Quite a sad story about marital practices in Saudi Arabia from Arab News, in particular, the practice of marrying daughters off to their cousins. An excerpt:
The final word comes from Maha, another woman.
“There is the tradition of keeping a girl for her cousin. The problem is that this tradition often pleases nobody, yet fathers never change their minds. Sometimes they want to keep the money in the family instead of sharing it with outsiders, who they suspect are only after the money. Sometimes they say that the family is socially below us. If a cousin is younger than me, they will accept him simply because he is a cousin. In fact, this is exactly what happened to me: I had to marry my cousin who was two years younger —- simply because my father and my cousin’s father had agreed to the marriage. I later discovered that my cousin was in love with another girl and he had promised to marry her. My cousin does not love me and I feel nothing for him. This is the price for our tradition of marrying girls to their cousins.”
I think I have enough blogger friends to correct me if I’m wrong (Aziz, Zack and Bin Gregory, I’m talking to you), but I believe that marrying daughters off to cousins is a tribal practice, rather than anything suggested or sanctioned by Islam. Or perhaps it’s a corruption of the tribal system stemming from Saudi rule.
[…]In the sad tale told by Maha, it’s worth remembering that while she and her dowery stays within the family, her cousin-husband is free to also marry the girl of his dreams, if he can afford to support her.
Cousin marriage is generally common in the Muslim world today. Take a look at the map showing the prevalence of cousin (1st and 2nd) marriages. However, I do not think these have anything to do with Islam. Rather, cousin marriages seem to be common due to tribal and family reasons, as Bill mentioned. According to modernist scholar Moiz Amjad:
To understand why Islam has not prohibited marriage between first cousins, it is imperative to first understand the scope of Islamic teachings, in general and its prohibitions, in particular.
The scope of Islamic teachings is limited to the individual and collective morality and spiritual well being of the people. […]Islam does not prohibit things for their medical or scientific repercussions. On the contrary, Islamic prohibitions are strictly related to the moral and spiritual repercussions of things or actions.
[…]The reason why Islam has declared certain relations as prohibited for marriage is to warrant a stable family structure for man, which, in turn, is one of the essential requirements for the socio-moral well being of man. Marriage between first cousins —- as opposed to marriage between brothers and sisters, for instance —- does not destabilize the family structure, even though it may have certain negative medical repercussions on the children born of such a marriage. Thus, Islam does not prohibit such a marriage.
According to the conservative Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid:
Al-hamdu lillah (All praise be to Allah). There is no objection whatsoever in the Islamic religion for a man to marry any of his relatives except al-maharim (those forbidden for marriage) whom Allah mentioned in surat al-nisaa’, 4:23 (interpretation of the meaning):
Prohibited to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, daughters, sisters; father’s sisters, mother’s sisters; brother’s daughters, sister’s daughters; foster-mothers (who breast-fed you), foster-sisters (who breast-fed from the same woman as you); your wives’ mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives with whom you have consummated marriage, no prohibition if ye have not consummated; (those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Thus, when Allah mentioned for us the relatives to whom marriage is forbidden, we then come to know that there is no objection for the remainder of the family relations. Furthermore, there is no condition that it be the last resort as indicated in the question. Among the most prominent evidence of this fact is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) married his daughter Fatima to Ali (may Allah be pleased with them) and he is the son of her father’s uncle, as well as the marriage of the Prophet himself to Zainab bint Jahsh (may Allah be please with her) and she is his aunt’s daughter (i.e. his cousin); and there are many other such examples.
However, a different question may be asked, namely: “Is it better or preferable for a Muslim to marry someone he is not related to rather than a relative?”
The answer to this question varies from case to case, and perhaps it may be preferable to marry people who are non-relations, for example if one aspires to form new social ties or bonds, and regards the existence of a marriage relationship with a different family as constructive in widening the circle of social bonds.
In the US, cousin marriages are taboo and are banned in 24 states. According to recent research, there is an increased risk of genetic defects in the case of cousin marriages, though not at the level popularly believed.
First cousins are somewhat more likely than unrelated parents to have a child with a serious birth defect, mental retardation or genetic disease, but their increased risk is nowhere near as large as most people think, the scientists said.
In the general population, the risk that a child will be born with a serious problem like spina bifida or cystic fibrosis is 3 percent to 4 percent; to that background risk, first cousins must add another 1.7 to 2.8 percentage points, the report said.
Although the increase represents a near doubling of the risk, the result is still not considered large enough to discourage cousins from having children, said Dr. Arno Motulsky, a professor emeritus of medicine and genome sciences at the University of Washington, and the senior author of the report.
Next: Forced Marriage.