Saudi Arabia’s cousin-marriage epidemic

Saudi Arabian men’s habit of marrying their first cousins is creating a health and cultural crisis in the kingdom, says an analyst of international affairs who has studied demographic issues in the Muslim state.

Neal Asbury notes the practice of marrying blood relatives is beginning to reap dire consequences.

“The people of the Arabian Peninsula for centuries have scratched a life from the hostile desert and followed a simple rule when choosing a marriage partner: Keep it in the family,” Ashbury explains. “Many marry their first cousins in arranged marriages to this day. In the past, this was done to help conserve resources and contribute to the clan’s support and defense. Consanguinity (marriage between people that are blood relatives) has been practiced in the Middle East for over 100 generations, even before the introduction of Islam in the seventh century.

“This is an ultra sensitive issue for the government and Islamic religious establishment. It has been compounded by the Prophet Muhammad’s own family. His daughter, Fatimah, was married to her cousin Ali, who was a revered Imam. Several other members of the Prophet’s family and inner circle were married to close blood relatives.”

Ashbury then explains the health consequences of continuing to practice blood-relative marriage.

Writes Ashbury: “Research shows the Saudi rate for some diseases is 20 times higher than in populations where consanguinity is not practiced. This has lead recently to Wahhabi clerics gingerly counseling young men to ‘choose a wife carefully with an eye to health.’

“It is estimated that over 60 percent of Saudis marry first or second cousins, which is the highest in the world. However, the numbers are still staggering in Iraq (58 percent), Kuwait (55 percent), Jordan (50 percent) and the UAE (48 percent).”

Saudi Arabia’s cousin-marriage epidemic

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