Consanguineous marriage is rare in most Western countries and, for example, in the USA it may be subject to regulation by both civil legislation and religious proscription. This is not the case in many regions of Asia and Africa where marriage within the family is strongly favored.
Inbreeding. Consanguinity refers to the property of being from the same genetic lineage as another person. In that respect, consanguinity is the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person.
Although this is not a Muslim issue alone, it is more of a cultural problem, which will be discussed below, todays article in the Daily Mail and Times Online and a few other media outlets, deals with Muslims in British society.
A government minister has warned that inbreeding among immigrants is causing a surge in birth defects - comments likely to spark a new row over the place of Muslims in British society.
Phil Woolas, an environment minister, said the culture of arranged marriages between first cousins was the “elephant in the room”. Woolas, a former race relations minister, said: “If you have a child with your cousin the likelihood is there’ll be a genetic problem.”
According to a study, (3 page PDF file) "consanguineous marriage is particularly prevalent in Middle East, Pakistan, Muslims in India, Hindus in South India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, accounted for close to 50% of marriage in parts of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is also said to be common in parts of Japan accounting for 4% of marriages in an all-Japan survey.In China, it is prevalent in some minority populations such as Tajik and Uzbek in Xinjiang. It is also prevalent among the Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistan diasporas in Europe and North America." (Reference, 65 page Stanford education study)
A recent study in Qatar showed rate of consanguineous marriage was 54 per cent.
Some of the genetic disorders associated with inbreeding aka consanguineous marriage was, bronchial asthma, mental retardation, epilepsy and diabetes were significantly more common in offspring of the consanguineous than non- consanguineous couples.
An evaluation of stroke in children at King Khalid University Hospital, Saudi Arabia showed that children with recurrent strokes were significantly more likely to be the product of consanguineous marriages.
Inbreeding causes genetic disorders, it is common knowledge and all studies support that analysis.
Mr. Woolas further said in his statements reported in the Times Online article "If you talk to any primary care worker they will tell you that levels of disability among the . . . Pakistani population are higher than the general population. And everybody knows it’s caused by first cousin marriage."
His statements are supported by supported by Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, who thinks that the NHS (National Health Service) should do more to warn parents about the dangers of inbreeding.
“I have encountered cases of blindness and deafness. There was one poor girl who had to have an oxygen tank on her back and breathe from a hole in the front of her neck.
“The parents were warned they should not have any more children. But when the husband returned again from Pakistan, within months they had another child with exactly the same condition.”
This is not the first time that Ann Cryer has spoken about this subject, back in 2005, she commissioned a report which dealt with this subject as well as problems of smoking, drinking, obesity, calling it a public health issue and also in November of 2005 she told The Telegraph that "Marriages between cousins should be banned after research showed alarming rates in defective births among Asian communities in Britain."
She went on to quote the report she commissioned in say that that the Pakistani community accounted for 30 per cent of all births with recessive disorders, despite representing 3.4 per cent of the birth rate nationwide and that 55 per cent of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins, resulting in an increasing rate of genetic defects and high rates of infant mortality.
November 2005 was not the first time this was addressed either.
In November of 2003, Dr. Alison Shaw and Jane Hurst investigated the impact of genetic risk on UK Pakistani families, and in 1995 the Oxford journal made it clear that "The need for a considered and rational view of consanguineous marriage on the part of health professionals is emphasized."
In 1993 there was a five-year Prospective Study of the Health of Children in Different Ethnic Groups, with Particular Reference to the Effect of Inbreeding. European Journal of Human Genetics 1993 1: 206-219:
The abstract of their conclusions:
A 5-year prospective study of 4,934 children of different ethnic groups has demonstrated a 3-fold increase of postneonatal mortality and childhood morbidity in the offspring of consanguineous Pakistani parents. Most of these families contained more than one consanguineous union, resulting in a mean inbreeding coefficient for their children of 0.0686. It is estimated that 60% of the mortality and severe morbidity of this group of children could be eliminated if inbreeding ceased. However consanguinity is much favoured in this minority group, and health education will have to be carefully and sensitively handled.
In The Guardian Unlimited from November 2005 , Cryer discusses why this ongoing problem is so hard to deal with, when she says "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. People are being politically correct.
"It's not racist. It's a challenge, but not to the Pakistani culture. It's an opportunity to improve the lot of communities that still have this tradition. It's time they discussed it and asked if it's a good thing."
The problem with this discussion is seen by the criticism that Mr. Woolas is dealing with now. Any mention of the very real problems of genetic disorders from inbreeding is considered to be some sort of racial attack on those that practice consanguineous marriage, because most do so out of a religious or cultural belief, therefore discussing it is taken as a criticism of their religion or culture instead of the very real problem of genetic disorders that come with some of those practices.
Environment Minister Phil Woolas says he felt it was his "duty" to raise this issue and says that parts of the Pakistan community in Britain are in "denial" about the problems that inbreeding is causing.
Other than this latest article focusing on Muslims in the UK, inbreeding truly isn't a problem that should be directed at any one set of peoples.
The earliest recorded study of inbreeding and its effects on human health was reported by Bemiss in 1858, (Page 2 of PDF file for Bemiss findings) Charles Darwin studied it, his son George came up with a new approach that is still used today in studying the problem and it done consistently for a variety of reasons in royal families as well. (Source)
This issue has been studied, discussed, outlawed in certain countries and continues to be a problem all around the world, not just in the UK, not just with Muslims but with many cultures that practice consanguineous marriage.
It does need debate and discussion for understanding of the genetic implications and effects and it needs to be debated without fear of any one culture feeling "attacked."
The article from Times Online and Daily Mail might have focused on Muslims in the UK, but this has been a problem of the last century, in Italy, Spain (lineage of King Charles II, Spain) America and a host of other countries have had to deal with the issue and take appropriate corrective measures to stop this problem.