Question # 366: Assalamu Alaikum Brother, with respect to your answer to question # 362, Is it even permissible to Marry your cousin? Today we see so many kids with health issues that resulted from cousins marrying each other.

bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: The Law of Islam is the noble Law that is revealed from the Lord of the Worlds Who created the creation and Who knows best what is best for them. There is no ruling legislated by Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) except that there is a wisdom behind it, which may or may not be known or understood by humans. Islam is moderate concerning the permissibility of marriage with the first cousin – it allows man to marry his cousins (Soorah Al-Ahzab, 33:50) Among the most prominent evidence of this fact is that the marriage of Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to Zainab bint Jahsh (ra), his aunt’s daughter. Furthermore, there is no reliable hadith in this regard discouraging marriage to the cousin.

On the other hand, some scholars regarded it as mustahabb (recommended) to marry people who are non-relations, if one aspires to form new social ties or bonds, based on their ijtihaad. At the same time, they also opine that a man may marry a relative so as to protect her and honor her family, or she may be religiously committed and of good character.

In practice, globally, cousin marriages are still going strong, with an estimated 10% of all marriages in the world being between cousins and has high as 50% in some regions of the world. Scientifically, people who are first cousins share 12.5 percent of their DNA, which may cause genetic disorder in offspring (4-7% compared to 3-4% in case of non-related spouses). However, recent researches show that the problem would arise when the next generation of children would have children with their first cousins.

To sum up, as Muslims, we should believe that it is impossible for Allah to render something absolutely permissible, which would be a general harm for all people. However, one must watch out for the local/state laws as marrying cousins might not be legal. Considering something to be Halal (lawful) does not mean one has to do it.

Long Answer: We will divide our answer into five parts: Islamic Ruling, Unauthentic Narrations, Scholarly Opinion, In Practice and Scientific Evidences in the matter of marrying one’s cousin.

Islamic Ruling

The Law of Islam is the noble Law that is revealed from the Lord of the Worlds Who created the creation and Who knows best what is best for them. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (Soorah Al-Mulk, 67:14) Unlike man-made laws that may be affected by people’s desires and whims, and lack proper insight. There is no ruling legislated by Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) except that there is a wisdom behind it, which may or may not be known by humans. If they realize the wisdom, then all the best, otherwise, one has to surrender to it and accept it full-heartedly.

Islam is moderate concerning the permissibility of marriage with the first cousin: no exaggeration and no negligence. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an, when mentioning the women whom we are allowed to marry: “…and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts.} (Soorah Al-Azhab, 33:50)

Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafseer the following regarding the above ayah: This is justice which avoids going to either extreme, for the Christians do not marry a woman unless there are seven grandfathers between the man and the woman (i.e., they are very distantly related or not at all), and the Jews allow a man to marry his brother’s daughter or his sister’s daughter. So the pure and perfect Shari`ah came to cancel out the extremes of the Christians, and permitted marriage to the daughter of a paternal uncle or aunt, or the daughter of a maternal uncle or aunt, and forbade the excesses of the Jews who allowed marriage to the daughter of a brother or sister which is an abhorrent thing.

[Hence,] 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 (سبحانه و تعالى) mentioned in Soorah an-Nisa’a, 4:23: “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 (سبحانه و تعالى) 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. Among the most prominent evidence of this fact is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) married his daughter Fatima to Ali (ra) and he is the son of her father’s uncle, as well as the marriage of the Prophet himself to Zainab bint Jahsh (ra) and she is his aunt’s daughter (i.e. his cousin); and there are many other such examples.

Unauthentic Narrations

The prominent scholar Ibn Al-Mulaqqin said in Al-Badr Al-Muneer, “It was reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, ‘Do not marry a close relative because the offspring will be weak.’ Al-Qaadhi Al-Husayn and the Imaam al-Haramayn (Al-Juwayni) reported it also and said, “It is inauthentic.”

As regards Ibn As-Salah, he said, “I did not find a reliable source for this hadith. He also commented on it saying, ‘The offspring will be weak’; that is because his lust cannot be completely fulfilled with a female relative.”

Al-Qaadhi Al-Husayn mentioned another hadith with the same meaning, which is, ‘Marry strangers, (do not marry relatives), otherwise the offspring will be weak.’

I have not seen any reliable narration in this regard in any Hadith book, except what I read in Ghareeb Al-Hadith complied by Ibraaheem al-Harbi from ‘Abdullah ibn Al-Mu’ammil from Ibn Abi Mulaykah that ‘Umar said to the tribe of As-Saa’ib, ‘Your offspring has become weak; so marry strangers.’”

[Similarly,] … there is no authentic narration which states that it is more appropriate to marry someone who is a close relative, like the cousins and so forth…

Scholarly Opinion

Perhaps 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, it may be preferable to marry people who are non-relations. [Moreover,] a number of scholars regarded it as mustahabb (recommended) for a man to marry a woman who is not related to him [for reasons such as]:
• The child would have good characteristics, because he would take characteristics from his father’s side and his mother’s side.
• There is no guarantee that they will not separate which would lead to severing of the ties of kinship.

It says in al-Insaaf: It is mustahabb to choose a woman who is religiously committed and fertile, a virgin of good lineage who is not a relative.

It says in Mataalib Ooli al-Nuha: A non-relative, because her children will have better characteristics, and because there is no guarantee that they will not separate, which in the case of marriage to a relative would lead to severing of the ties of kinship, which we are enjoined to uphold. And it is said that non-relatives give children with better characteristics and female cousins have more patience.

Al-Nawawi said in al-Manhaaj: It is mustahabb to choose a religiously committed virgin who is of good lineage but is not a close relative.” Al-Jalaal al-Mahalli said in his Sharh: “Not a close relative” means a non-relative or a distant relative. The one who is distantly related is better than one who is not related at all. (Sharh al-Mahalli ma’a Haashiyat Qalyoobi wa ‘Umayrah)

[It can be seen] that there is no text concerning this matter, rather it is the ijtihaad of the fuqaha’ which they based on these interests, which differ from one person to another, and from one type of relationship to another. A man may decide to marry a relative so as to protect her and honor her family, or she may be religiously committed and of good character.

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said, after quoting the reasons that the fuqaha’ gave, of seeking good characteristics in the children and the fear of severing the ties of kinship: What they said is true, but if there is someone among the relatives who is better in terms of other considerations (such as religious commitment, lineage and beauty), then that is better. In the event that they are equal in these terms, then a non-relative is better. So, if a female cousin is religiously committed and of good character, and he is in a weak position and needs kindness and support, then undoubtedly such a marriage serves a great interest. A man should pay attention to his interests in this case. There is no shar’i text concerning this matter that has to be followed, hence a person should do what he thinks is in his best interests. (al-Sharh al-Mumti’)

In Practice

Globally, cousin marriages are still going strong, with an estimated 10% of all marriages in the world being between cousins and has high as 50% in some regions of the world. In addition to those countries mentioned above, the “overwhelming majority of cross-cousin marriages appear among the Islamic cultures of North Africa, and those of West and Central Asia.” However, cousin marriage is making a comeback in the U.S., as well, as more and more studies continue to debunk the overblown risks once commonly touted. First cousins marrying in 21st century America discover that many states no longer regulate the practice. Likewise, most sects of Christianity do not forbid it, which would be hard to do given cases like Isaac and Rebekah in the Book of Genesis. For instance, the Methodist Church, has “no official position on marriage between cousins.” (Today I Found Out, Article: The Surprising Truth About Cousins and Marriage, 14 February 2014)

[On the other hand,] the fact that no European country barred cousins from marrying, while many US states did and still do, has often been interpreted as proof of a special American animosity toward the practice. (‘Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America’ by Michael Grossberg)

Scientific Evidence

The scholars of the Standing Committee were asked about marrying relatives and whether that causes retardation in the children. They replied: There are no sahih ahadith which forbid marriage to relatives. The incidence of retardation happens by the will and decree of Allah and is not caused by marriage to relatives as is widely believed. (Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah)

[In accordance with Science,] people who are first cousins share 12.5 percent of their DNA. This drops the further away the relation is to the person. Sharing a number of genes is not good for preventing genetic diseases. Variety in genetics is good for preventing disease. Research shows that children between first cousins have a 4 to 7 percent chance of being born with birth defects. Those that are more distantly related have a 3 to 4 percent chance of having children born with birth defects. This would not be a large problem since the chances can be pretty similar. The problem would arise when the next generation of children would have children with their first cousins. Children from those unions would have a lot of genetic material in common, increasing the chance of birth defects. (Tech Times, Article: Science Says It’s Okay To Marry Your Cousin But Not For Your Kids To Marry Theirs, 8 March 2018)

Summary

[In effect, the ancestors and Muslims from the past until now continued to marry their relatives, and many researchers stated that the issue of genetic diseases cannot be made a rule and that such diseases may occur and may not occur. The disadvantages that you have referred to, which may result from marrying relatives may not occur. Even if they happened, then this does not mean that it is forbidden due to that, as there are advantages in this marriage, which we may know and may not know. This study advised doctors not to immediately discourage relatives from marrying each other, and that instead they should advise them to carry out medical tests before marriage. It is worth mentioning here that marrying relatives is absolutely permissible and there is no general harm in it. It is impossible for Allah to render something absolutely permissible, which would be a general harm for all people.]

[In the end,] this answer is from a religious [and scientific] point of view. After that one may watch for the local law and/or culture of your locality. Marrying cousins might not be legal or practiced in some locality. Considering something to be Halal (lawful) does not mean you have to do it.

(Unless stated otherwise, most part of the above reply is based on the following resources:

  • Islamweb.net, a web site belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar
  • Amjaonline fatawa
  • Various answers provided by Islam Q&A on similar topics)

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam