Arranged marriages between cousins: is it recommended?
We are three sisters and my father arranged our marriage to our cousins without taking our consent. What is the Islamic stance on this?
I would like first of all to distinguish between a permissible marriage and a recommended one. I have noticed that in many communities, particularly in rural and remote areas, people tend to think that Islam prefers, encourages or recommends marriage between cousins.
This is not so. Indeed, Islam permits marriage between cousins, but it leaves it to individuals to decide whether they want to marry their cousins or not. There is no recommendation or obligation that makes a cousin preferable to other suitors. Indeed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) recommended the opposite attitude of marrying outside one’s own family, clan or tribe. He is quoted to have encouraged intermarriages between different tribes, to the extent that if a man married a woman from a different tribe, he would seek for his son a wife from a third tribe. This encourages inter-tribal relations and makes society more cohesive. Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) pointed out that distant marriages may be helpful in having healthy children.
Much is said about the effects of family marriages on the health of children. The only thing that has been proven is that some hereditary traits may be more pronounced in children of marriages between cousins. However, genetic scientists have spoken of some advantages, which result from marriages between cousins and relatives. The fact that such matters have not yet been irrefutably confirmed by scientists means that we should not read much into them.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of marriage, but, generally speaking, inter-family marriages should not be the norm so as to carry over from one generation to another. That is bound to make hereditary traits and weaknesses more pronounced among children.
What is more worrying about the case of these three girls is that their fathers have arranged these engagements without taking their consent. It is true that scholars say that a father may arrange a marriage contract for his virgin daughter without consulting her, but this relates mainly to the validity of the marriage, not to its desirability or wisdom. The practice the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prescribed is that every girl should be consulted about her marriage. If she does not agree to marry a particular individual, then she must not be forced into that marriage.
Sometimes, a marriage is arranged without consulting the girl herself because it is felt to bring certain benefits to the father or the family as a whole. If this is the reason, Islam views such a matter very seriously. A woman came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and complained that her father married her to his cousin because he felt that the marriage will give him a better social status. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) immediately annulled the marriage, saying that it was not valid. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave this ruling because the marriage was totally intended to bring benefit to the father, without any regard to the girl’s feelings or situation. She was treated as a mere commodity that was exchanged for a position of honor. This is totally unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. Hence, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself declared the marriage invalid. In this particular case, when the girl was free to choose, she told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “Now that I am free, I accept what my father has done. I simply wanted all girls to know that men do not have any control over their marriages.”
The same situation applies to the cases of the three girls who have written to me. I am told that in one case, the father is being offered an apartment by his brother in exchange for the girl’s marriage to his son. That should be the dowry which the girl should receive and it should become her own property should she accept it and consent to the marriage. But in this case, she was not even asked whether or not she agreed to the marriage. It is clear that she does not. Moreover, her father was the one who stood to benefit from his daughter’s marriage. He was actually treating her as a commodity to sell in return for an apartment. This is unacceptable from the Islamic point of view.
In another case, the whole marriage seemed to be in fulfillment of a promise. That promise should not have been made in the first place because the father did not have the authority to make it.
In the third case, there was a different type of benefit which the family may obtain. What I would like to say to fathers in general is that the marriages of their daughters are very serious matters. They should follow the Prophet’s advice and choose for their daughters husbands who are religious and who can give them a good family life, treat them well and bring their children up as good Muslims. They must not try to obtain any benefit for themselves from their daughters’ marriages.