Throughout Islamic history, we have seen instances where Cousins unions have thrived. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) himself married his beloved daughter Fatima to his cousin Ali Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him). Similarly, many of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) followed a similar path. Hence, Islam allows for Cousins marriages and is a big reason for the prevalence of this trend in the Arab society.
Advantages of Cousin Marriages
There are certain advantages for choosing to marry a close relative. For one thing, they have known each other all their lives so there is an element of comfort and understanding. Marrying a complete stranger means you need time to understand the other person and the background they are coming from and there is no prior knowledge of each other which makes development of trust difficult. Also, the Arab society doesn't allow for the mingling of young men and women and hence, any sort of love match that happens is between cousins since they have greater proximity. Moreover, Cousins unions help strengthen blood ties further and keep wealth within the family and Arabs are known to value both their kinship and wealth greatly.
Risk Associated with Cousin Marriages
Unfortunately, cousin marriages have recently been under the radar by the scientific community and the practice has been receiving a lot of criticism. This is because of medical research surfacing that indicates the increased risk of congenital/genetic disorders in children from parents who share bloodlines. This risk from such marriages was always known, but has recently garnered enough attention to lead to debate. What leads to the increased risk is the fact that there is high probability of the man and woman carrying the same genes and if by chance they both carry the gene of some rare disease, the chances of it being passed onto their children increase. This risk is more prominent in marriage between first cousins as opposed to marriage between close relatives.
How to avoid risk associated with cousin marriages?
It is not as bleak as they make it sound. Experts are of the opinion that marriages between close relatives are safe if they get their blood tested before the marriage. Once it is ensured that no such genes are shared between them, the risk of affliction of hereditary disease in their offspring diminishes considerably. Hence, as long as the precautions in terms of pre-marital blood testing are undertaken, Cousins unions are perfectly safe.
Interesting to note, however, is that the younger generation is now willing to question these ongoing traditions and a large portion of the youth is now making conscious decisions for them. They are willing to raise their voice and are speaking out against cousin marriages. While marriage between first cousins is still a norm in Saudi Arabia, the new emerging generation may choose a path less traveled in choosing their spouses in light of medical awareness when their time comes.
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