Marriage: Between Cousins

Bill Allison had a post recently on the subject of cousin marriage recently:

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.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. I notice you’ve fallen into my habit of quoting Amjad and Munajjid. I do that because they’re pretty far apart in terms of their methodology and outlook so it gives a sense of the range of opinion in Islam. Sometimes the range is quite large, sometimes less so.

    I remember reading in either Time or Newsweek a couple months ago about groups in America that are seeking acceptance for first-cousin marriages. If that’s coming to be the American view, then it makes more sense to focus on the “forced” part not the “cousin” part of these marriages.

    BTW, you said, (Aziz, Zack and Bin Gregory, I’m talking to you)

    Why do you have a link and reference to yourself?

  2. I actually copied that idea from you. The problem is that I don’t have any good references here. I remember some of the stuff I read in all the books my Dad has collected but they are in Pakistan. And there really is not a whole lot of good stuff about Islamic fiqh etc. online. These two cover a good range though, so it works.

    Americans in general have issues with the cousin marriage part as well, that is why I brought it up. Among Europeans that I know, there isn’t anything similar.

    That’s part of the quote from Ideofact. I just copied it over.

  3. Ah, yes I see now. I think there are too many indented quotes. I thought it had gone back to what you were saying.

    Yeah, the online resources aren’t that great, and that’s part of why I play that trick. There are certain schools of thought that are very active online, but other schools of thought are not.

  4. for the record, my uncle (who considers himself salafi or something) used muhammed’s marriage to his cousins as justification for why it is good. everything muhammed did is good, ergo you do it. of course, i think that muhammed married non-cousins, and black women (ethiopians) and older women, etc. etc. etc….

    in rhode island jewish men can marry their nieces FYI… (south indian hindus also practice this-north indian hindus are very strict exogamists)

  5. Razib, I have also seen this kind of blind copying of the Prophet Muhammad’s actions/sayings by Wahabis/Salafis. They do it in all walks of life, not just marriage.

    However, I don’t know how they can reconcile their logic with the fact, as you mention, that Muhammad married quite a few times (somewhere between 8-11, I’ll have to look it up) and only one was his first cousin. Then again, the reason she (Zainab) is known is not because of cousin marriage (which was common) but the fact that she was the ex-wife of the Prophet Muhammad’s adopted son Zaid.

  6. Well, the Quran is pretty clear that ordinary men are limited to four wives and that marrying more was a special dispensation for the Prophet (sAas).

    The mention of cousin marriages is in Surah al-Ahzab verse 50, which is the verse taken to give the Prophet (sAas) leave to marry as many women as he wishes. I once saw it argued that the cousin marriage should also be considered a privilege only for the Prophet (sAas) because of this verse, but I have never seen any scholar endorse this view.

  7. any scholar would be insane to endorse this view in cultures where half the people (or more) engage in cousin marriage.

    also, i can’t find it anymore on the page, but NRO had an article on the importance of the circles-of-cousins in afghanistan, and how that makes warlords marginal in comparison….

  8. I am not sure about Afghanistan, but among Pathans/Pashtuns in Pakistan, the tradition of marrying within their tribe (not just within Pashtuns but their own tribe) is very strong. I have friends (Lodhis and Durranis) who have lived in Punjab/Delhi/UP for centuries and do not know any Pashto. No one from NWFP/Afghanistan will consider them a Pathan but they still marry only within their tribe.

  9. Al-Muhajabah: I was basically referring to the characteristics rather than the number of Prophet Muhammad’s wives. Should people follow his example for cousin marriage or for marrying widows or …

  10. First-cousin marriages are allowed in Judaism, and there was one in my family about four generations back. I’m my own fourth cousin, and I’m my father’s third cousin once removed.

  11. My parents are first cousins actually. My grandparents were closely related as well, though I forget how. About 20% of the marriages among the siblings of my parents are between first cousins. Four out of my 27 married first cousins are married to their cousins (actually 2 of them are married to each other).

  12. i am inlove with one of my cousins. why won’t my parents get married to him??

  13. please email bak and tell me—is marrying a cousin wrong?
    he is muslim like i am—his family and my family get on well-but when they found out that we were inlove—they started to ignore each other—it reminds me a little of romeo and juliet—
    can someone please email bak and give me some reliable and successful advice on what to do to get my family and his family together again and to make them agre for us to marry ___!!!!!

  14. hi I also was married to a cousin,not of my choice,I think it’s wrong it’felt like Iwas married to my brother,as for children yes their is a risk,I also have other familly marring other cousins never get along efter 1 year or so theirs problems,then with children it makes more also problems,now I’m with someone that the parents made him married a cousin,we love eachother want to start our lifes together ,he dosen’t want her but has to pretend that he cares because if he divorces her it will cause a war between familly .land will be devided fight will happen,still he wants to be with me,he thinks marring cousins is wrong to ,hi’s not happy,getty depressed over all this,I haven’t left him because he won’t let me go ,he thinks God put us together,and this marriege of his is put together by people,we beleave when parents break true love a Gift from God,they are doing wrong they not thinking of their child happyness ,just they care for money and land,tell me is this right?when they break their son’s heart and the one he loves for money,money is the rule of all evil.
    no one can learn to love someone it has to come from the heart.It’s a Gift,I know this by experience,25 years of marrige to a cousin never being happy feeling empty,always something massing from my heart my life,theres more to this story,but just for now I’m giving you a idea of what set up marrieges are about,simcerlly adelia P.S and he his a muslim.

  15. hi I also was married to a cousin,not of my choice,I think it’s wrong it’felt like Iwas married to my brother,as for children yes their is a risk,I also have other familly marring other cousins never get along efter 1 year or so theirs problems,then with children it makes more also problems,now I’m with someone that the parents made him married a cousin,we love eachother want to start our lifes together ,he dosen’t want her but has to pretend that he cares because if he divorces her it will cause a war between familly .land will be devided fight will happen,still he wants to be with me,he thinks marring cousins is wrong to ,hi’s not happy,getty depressed over all this,I haven’t left him because he won’t let me go ,he thinks God put us together,and this marriege of his is put together by people,we beleave when parents break true love a Gift from God,they are doing wrong they not thinking of their child happyness ,just they care for money and land,tell me is this right?when they break their son’s heart and the one he loves for money,money is the rule of all evil.
    no one can learn to love someone it has to come from the heart.It’s a Gift,I know this by experience,25 years of marrige to a cousin never being happy feeling empty,always something massing from my heart my life,theres more to this story,but just for now I’m giving you a idea of what set up marrieges are about,simcerlly adelia P.S and he his a muslim.

  16. I have one question,what can I do about the one I love.special when I know his very unhappy in this marriege?please send me a email giving me some advice,I have been with this man for 4 years,to many times got hurt because of his problems back home,but still I’m waithing for him to fix this problem as he ask me to,so that someday we will be happy together,I have told him to leave me and go make a life with his cousin,he dosen’t want to leave me,his very jealous of me,don’t know what to do,as for marring me I don’t think his cousin would alound.simcerly adelia

  17. Leave him or become his second wife. He’s married, and obviously more concerned with ‘doing his duty’ than with you. This sort of marriage isn’t based on Islam, but happens more often than not. It sounds as though he wants to have both his wife and you after him.

  18. I dont think that marrying cousins is the issue here, the issue is being made to marry someone that you dont want to marry – cousin or non cousin.I personally couldnt marry my first cousin cos it would feel like im married to my brother. That is my preference. As for the comment above by Zack about blind following of the Salafi. I would like to point out that Allah has allowed the marriage of cousins so who are we to say its wrong. Salafis dont exactly go around saying everyone must marry cousins as i see more of it going on in Hanifi circles. I would also like to point out that not all couin marriages are disasters either. Allah knows best. May He guide us all onto His Straight Path and guide us and our families to make the decision that pleases Him the most. Insha allah.

  19. jay: I don’t think cousin marriages are all disasters. After all, my parents are cousins. 🙂 The blind following of some groups came up sort of tangentially, I believe it isn’t closely related to cousin marriage.

  20. Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading this blog, its one of the many which I have come across which is not only informative but allows me to see whats permitted and not permitted in Islam.

    I still have a question, although I would never marry a first cousin, but I dont object to others if both parties love each other a lot. However what are the views about distant cousins, would these be approperiate compared to a first cousin marrige if both parties loved each other aswell?

    Many thanks,

    (I prefer not to give my name)

  21. I was wondering, is there any Hadith or quote in Islam about the blessing of cousins marrying eachother? I heard once that their marriage (or wedding) is made in Heaven. Is this true?
    PS. I would prefer something from the Hanafi Fiqq.

  22. Just want to know more about this matter want to marry some one in family if some body who can provide me acceptable evidence of what is good for my futre family By Islam prespective and Biologically tooo email me plz

  23. Not all cousin marriages are disasters. In fact I have 4 cousin pairs who have got married to each other. I somehow never had to worry about it for myself, since there were no cousin girls around who were around my age. But the advantages of cousin marriages would be: keeping the money in the family, strengthening the bond between families. Usually, cousins (boys and girls) know each other better than they know strangers- especially in South Asian and MiddleEastern countries. Hence, a feeling of liking may develop between cousins, since they know each other well, which may lead to marriage.

  24. Taha: Some of the advantages you bring up, like keeping money in the family, can also be big disadvantages.

    Cousin marriage is not a disaster in every case. After all, my parents are cousins. However, there are a number of pros and cons. Some you listed; among others, there is the increased risk of genetic abnormalities.

  25. marrying your first cousin is allowed isn’t it?
    Ive talked to a priest & he told me that it is allowed for Christians though there are many circumstances. He also told me it wasn’t a sin. So, can we get married legally? where? ive read some in US but not quite sure… & is it true that our children would be affected or it just depends? please email me back… thankz

  26. honey: I am not sure about the Christian doctrine on cousin marriage. In the US, about half the states don’t allow cousin marriage.

    There is a greater chance of genetic defects in children of cousin marriage. There is a link to a news story about that above.

  27. well taking into view the recent developments in genetics,it has been proved that the risk of birth defects was exaggerated and it is perfectly normal to marry a cousin. There is plenty of evidence regarding the issue. Even CNN broadcasted a report flaying the US prohibition on cousin marriage with valis evidence. Medical students might understand my point. If a heterozygous gene is crossed with a homozygous gene,we will get a 3:1 ratio and one in every 4 offsprings has a defect. Since we cannot find out wheteher a gene is homozygous or heterozygous, we cannot simply prohibit the act itself. Medically it has been proved that cousin marriages are okay. Islam allows cousin marriages,some people quote the hadith encouraging people to marry outside the families. The only reason for that was to minimize the tribal warfare by marriying between tribes. In the middle ages the catholic church prohibited cousin marriages so that the wealth did not stay with one family only. We cannot say that it was for health reasons as the royal family was exempted from the law to protect their assets. Currently half the states of america prohibit it. If it were that serious a reason why do the rest of the states,canada,all of the EU allow it? Its mere ignorance,remember theres no cure for stupidity. Thats all i have to say

  28. Salman: There is an increased risk of genetic abnormalities for cousin marriage, not as much as people believe but about 1.7—2.8% more than that in the general population (3—4%).

    In my opinion, that risk isn’t enough to ban cousin marriages all together. But from what I have heard about the high incidence of genetic abnormalities in Saudi Arabia, they should be seriously discouraging cousin marriages.

  29. Well many historical figures were products of cousin marriages,they were exceptional people. Saudi Arabia has an inefficient health department. There is a high incidence of genetic disease in japan where cousin marriages arent common. Its because of the nuclear radiation emitted by the crater formed by the nuclear blasts in world war 2. The halflife of the element is passing but it is still there and it emits radiations. Saudi Arabia has a different story to tell.Here in pakistan,cousin marriage is VERY common yet the defect rate is much lesser and like i said before,if it was that serious an issue,it would be banned in all of the usa,canada,australia and the EU countries. Its not,its time to step out of ignorance,we must realize that the earlier predictions by the western world were wrong. Such baseless laws should be abolished

  30. I was wondering out of those that have had babies together and are first cousins, are most of those babies healthy, or no?

  31. its healthy,the risk of genetic disorder in non related couples is about 2%-2.5% while in cousins it is 3%-3.5% which isnt much of a difference. The rates of miscarriage are lesser in cousins which is yet to be found out why.

  32. i totally think that arranged marriages are wrong for the simple reason that 5/10 girls are not happy but can’t speak ouy beacause they want to keep their parents izat high. im only 16 though i have had a hreat deal to learn in the last five years with my two sisters. i think parent need to get in the 21st century and learn that their brothers sons and daughters are not for us!!!!!!!

    1. Saira,be thankful that your’s parents are of the opinion favouring the cousin marriages.What they are ensuring is a strong and lasting marriage,the
      least need for the adjustments and the family bonds getting further vigour,only to the advant-
      ages of a happy married life.You are in late teens.Not matured or wise enough to understand
      the implications/hazards of marrying into strange families.And,say thanks to the God for
      having such a nice pair of parents,blessed to
      you.With regards,Surender Pruthi,Sonipat(Hr.)

  33. I agree with your point there. Im toally against forced marriages. It is a descision which the person him/herself should make. I know its a tradition in the middle east as well as Pakistan to force interfamily marriages for the prevention of the distribution of land and wealth. Im totally against that but the case im talking about is different. My case is that i love my cousin and she wont agree cause its illegal in half of america to marry a cousin,and im just proving that law as incorrect.

  34. i dissagree with all forced/ aranged marriages and agree with salam it is totaly up the two people in question because otherwise everyone is bitter and unsatisfied, my advice to girls in situations such as these is get out of them quick before something bad happensxxx
    goodluck in escaping!

  35. I am inlove with my first cousin is it wrong troughout the Bible there is first cousin marriages

  36. Hello
    I come from a very traditional muslim paki family. I have a delima. I currently live in the US where cousin marriages are taboo. My delima is that i am have three cousins whom their parents have passed away. The oldest one is engaged to be married with one of my cousins. The middle one who is 2 yrs younger than me is “promised” to me. The yougest cousin is “promised” to another cousin of mine. All of them are female and my grandparents who have become guardians have forced that this is to be done. I, being an american, living in a society where this is considered taboo, and not to mention that the state that i live in has laws against first cousin marrigaes. I understand the reasoning explained by parents on my grandparents decision. They claim that since they have no imediate family other than themseleves the best possible outcome is for cousin marriages. But then again i just don’t seem to like the idea that she still is my first cousin.
    Now, i will be traveling to pakistan to make contact with this person, whom i never met before.
    please advise a confused muslim brother?

  37. AAM: The decision is up to you. You are the one getting married. I can’t really tell you anything when I don’t know you.

  38. the bible nor the quran prohibit it,i think one should do it IF he or she WANTS to,forcong someone is injustice

  39. i too am in love wid ma first cousin nd we have just told our parents abt it nd her parents r totally against it but we r seriosly in love for the last 4 years now nd i just want to know abt havi kids wat r the possibilities of us havin deofrmed chidren…

  40. I am in love with my father’s younger brother’s daughter(she is his third child) . At first I was feeling guilty for it is not happening at present world in India.When I asked GOD in prayer HE showed me (Gen-24:48).She too loves me very much.When I told to my parents they are deadly against it. They are worried about society.Since I got verses from Bible , and I belive bible as word of GOD,I am sure that on the appointed day GOD will make us live together(marriage).Because of confidence in GOD I promised her by witnessing GOD that I love and will love her only till my life on earth.Also I accepted her as my wife infront of GOD.Now our parents are not allowing us to meet and talk as we earlier used to.It is very difficult for me to stay away from her because Iam remembering her a lot. I am not able to concentrate in my studies or in any thing.I am having fear of getting bad name when my marriage will take place with her.If marrying a cousin is not sin in sight of God then why society objects? In my case GOD only lead me to this.

  41. Im looking for a marriage of at least 20 to 40 Female or divorce.Im looking for a Kind reliable woman to have a family with.she is,Honest,Pretty,Seriouse,sense of humor,
    Confident,like to make a holiday,to rejoice in the life.if she is Finacially support or european cityzenship give me.she is realy good and forgot the past life and most of us pay lip service in the life.and share everything about ourself in the is put into so many different things.she is come to sometime in disguise to offer us help or advise give me.Im male 25 years live in Pakistan.
    My character:Intelligent,Kind,Tender,Honest,Loving,Seriouse,sense of humore,
    hard_working,Buisness mind,Im currently employed in Pakistan.
    I want to liege life partner.Im explore liege life partner.Always I shall keep to Pleasure in the always,you will be look for me Angel.and you,re always live in my Heart and always on my mind.Life hands us many different things,good and bad,one of the greatest Gift we receive is the love of a good life partner.I belive that is the great gift of God.and I hope that it will be ourlife pleasure to very nice.and we will share our thoughts and lonely life.that will life must be kind and sincere,happy and full of cheer.My angel,Im searching you,Around the World from North to South and East to West,Day and Night.I shall find you my Angel.because,love is a sweet thing,and love will find is lawless,and love begets Angel life,s to short to love like that.but I will,a room in your heart.
    The World is cold,and I need a liege life partner to hold.My Angel I shall pick you any place in the sweet heart Angel must.I hope God we will meet very soon be as one together as we once had been.I shall begain again new life and lonly get to spend a couple of day in the new life.if you be my Angel and you can keep peaceful with me.Then please, dont hesitate to write to me.I belive that is the great Gift of God.I shall reply to all.
    My Angel contact from my Heart,looking forward to her from you soon,waiting for your,s life

  42. salaam i am 20 years old. i love a girl who happens to be my cousin. she is my mothers younger sisters daughter.she also loves me very much and the circumstances are such that we both cant even think to live without each other we both want to marry each other. islam allows marraige between cousins but there is a high risk of genitic problems caused in the offsprings. she stays in saudi and i stay in india we are in love since childhood we know each other than anyone else. we are used to it and the conditions are such that we will almost be ruined if we dont marry. her parents are totally against us as it is she stays in another country and her parents have stopped her from calling me i am distressed and sad i cant do anything i cant even study or concentrate on work either. i would really appreciate you if you would help me take out solution and marry her
    your friend sahir

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  45. I don’t know what to say.but
    it’s not like u all going to agree with me,however i just wanted to say that what is wrong with getting married to cousins?

    in fact i’m actually in love with my first cousin?
    is that going to be a problem?
    i’m mean as i was told not all cousin marriage is a disaster…or genetics problems?

    please write me bak… i’ll wait to hear from you all

  46. there this guy I know that wants to marry his 7th cousin she is in his family by marriage could you please let me know if marrying 7th cousin is really cousins… I really need to know so I can tell him…if it is blood kind at all.thank u Country

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