasis on teeny tiny). The “possible health risks” Americans tend to give is a bit exaggerated, or at least while not entirely untrue, not reason enough alone.
    As you also mentioned, and according to studies (and as most of us already know), having babies when maternal age AND paternal age is past a certain point ups the chances of birth defects, mild or not (surprised at how many people are unaware that a man’s age matters as well when it comes to healthy babies!). Anyway back to the point, sensible point you made regarding the age factor of the parents being more of a risk than a cousin marriage.
    However, it’s my opinion that it’s the ‘ick’ factor more than anything else. Americans had cousins marriages once upon a time, but if you say anything about it now, expect disgust and shock.
    I personally don’t like cousins marriages AT ALL because I think it opens a can of worms and because I’m partial to the ‘ick’ factor myself, having been born and raised in the US, & having been brought up in a family where cousins are to see one another as siblings, not marriage material (both in Pakistan and here). It’s a mental thing.
    That being said, I don’t like the ban. Bit hypocritical. If gay people are allowed to marry, cousins ought to be as well. But I don’t expect that ever changing here. If anything, the remaining states will likely establish laws against cousins marriages too. Anyways, that’s my two cents. Recommend

  • jugnoo

    As a scientist and biologist I find this article to be totally misleading and dangerous. There is solid evidence that cousin marriages significantly increases risk of heredetary diseases. The reason is that most genetic defects are due to recessive genes which when combined show the effect where as if recessive genes are masked by good dominant gene then the phenotype is normal. Due to repeated cousin marriages, pak & Saudi populations have very high incidence of genetic disorders. One example is thalesemia. I know many extended families from khyber to karachi in which majority of members are afflicted such as hearing loss, sight loss etc. In my own distant family there are genetic disorders due to cousin marriages. This fact is only realized in 20th century after the science of genetics was esteblished. Another classic example is hemophilia which was prevalent in European royal family due to inter-marriges between members of royal family.This disease where blood does not clot is sex-linked inheritence and therfore only manifest in males and females are carriers. As some people pointed out that its not banned in middle-eatern relegions. the reason is obvious they were ignorant of genetics. I myself researched this topic as a part of graduate degree.In fact I point out this interesting fact that in pak many of top scientists work in human genetic disorders due to numetous families with strange genetic abnormalities over many generations.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought you did a good job in the way you argued this. I feel too much inter-marriage could lead to problems down the line just like one glass of wine is not a problem but two bottles certainly is. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Nayla:
    Truth! One or two cousin marriages is not likely to be an issue, but keep it going…. As my Nana and Nano always said, it’s healthy to have new blood and new genes in a family. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @American:
    Logical points, but when the percentage presented is not a terrifying number, people will chance it, as they do with many things in life.
    Divorce rates are now past 50% in this country, people still get married. Even with those odds. I guess the single digit percentage makes people relax and dismiss it as not more dangerous than any other factor that can potentially lead to birth defects. There are tons of possible birth defects and diseases a baby can be born with, people still have babies.
    Personally, I’m against cousin marriages, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to be. Recommend

  • Pessimist

    A blog full of nothing. It’s scientifically proven that inter-breeding can lead to defects in offspring. Not all the time, but there are high chances. Obviously Muslims would object to this because after all, most of us don’t believe in Science. It’s an evil tool from the Western Kaafirs designed to destroy Islam.
    Tell you what,

    For Shah (Berlin):
    I see here in Germany so many abnormal german babies who parent got married and were not cousins. So wht should I do, not make kids at all????
    If a uncle has eyes…he will have them in any ways……like please dont start with moral discussion.
    Secondly are you trying to tell me that gay marriage shows better morals??????? are you kidding me.
    in west we talk about freedom. In west we are ready to allow gay marriage or lesbian in that regard but are against cousin marriage.

    I can not even begin to describe how wrong & ridiculous your statements are. If you don’t like the West then please get yourself out of there. You will not be missed. Recommend

  • Agrippa the Skeptic

    Has Faheem Younus given the matter a serious thought?

    Does he understand the depth of the pain this “self inflicted malady” causes to the people affected?

    I think he has written this article with the jaundiced “why do the hate us for everything” attitude and thinks he has clinched the argument with “Einstein was married to his first Cousin”.

    Read and follow amongst others:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1305078/TAZEEN-AHMAD-Three-uncles-deaf-Five-aunts-died-babies-Why-My-grandparents-cousins-married.html

    And see

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE5ZBmp7AC8

    And if possible see the whole multi-part Channel 4 documentation by Tazeen Ahmad.

    Follow the link on what economic stress mentally and physically challenged population causes to a society.
    Do a bit of circumspection and I am sure you will also conclude that this should and cannot be just an academic discussion.Recommend

  • American

    @Shah (Berlin):
    The arguments are spurious….gay and lesbian marriages are a matter of choice that do not leave behind defective offspring. Cousin marriages do. Of course, you can marry a cousin (or a horse or dog or a tree) and have fun…so long as you don’t create problematic children that become societies’ burden (specially in Berlin where you live). So, comparing gay and lesbian marriages to first cousin marriages is spurious logic. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    @SK5:
    Go to the southern states and you’ll find a whole lot of first-cousin marriages. I have an isreali friend here in OZ and his brother also married his first cousin. This certainly isn’t a “muslim” thing.

    .
    I agree. The practice of marriage among nearly related persons is practiced and was practiced in Western countries too. It has become a No, No, more after the second world war. Question is whether the present trend is a result of better access to relevant data or a trend only.
    .
    Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    @Sobriquet:
    “@Abid P Khan:
    Abrahimic theology states that Cain was born with a twin sister and Abel was a triplet with two twin sisters. Cain and Abel each married the sister born with them. According to some theologists, a quarrel over who would get to marry the third sister led to Cain slaying Abel. So first ask yourself what did all this make Cain and Abel?”

    .
    You mean the story where the dispute rose among the two brothers was about not letting a furrow to be dug for irrigating the vegetable patch, is a Sunday School version? Apparently irrigating the vegetable patch was a euphemism for something else.
    .
    Ah, there is always a woman behind every trouble in the world. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    @Sane Muslim:
    “Abid P Khan – The girl Cain and Abel were fighting over was their sister. “

    .
    If I am getting my calculus right, we have to be descendants of the first couple’s incestuous relationship! Perhaps that can explain the size of medical and war industry in the present world.Recommend

  • Saima

    Don’t get why everyone’s offended. The taboo against cousin marriages predates modern science and genetics. Shouldn’t that say something?
    This is a fascinating read http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/garden/26cousins.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0Recommend

  • Sab33N

    @American:
    I am a Pakistani and I completely agree with you on mutuation of genes. I have seen it happening in my own family and I have experiened the suffering. Gene mutation has resulted in an on slaught of Alzhiemers in half of my mother’s siblings at an age as early as 50. Some people may argue that Alzhimers is not heredity but it is. To date, my mother has lost 04 of her siblings due to the disease out of a total 10.

    Gene mutation has also resulted in deaths of three children of one of my relative who got married to his first cousin. All three children had a heredity disease related to the bone growth.

    So whilst the article may provide rationale in favor of cousin marriages, PLEASE KINDLY REFRAIN FROM IT TO AVOID SUFFERING OF YOUR FUTURE GENERATIONS!Recommend

  • Zaidi

    What next? Marry your own sibling movement?Recommend

  • Yamna Hassan

    I guess Americans consider this as a taboo because they are too ‘free’ as a nation. A Cousin marriage would mean being hooked up or being committed to cousins at a very small age. This would obviously be unacceptable to them as it would obstruct their freedom. Simple. Recommend

  • Uzair

    Faheem, in actuality the US majority opinion that you are questioning is the right one, your arguments (as has been pointed out by others here) are the ones that are all incorrect:

    DISEASE:
    If you accept that close-consanguinity (blood relation) of parents does cause SOME risk of disease, then there are three conclusions we can easily arrive at:

    Any non-negligible risk must be avoided as a moral obligation. One example: the tens of thousands of thalassemia patients in Pakistan (with 6000 added annually) who absolutely must get regular blood transfusions or else DIE didn’t ASK for being born like that, and will surely question why their parents were not more responsible in choosing their spouse.
    Yes, ethnicity and the age of the mother at the time of birth can be risks in themselves, but again, why introduce risk that can easily be avoided? Why compound the risk through things we CAN control? To me that unconscionable.
    If close-cousin marriages happen only now and then in the population, then the overall population will not be threatened with genetic problems. However (in a society like ours) with cousin marriages happening left, right, and center, and through the generations, there is BOUND to be an accumulation of genetic problems. This could be perhaps one reason for the reduced physical and mental capabilities of the general Pakistani populace, and partly why we are in constant decline.

    INCEST:
    Here you are referring to ancient cultures and religious examples and scriptures. This point is so easily countered it is almost not worth making the effort. Basically, incest, including between immediate siblings, HAS indeed been a part of various historical cultures, the ancient Egyptians being a classic examples. Does that make it right? And if you are looking for scriptural support, then please explain why you don’t follow other edicts such as killing someone who works on the Sabbath (as in the Old Testament aka Torah), or owning slaves (as in the Torah and Bible and the Quran) or keeping sex slaves (again sanctioned in all the major Abrahamic faiths). I am very confident you don’t ascribe to any of these practices, being a modern, humane, decent man, so if in general you and the mainstream Muslims have chosen to modernize themselves, why cling to notions like cousin marriage as well?

    EINSTEIN :
    Again, too easy to counter: Even if Einstein did marry his first cousin that is no proof that such marriages do not stastically increase the chances of genetic disease in the children. You are deploying the classic logical fallacy “argument by authority”. In any event Einstein was an authority on physics, not genetics and reproduction!

    It would also be a little humorous to point out that your argument is flawed internally: Einstein’s marriage to his first cousin did not produce any children until she died after 17 years of marriage. If he had had children with her and they had all lived healthy lives, that would not have been statistically signifant enough as proving that cousin marriage is genetically ok or bad, but you can’t even prove the former using Einstein as an example.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    one does not marry a cousin as one does not marry a sister. Sinclair has explained the reasons and other have as well. The risks are known but it does not mean that all risks become a reality, since there are other positive and negatives come into action.

    Inancient times there were intermarriages within the family, the tribe, the village and so on. And there was always a handicapped individual in the village community. In Iceland the DNA tests have shown only two to three families responsible for the entire population of Iceland. It is also possible that the entire ndian population may comprise of 1 to two 2000 families. Only DNA checks would prove the real story.

    In our times the risk factor is hyped and is in the forefront for our health. It is not a secret today that medication prescribed for one patient does not always work on the second patient suffring same illness. Einstein is dead and is going to stay dead for a very long period.

    We must ask ourselves the qustions which affect us. It is also risky to marry someone one does not know fully well, and the risks related to a stranger, a foreigner with completely different DNA. The Govts who have banned marrying cousins have the statistics to prove the risks experienced in their states. Prevention is better than the action which some have taken afterwards.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • American

    @Uzair:
    Smart rebuttal of a pernicious blog.

    I would like to add: The best in USA are “way more” intelligent than the best that China, Japan, China or Europe has to offer. Reason is clear to see: A huge melting pot…the genes have been mixing for 300-500 years….only in America…Irish with Italians, Russian with Spanish, all of them with Indians, Chinese, Koreans,…..it’s the gene diversity that suppresses recessive mutations and allows ‘good’ genes to dominate.

    In India, still, North Indians (generally) won’t marry South Indians, and in Pakistan, they won’t marry beyond first cousins.

    The results are there plain enough to see, no matter what insane arguments are made by this author. Recommend

  • gp65

    Thanks @Fed Up Indian, @Uzair for providing helpful information which I had not considered.

    Tha author’s article appears reasonable if the risks in one generation are taken so initially my only reservattion was the one pinted out by @Sinclair. I had not considered the cumulative impact and in societies. Since in US to a smaller or larger extent the society picks up some part of your medical tab, I guess there is justification for banning cousin marriages – just as DUI is not permitted or many cities including my own don’t permit talking on cellphone while driving.

    @The Khan : Sample size of one does not an argument make.

    @Shah: No comparison with gay marriage. They do not affect anyone else. In a cousin marriage, a child is born that has a high chance of having genetic defects and society has to pick up the tab for this.Recommend

  • Deb

    In a materialistic world its only but a natural urge to keep the family jewels within, literally and figuratively. Right to property is a fundamental right under US constitution. US cannot ban cousin marriage. Recommend

  • jugnoo

    @Uzair:
    You are absolutely right. Note that even plants avoid self-pollination and insects mainly honey bees cross fertilize the plants by taking pollen to plants far away. In corn when you self-pollinate plants for few generations, the plants become abnormal. This phenomenon is called HYBRID VIGOUR whereby plants are healthy when they keep mixing genes. In pak there are many factors promoting cousin marriages:
    1. Religion do not ban it.
    2. Sexes do not mix freely.
    3. Influence of tribal traditions
    4. Property remain in family.
    5. cousins know each other.
    Jews due to small population and cousin marriages also had many genetic diseases such as Gaucher’s disease in which patients can not make an enzyme which is needed to break down an important metabolite in the brain.
    Every individual gets mutations which are bad from time to time. This is natural and is basis of variation in the population. However these bad mutations will accumulate when these individuals keep inbreeding.
    this is interesting that in North India, cousin marriages are not allowed in hinduism.Recommend

  • A blogger

    My best friend was forced to marry her cousin. Nor she or her cousin wanted to marrry each other but were forced to. My best friend liked someone else too. Now they have a child with various health problems and she confides in me she often compares her husband to her love.Recommend

  • http://gujrat RAW is WAR

    Dear Author

    the law is made by Americans. You have no say in this. If you don’t like it, don’t go to USA. Americans are not pleading you to come and stay with them.Recommend

  • Ali K

    Insest..marrying your sister!Recommend

  • BigotNot

    It’s really disgusting that ET would publish an article by a writer promoting cousin marriage. What next? Marry your sister because there is no medical reason not to? Disgusting!Recommend

  • Jyotika

    Lol Adnan . . . ur comment made my day . . . Recommend

  • Deep

    In India also cousin marriage is a taboo, apart frm few communities in South india nd muslims(30%of Indian muslims) in India none does cousin marriage.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    @Pessimist:

    I have the right to live where ever I feel like if the country allows…I pay here more far hightaxes than an average German. So please i have the right to speak,when I want to ,against or for germans. Secondly I am not begging the government that I want to stay here, they are actually interested currently in high skilled professional people.
    There are very good points which Germans have in their culture and attitude which I admire and would love to adopt. But as no one is perfect they have issues in their society which has to be pointed out.
    And I will point them out when ever I feel like, as its a free world. A racist or nationalist voice doesnt matter to me. He/She has to listen to people like us as we are contributing to their economy and not sitting at home and earning…….got the point. Recommend

  • observer

    @Shah (Berlin):

    A. I pay here more far hightaxes than an average German. So please i have the right to speak,when I want to ,against or for germans

    You are assuming that paying higher(?) taxes gives you the right to speak against the Germans. Well, non-Muslims in Muslim lands are supposed to pay pay all the regular taxes and then the Ziziya too. Does that give them the right to speak against the locals. And do you mean that the Germans have special taxes for Muslims?

    B.Secondly I am not begging the government that I want to stay here, they are actually interested currently in high skilled professional people.

    Are you sure of this. Did the Germans come to you bearing a visa or did you apply to them, and pay a fee too, in order to get it? And please also remember in all of Arabia highly skilled jobs are with expatriates, in fact in some countries expatriates outnumber the locals, but do they get special rights, including the right to religion?

    Grow up buddy. Stop acting as if the world owes you.Recommend

  • jugnoo

    Just to add that Soap operas and pak dramas can educate people, however it seems they promote cousin marriages. Recommend

  • Milind

    @Adnan & @observer – Your comments and rebuttals (to Shah of Berlin) were hilarious. LOL!!!Recommend

  • abhi

    The same argument can be given to the brother and sister marriage as well. Why it is taboo, after all the child of adam and eve married among themselvs as per bible and koran.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    In parts of India, not of today, it was not allowed to marry someone from the same village or Gotra(Genealogical hierarchy). They didn’t have modern science telling them about the disadvantages of marrying blood relatives or Darwin telling them about his theory of evolution. Hindus figured out very early that science requires unrelated genes for a healthy offspring.

    Even today, arranged marriages are rejected if the boy and the girl are from the same gotra.

    But, such things were never realised in Christian or Islamic or Jewish societies.

    There are NO advantages, genetically, of marrying close cousins. Stupid debate.

    http://dawn.com/2012/04/04/young-arabs-question-centuries-old-tradition-of-cousin-marriages/

    Don’t they teach evolution in Pakistan? Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The bloggers who are concerned with USA laws should know that in a democracy the decisions are made by the people who have their representatives in the State parliaments as well as at the federal level. Alcohal consumption is forbidden in certain states and while polygamy is not allowed at federal level, it is practiced in some states. Do not forget it is a free country but when caught acting against the law people are put in a Prison.
    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Insaan

    @Yamna Hassan: A Cousin marriage would mean being hooked up or being committed to cousins at a very small age.

    Committed to what? Most people will fool around if they get a moka?

    There were 2 recent blogs on tribune on sexual abuse of kids. Authors of both blogs suggested not to say anything to the person who committed abuse, because most of the time abuse is done by a close relative or close family friend.

    People marry their cousins because they don’t trust other people who are not relatives.
    More and more young Muslims in USA don’t want to marry their cousins. Some times parents force their kids to marry their cousins.

    A cousin is some one you call brother or sister Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Amna: Gay people do not intend to have babies when they have sex, so why is that okay and not cousin marriages.

    In many cultures cousins are treated like brothers and sisters, so people can’t even imagine having sex with them.

    Main reason people marry cousins is that they do not trust other people in their communities.
    It can provide safety for girls if people are just married in close families. If a man tries to divorce his cousin, his cousin may divorce is sister.

    It is very common among Muslims to marry their cousins. In some cultures consider it incestRecommend

  • American

    @Amna:
    “Gay people do not intend to have babies when they have sex, so why is that okay and not cousin marriages.”
    Precisely for that reason…if you don’t create defective babies (you don’t know until it is too late)..then you can marry and have sex with any one you like…brother, sister, mother, dog, camel, alien-from-outer-space…whatever and whoever… and that becomes your personal decision that impacts no one else.
    If you un-knowingly end up with babies with disorders…you are not at fault…it can happen by random mutations outside your control.
    If you knowingly take the risk, then, it is like Russian roulette…you may get away with it 93% of time, but even then, those children are carrying recessive genes and when ‘they’ grow up and marry first cousins, now the risk has jumped 4 times.
    Who is responsible ?Recommend

  • Pessimist (World)

    For Shah (Berlin):
    I have the right to live where ever I feel like if the country allows…I pay here more far hightaxes than an average German. So please i have the right to speak,when I want to ,against or for germans.

    You do not learn when to hush up now, do you? Please tell me which is this special tax which makes you pay more than the average German? I’d love to know that tax, is it the “Foreigner Tax”? Plus, as Observer puts it, why does paying taxes give you the right to criticise the Government. Even so, let me re-paste your comment which, according to you, any tax payer can give:

    I see here in Germany so many abnormal german babies who parent got married and were not cousins. So wht should I do, not make kids at all????

    I dare you, no I double dare you, to go to a German couple, in fact any couple, and tell them that their baby is abnormal. Let’s see what happens then, Mr. Freedom Opinion.

    Secondly I am not begging the government that I want to stay here, they are actually interested currently in high skilled professional people.
    The Germans do not care about you. You are easily replaceable, all employees are. The day someone more skilled comes along, you”ll be gone. It’s a fact of life.

    There are very good points which Germans have in their culture and attitude which I admire and would love to adopt. But as no one is perfect they have issues in their society which has to be pointed out.

    Seriously, what are you? Shah the Society Fixer? Why do you always find faults in societies, and what gives you the right to point them out? Numpty!

    He/She has to listen to people like us as we are contributing to their economy and not sitting at home and earning…….got the point.

    This statement basically highlights your mentality. I sure hope the Germans replace you easily. Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    @abhi:
    “The same argument can be given to the brother and sister marriage as well. Why it is taboo, after all the child of adam and eve married among themselvs as per bible and koran.”

    .
    Can you enlighten us in which chapter/verse of Koran did you find this revelation?Recommend

  • Lala Gee

    @Author:

    A very logical and thorough write – though, the most commentators, judging from the quality of their arguments, seem to be the result of first cousin marriage, as they say it lowers the IQ levels.Recommend

  • Lala Gee

    @Fed Up Indian:
    @Westerner:
    @MSS:

    By your logic, and as per the the percentages of BBC report you mentioned, by now more than half the population of Muslim countries should have some disability of one or the other kind, which is certainly not the case. Even in the BBC report they just mentioned “possibility” without giving any real statistics backed by verifiable data. I don’t think Muslim population in India has more disabled children than the Hindus or Christians. If so please provide some authentic reference.Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Working Woman: Do you see your first cousins as brothers and sisters?Recommend

  • Insaan

    @The Khan: Not all kids from cousin marriages have diseases. Inbreeding can increase chances of getting genetically transmitted diseases. Many kids in Pakistan and arab countries have thalasemia major where kids need blood transfusion every few weeks. There are many other diseases prevalent where people inbreed.

    Allowing cousin marriages mean more kids with serious diseases meaning more burden on healthcare.

    Health risks in married cousins
    12 October 2012

    Marrying first cousins is legal in the UK, but some doctors think there are strong medical reasons not to do it. Figures released by the British Office for National Statistics show that the death rate of infants among people of Pakistani origin, who are more likely to marry a cousin, are double those for the country as a whole.Recommend

  • John B

    @Shah (Berlin):

    Here is a lesson in science in case you care to understand.

    Hardy-Weinberg Law: in Pan Mixia (random breeding population) the gene and genotypic frequencies will remain constant generation after generation, in the absence of migration, mutation and selection

    A constant gene frequency is essential for distribution of mosaicism of defective genes and suppression of recessive genes and dose compensation of defective genes by normal genes from other chromosome.

    Cousin marriages violate all three aspects of the law of genetics: it is a selection process, prevents migration of gene pool, and brings out the dual copies of defective gens and /or supress the dose compensation from normal genes.

    Not even an illiterate goat farmer breeds the goat with cousin marriages- ask him/her. Recommend