This is always going to be a controversial topic to discuss, as proponents of discussion could be labelled as racists, xenophobes etc. What I find comforting is the tone of Cryer's speech.
I'm not calling for a ban or a change in the law because that would mean changing the law for everyone. I'm simply calling for an enlightened debate. We've avoided discussions on this subject.
It is encouraging that he is calling for an 'enlightened debate'. Too many times people in power tend to take extreme measures to combat a problem and it results in overkill.
Firstly, is it true that most Pakistanis tend to marry their cousins? On a personal level, I find it very true.
I was meeting a few high school friends for lunch. Given it's Canada, ours is quite an international bunch. We were catching up, when all of a sudden my Pakistani buddy turns to me and asks, "So Mezba, what about marriage?"
I was like, "man, et tu Brutus? My whole extended family's been on that one note nag for some time."
"Well, what about family? Any cousins?"
There was a stunned moment of silence for almost a minute, before I slowly murmured, "Well, cousin marriages are not common at all amongst Bengalis. It happens, but very rarely."
"Well," my friend continued, obviously not understanding why our Chinese friend was looking at him as if he'd just grown a horn. "Islam has nothing against cousin marriages."
Sure, Islam has nothing against marrying your cousin. Islam also has nothing against a 20-year-old guy marrying an 80-year-old woman, but that's not happening. Islam also has nothing against eating brocolli three times a day, but again - not happening.
Even Christians have debated over this issue. Leviticus 18 lists the forbidden relationships. Cousins are not forbidden nor is cousin marriage forbidden anywhere else in the Holy Bible (source). The restrictions given are very similar to ones mentioned in the Holy Quran, 4:22-25.
On another note, the main difference between Springfield and Shelvyville was - you guessed it - cousin marriage.
Back to the British MP. Like the Shariah debate sometime back, people who raise minority issues sometimes raise tham as they can be a convenient excuse to bash the community. In this case, one should take into account whether there is a hidden agenda behind this issue regarding British Pakistanis. However, regardless what one thinks of the MP's request to the British Parliament to ask Pakistanis not to marry cousins, there can be no doubt marriage amongst cousins, especially when recursively done for generations, have extreme negative effects.
It has been narrated that Caliph Omar Bin Khattab (R) saw an Arabian tribe called Banu Al-Sayeb (or As-Saib) whose bodies were very weak and emaciated because they used to marry their kins. Caliph Omar advised them "Marry outside your close of kin".
From the BBC,
But the statistics for recessive genetic illness in cousin marriages make sobering reading.
British Pakistanis are 13 times more likely to have children with genetic disorders than the general population - they account for just over 3% of all births but have just under a third of all British children with such illnesses.
Indeed, Birmingham Primary Care Trust estimates that one in ten of all children born to first cousins in the city either dies in infancy or goes on to develop serious disability as a result of a recessive genetic disorder.
We all have two copies of every gene. If you inherit one variant gene you will not fall ill. If, however, a child inherits a copy of the same variant gene from each of its parents it will develop one of these illnesses.
The BBC deals with the issue in detail here.
Centre for Arab Genomic Studies research data here.
Regarding cousin marriages, ManiacMuslim has this quote (himself a child of first cousins):
I personally prefer it if people marry OUTSIDE their family. Too many cousin-marriages will lead into quite the amplification of hereditary diseases and I’m sure the kids from the cousin-marriage will be scarred for life when they have to make a complete family tree for a school project. "But Abdullah," said Mrs. Elffab, "why does your family tree have interconnecting branches? It looks more like a family bush. Hey... waita minute." Poor Abdullah wasn’t the same again...
Marriage amongst cousins are practised in other cultures as well. Rural Pakistanis tend to be more conservative than other South Asians, unlike Indians and Bengalis who tend to have a more relaxed approach to religion, as influenced by Sufi-ism. In this regard, rural Pakistanis are culturally more similar to Iranians and tribal Arabs. We find that cousin marriages are practiced there as well. Albert Einstein married his first cousin (and he was a bright guy too). The royals of Europe are another example of interbreeding for generations. As I said, it's not a religious phenomenon, but a cultural one.
However, it is a topic that needs to be discussed within the British Pakistani community, in that, the Labour MP is absolutely right. We need to address why it's too popular, when Islam has repeatedly encouraged us to seek people for marriage outside of kinship. We need to discuss why many people claim marriage to a cousin (a known factor) is better than marrying a stranger. And we should not label those calling for discussion as racists. Debate is healthy, orthodoxy tends to promote stagnation.
Tags: Cousin Marriages Ann Cryer