It’s time to confront this taboo: First cousin marriages in Muslim communities are putting hundreds of children at risk

November 14, 2013


The man wept as he told how his beautiful, dark-eyed child died in a hospital cot with medical tubes snaking from his frail body as nurses fought unsuccessfully to save him. Sick with pneumonia, the two-year-old gave up the battle for life.

A heartbroken Mr Rehman told the inquest that he and his wife were unsure whether to have any more children. The coroner expressed deep sympathy before saying that Hamza’s death should serve as a warning to others. ‘This highlights a cultural and religious issue relating to first-cousin marriages and the potential risk to children that some medical experts say can result from such unions.’

This week, leading geneticist Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, warned that ‘inbreeding’ in Islamic communities was threatening the health of generations of children. This is not the first time the distressing issue has been raised. Ann Cryer, the Labour MP for nearby Keighley, has said that cousin marriages are medieval, harm children and are arranged in order to keep wealth and property within families.

One in ten children from these cousin marriages either dies in infancy or develops a serious life-threatening disability. While British Pakistanis account for three per cent of the births in this country, they are responsible for 33 per cent of the 15,000 to 20,000 children born each year with genetic defects. The vast majority of problems are caused by recessive gene disorders, according to London’s Genetic Interest Group, which advises affected families.

As one British-Pakistani put it bluntly on a similar website: ‘A main reason why this corrupt practice is still followed in Britain is because the family wants to keep their property, land, jewelry and money in the family – with many parents believing it is an ‘act of God’ or the ‘will of Allah’ that their children are born disabled.


The Daily Mail:

Temporary Marriages Revived In UK Shia Muslim Community

13 May 2013


The BBC reports that an Islamic practice, nikah mut’ah (temporary marriage), is gaining in popularity amongst young Shia Muslims in the UK. Described as “basically a contract,” temporary marriages allow young Muslims to meet and get to know each other before entering a permanent marriage and without breaking Islamic law. These informal marriages are the subject of a recent BBC Radio Asian Network special report entitled, “Married for a Minute.”


Sara, a Muslim woman who entered into a temporary marriage and spoke to the BBC about her experience, said that she entered into the arrangement because “It allowed us to meet without breaking the bounds of Sharia [Islamic law]. We both wanted to date, to go out for dinner or go shopping and just get to know each other better before getting married, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.” Though statistics are not gathered on these informal arrangements, Muslim leaders interviewed by the BBC claim that the practice is experiencing a revival amongst Shia university students in the UK.


Temporary marriages are not universally accepted in the Muslim community. The practice is largely confined to the Shia community, with Sunnis considering these informal marriages haram (forbidden). A Sunni spokesperson for the UK Islamic Sharia Council said that “There is no difference between mut’ah marriages and prostitution” and that she has never come across a Sunni scholar who has declared such practices halal (permissible).

Suburban Feminism



In the Northern Parisian suburb of St. Denis an association of Muslim women is dedicated to aiding suburban women in need. ‘Voix d’elles rebelles’ (Voices of female rebels) assembles feminists, social workers and researchers from all over France who deal with issues of female elopement, suicidal tendencies, child abduction, domestic violence and forced marriages.

The association runs on a tight budget of 50.000 Euros, which derives from public subsidies and increasingly private donations. Voix d’elles rebelles annually deals with around 300-500 women from the entire capital region. The women prefer to keep their distance from the normative debates on feminism in the suburbs, which does, according to them, not reflect the intersection of misogyny immigrant identities and cultures. The stigma created by the suburban feminism discourse pushes in their eyes many of the accused immigrant men towards religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, they support a suburban feminism which includes both an anti-racist and anti-misogyny mandate.

A new wave of Muslim feminists

Amongst the many contemporary reformist movements of Islam, one is concerned with the promotion of progressive and inclusive ideals such as gender equality and deals with questions on sexuality, homosexuality and transgender identities. What is called Islamic feminism is a tradition which emerged in Iran as an intellectual movement based on the critical exegesis of the Quran. The movement of Islamic feminists consists of religious women and religious feminists who refuse to be discriminated by their religion. They claim the right to reject bias and unjust interpretations of Islam and are open towards the inclusion and integration of LGBT Muslims.

The recent debate on same sex marriage in France and the institutionalisation of a “French Islam” renders greater importance towards progressive and inclusive interpretations of Islam. As such, reformist movements like that of Islamic feminism might help to eliminate gender bias and sexual discrimination amongst Muslims in France. As the imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, recently declared, homosexuality is not condemned by the Quran or the sunna.

Some reformist movements in France have embraced Islamic feminism and the opening of the first inclusive mosque in France which conducts same sex marriages indicates that there are sections amongst the Muslim population that are receptive towards these progressive ideas.

Muslim Divorces Without Shariah Can Get Tricky

New Jersey lawyer Abed Awad has been involved with more than 100 cases that involved some component of Shariah, or Islamic law, and knows firsthand how complicated things can get.

In one of those cases, a woman claimed she was married to a man according to Islamic law in her native West Africa. The man asserted there was no valid marriage, leaving a judge to decide whether the two were ever legally married in the first place.

If the judge rules they were married, there will be a divorce and she will receive alimony and a share of marital assets. If the judge rules that there is no marriage, then the woman will be left with nothing from her relationship.

To make a ruling, the judge will need to consider what Shariah, as understood in one corner of western Africa, says about what constitutes a legal marriage. He will likely have to consult Islamic law experts and apply what he learns to his decision.

But what if American judges were prohibited from considering Shariah and other foreign laws, as many state and national politicians want to see happen?

“How can I bring in testimony of Shariah generally, or Shariah as the law of a foreign country, when it comes to marriage? The judge won’t be able to adjudicate the case,” Awad explained.

“He can’t say yes or no because now it becomes, is he going to apply New York law or New Jersey law on the validity of a marriage that did not take place here but that took place in a foreign country?”

Counselors and activists estimate that roughly one in three Muslim marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Many Muslim Americans who divorce want their marriages dissolved in accordance with Islamic law. That means having dowries and other provisions of marriage contracts enforced, as well as obtaining an Islamic divorce certificate, which imams in the U.S. issue only after a civil divorce has been finalized.

“We recognize the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts,” said Suhaib Webb, imam at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. “We won’t issue a divorce unless they bring a certificate from downtown.”

Muslims look for mates in D.C. at annual speed-dating event

The swelling crowd, ranging in age from 21 to 50-something, meant the evening of speed dating and socializing known as the Matrimonial Banquet was about to begin.  Kadir, 35, was sitting on a bench outside a ballroom at the Renaissance Washington hotel, surrounded by several hundred single Muslim men and women.

The banquet has been part of the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in some form or another for more than two decades, said the group’s matrimonial assistant, Tabasum Ahmad. But in recent years, the demand for such banquets has increased, and the society plans to hold them more frequently. More Muslims are embracing them as an acceptable alternative to arranged marriages and the vagaries of 21st-century, American-style dating. Online matchmaking is also popular, but some prefer to meet in person. Saturday night’s banquet was sold out, as was a second one scheduled for Sunday.

Muslims side with Christians against legalization of same-sex marriage

29 May 2012



Muslim groups have collected around a half million signatures to pressure the government against legalizing same sex marriage in Britain. The government is planning to legalize same-sex marriages by 2015.


Catholic religious leaders have already warned the government that the legislation would undermine the nature of marriage.

Progressive Muslims Launch Gay-Friendly, Women-Led Mosques In Attempt To Reform American Islam

At first, the devout Muslims who gathered in a Washington, D.C., conference center seemed like they could have come from any mosque. There were women in headscarves and bearded men who quoted the Quran.

But something was different. While mingling over hors d’oeuvres, they discussed how to change Islam’s future. A woman spoke about fighting terrorism; she had married outside the Islamic faith, which is forbidden for a Muslim woman. A Pakistani man mentioned his plans to meet friends for drinks, despite the faith’s ban on alcohol.

In a corner of the room, an imam in a long gray tunic counseled a young Muslim with a vexing spiritual conflict: being gay and Muslim. The imam, also gay and in a relationship, could easily sympathize with the youth’s difficulties.

Today, as America’s Muslim leaders debate controversial topics like political radicalism inside mosques and states’ attempts to ban Shariah law, this growing network of alternative mosques and Islamic groups is quietly forging a new spiritual movement.

They’re taking bold steps, reinterpreting Islamic norms and re-examining taboos. While far from accepted by mainstream clerics, these worshippers feel that the future of the religion lies not solely with tradition but with them. Women are leading congregations in prayer, gay imams are performing Islamic marriages, and men and women are praying side by side.

Study on Forced Marriages: Alarming Results


On Wednesday, the German Ministry for Family Affairs presented the findings of its first study on forced marriage in Germany – which brought about alarming results. The study was commissioned by the Ministry and conducted by the women’s rights organisation Terres des Femmes and the Hamburg-based Lawaetz Foundation. It is based on information provided by more than 800 consultation clinics across the country for people who are either threatened or affected by forced marriages. According to the information provided by these clinics, they registered roughly 3400 cases of forced marriages in 2008 – and these numbers only reflect those that tried to seek help; the actual number of forced marriages is expected to be much higher. The vast majority of these cases (95%) affected women; approximately 30% of them were 17 years or younger, ca. 40% of them were between 18 and 21 years old. Furthermore, most of those affected (roughly 60%) have an immigration background and 83.4% come from Muslim families. Family Minister Kristina Schröder reminded that forced marriages were a statutory offense in Germany; yet, she also acknowledged that ‘the reality is more complicated than a flick through the law book may lead one to believe’ (DW).

Due to the over-representation of migrant families in the findings, Schröder handed the study over to Maria Böhmer, the government’s commissioner for integration. Böhmer is now developing strategies to tackle forced marriages; she wants to make schools more aware of the problem and, once again, stresses the need to develop migrants’ language skills, as language is key for a self-confident, freely-chosen life, independent of parents. Schröder announced the introduction of a national telephone hotline for victims of violence or forced marriage. The opposition criticized these measures as merely symbolic; most of them will not be implemented in practice until the end of 2012 and, therefore, not offer immediate help to those affected.

Study on Forced Marriages Reveals It’s a Limited Phenomenon in France

News Agencies – June 23, 2011

While the High Council of Integration (the Haut conseil à l’intégration) estimated that 70,000 young Muslim girls were under pressure for forced marriages in France, a joint study by INED and INSEE has concluded that “forced marriages are marginal with immigrant girls.” The study focused on immigrants of Maghrebian, Turkish and sub-Saharian origins were culturally remaining single and premarital sexuality are typically frowned upon. Nine percent of immigrants between 51-60 years old claim to have married against their will; of these, two thirds of the arrangements took place prior to migrating to France.