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SHE suddenly looks out of the window.
“Did I ask you a difficult question?”
“No, no. But it’s a question that has many answers. Have you thought about the meaning of love?”
“Umm… yes… but then who hasn’t!”
“Okay. Why don’t you tell me the meaning of love and I’ll keep listening.”
“Ah and why is that?”
“I find it more interesting if a man talks about love.” She bursts out laughing. “Oh come on I am really curious. I really want to know what you think about love.”
“Okay, okay, Anna you win!” She’s once again turned the tables on me,
“I agree that the question does indeed have many answers. So where would you like me to start?”
“Don’t think too much, Hatef, just say whatever comes to your mind.”
“I am actually thinking what others have already said about love,” I say rubbing my chin. “I can start with Shakespeare’s eternal words: ‘Love does not reason because it has no reasons’. Or perhaps, Aristotle’s: ‘Love is composed of a single soul living in two bodies’ or ‘What is life without love? Love is like the sun; without the light of the sun, there’s no life’. There are others whose names I don’t remember: ‘Love is the most noble weakness of the soul’. Or ‘Whatever your question, Love is the answer’. Or ‘Love is to admire with your heart, admiration is to love with your soul’. Or ‘Love is a disease that makes us unwell when we don’t have it’.
“Hatef,” her interruption has a hint of annoyance, “that’s very impressive, but I’d like to know what you think.”
I’ve got the message, and so I continue: “Well, in my mind love is a lot of things. It’s a powerful feeling… very hard to resist. It’s almost like a chemical reaction. A human being has many layers. And then there are different kinds of love. You can love a car or a house or a certain food.
You can love poetry or football or surfing. You can love your brother or mother or your child, your wife. You can love nature or you can love God. There are many different kinds of love. But I think love is also selfish. It’s both natural and spiritual. Love gives meaning to your life. It
is what makes life worth living when you’re despairing.”
“Hmm… that’s interesting,” she says looking at me with shining eyes,
“love is natural…”
“Yes, the love a mother has for her child is natural. She just gives and gives… to her child unconditionally. She carries the child for nine months, makes him piece by piece from her own tissue and body. She suffers enormous pain giving birth to the child. And she continues giving him her time and energy raising him, trying to make him happy and content.
And if she has to she will happily die for her child. Among animals there are many who mate for life. If one partner dies the other one will not take another. How does a mother learn to love like that? Where does an animal learn to love like that? It is natural. It’s in the blood so to speak… in a mother’s blood, the blood of the animals that mate for life.”
“Do you think that it is the highest kind of love: the love a mother has for her child?”
“Among humans, yes I believe that… the love a mother has for her child is the highest kind of love. And we cannot compare it to any other kind.
This doesn’t mean any other kind of love is less meaningful. I think every sort of love is meaningful and special in its own way. But yes a mother’s love is the purest… because it’s given without expecting anything in return, at least not immediately. It just wishes for the child to
be happy and healthy. And that is my main point. Can we really compare it with any kind of other love?”
“No, I don’t think we can. This love is a great and powerful feeling... I would think… even though I don’t have children…”
“You think right, Anna. The other kinds of love are conditional. They’re bound by expectations. To make them work there has to be a give and take. But these days we think more about taking than giving. Although, none of us would admit it.”
Anna gives me a smile that says ‘I agree’. “So you’re saying, we give to receive but when we don’t receive, we don’t love?”
“Yes, I am saying that. In fact it reminds me of something I once read. I can’t remember exactly who said it but it got me thinking with its simple contradiction. ‘Love is being selfish together’.”
“So if you are selfish alone then there’s no love?”
“Exactly! What I am saying is that both parties need to be selfish for each other. I think there’s no point in a love that is not returned. That kind of love can’t live for long. The other person will only end up getting hurt.”
“So people who say they love someone without being loved in return are actually not in love but in pain?” I like the sound of that question.
“Can it mean anything else?”
“But then, why do people choose to stay with someone who doesn’t love them back?”
“I think it depends upon the kind of person you are. Sometimes people may think what they have is as good as it’ll ever get. And that there’s nothing out there that can make it better for them. It’s a life of convenience and practicality they choose over the lack of love. Some people believe
being in pain is love.”
“Being in pain is love, how?”
“Because the pain makes them feel real… and alive. The more pain someone gives them the closer they feel to that person. I think sacrifice in a relationship is good, because sacrifice is a way of giving. But I think some people only want to sacrifice and expect nothing in return.”
“So you are saying… do whatever makes you happy?”
“Yes. But I’d like to make a differentiation here… whatever might make a person happy, in my opinion, isn’t always love.”
“It is getting a bit confusing, Hatef… if you’re saying a healthy and happy relationship comes from both people being selfish in receiving each other’s love…”
“Yes, because it would mean that giving and receiving will go hand in hand. That way I believe two people complete each other, filled as they are with love for each other. Values like sacrifice, trust, patience, honesty come into play here because these values stand for equality. They also
make a relationship strong.
“Okay and such a relationship is bound to be healthy and will moreover keep alive these wonderful values,” Anna sums it up.
”Yes. Especially because it’s not easy to keep these values alive. They are very precious values for our entire race and if people get attached to them all the more better. It means even if love fades over time people will continue being there for each other just because of these values… It
means you’ll always have someone there for you, in sickness and in health. And you’ll also be there for that person. And that person will be your lover, your best friend in this journey called life. It will also make you forget the less appealing parts of your lover.”
“Just to understand it better, can you elaborate what you call ‘being in love’,” Anna interrupts.
“Well ‘being in love’ is wanting to be with someone because you like being with her. You like the way she looks, you like her touch, the look in her eyes when she looks at you. We call it chemistry. The heat that we feel being around another person. It is exciting and we long to feel it,
keep feeling it. It’s wonderful when this chemistry is reciprocated. But time conquers all. Physical beauty fades as we get older. But still people continue to stay together, even after the reasons that made them fall in love aren’t there anymore. I think with time people go from ‘being in love’ to a love that completes them. A love that glues people together. The values we talked about earlier also help us to fall in love and they remain even when we’re out of love, technically speaking. And that’s why I think it is very important to keep these values alive. They are, I
believe, the ingredients of love.”
The train is now leaving Roedby station.
“Okay,” says Anna, “I understand… that you are trying to convert me…
to your way of thinking.”
“I am only stating my own humble view, Anna.”
“So how does sex fit into all this,” she asks a little hesitantly.
“Well, sex is a very important part of our lives but what is its relation to love? If there’s any! Plato for example believed love to be a deep, spiritual connection between two people. He, in fact, totally denied a sexual element in love. Plato was essentially separating sex from love. And I’d say I don’t disagree with him. I think sex is a human need but its quality and the satisfaction got from it is not the same with everyone you have sex with. Sex with the person you love is special. It has a special passion to it. Sex with someone you don’t love is like eating just to fill your stomach. So in that sense I find it difficult to completely separate sex from love, like Plato did. On the other hand I’d say the sex life of a couple deeply in love may become, how do I say… ‘normal’? Maybe less exciting. At such a point of great familiarity sex may become
predictable and then couples have sex to ‘fill their stomach’.
“I believe the sex life of a couple in love also needs constant work because our sexual limits are far greater than we think. We need to keep exploring them, pushing them in order to keep growing and enriching ourselves.
Tantra, which is an Eastern discipline, is devoted to this kind of constant exploration and enrichment.
“Coming back to the values we talked about earlier… I think people in relationships continue to love each other even if their sex life has becomes monotonous, which anyway is something that can be remedied. What I am essentially saying is that even if the spark isn’t there anymore in the
bedroom a couple can still love each other. From this point of view Plato is right. Love is indeed separate from sex.”
Anna seems quite satisfied with my explanation. “So are you saying that sex is a very important part of life and that we must keep working on it in a relationship… to show our respect for it?”
“You are a good listener, Anna.” I say. “Woman are generally much better listeners than men. You are at this moment a living proof of this for me.”
“Thank you, Hatef, I believe listening is really eighty percent of the process of understanding.”
“Yes this is true, that’s why women are better with feelings and emotions.
They see that much more.”
“Please don’t underestimate yourself, Hatef. From whatever I’ve heard so far I’d say you too see a lot.” I can feel the sides of my face blush.
“You’re very kind, Anna. But I’ve reached this place by a lot of reading, some experience and much thought. A woman, I think, reaches it instinctively.”
This makes Anna smile her angelic smile.
“Well, that may be true but putting effort and energy to understand all this should not go unrecognised. It is in fact even more commendable.
Also because I think it is not always easy for a woman to understand. Also not many men spend that kind of energy and effort trying to find answers to the riddles of love and sex.”
I am by now in a full-blown blush and she’s not helping. “You should feel good about yourself, Hatef, women like men like that.
”But I always thought everyone thought about these things,” I say.
”Believe me, Hatef, I am telling you as a woman… it is not so.”
”In that case I’ll accept your compliment,” I am now smiling despite myself. “I feel quite exceptional now.” We both laugh.
After a few silent moments Anna reaches for her handbag. She takes out some chewing gum, takes a piece and offers me one.
“No thank you, Anna.”
She reaches for her bag again and takes out a can of energy drink.
“Then please take this, I think you need it,” she says.
“No Anna, am all right,” I answer.
“No please. Take it, I am going to quiz you some more… so you need it
more than me,” she says smiling.
“More questions? You really are going to interrogate me some more?”
“Yes sir, I am. So you better take it,” she holds out the drink for me.
“In that case I’ll take it.” I take the drink, open it and I take a sip. I put the can on the table and allow my drink to start doing its job of energizing me.
“Hatef, from what you’ve said so far… I feel all love is spiritual… isn’t that so?”
“Yes I think that is true. Love in all its aspects is spiritual. I also believe love is God himself.”
“So the love we feel is actually the presence of God in us?” “Yes, Sufism teaches us exactly that… that every human being is seeking this God-feeling with his every thought and action. Sufism also teaches that every human being carries within him or her deep desire to return to the love that he or she has come from. Each one of us has been created by the Almighty from his infinite love and whatever we experience in this world is really a journey of trying to get back to where we came from. The love he has put within us is what drives us, pushes us towards
new experiences. We’re like bees drawn to this huge flower called love.”
“Hmm… that’s very interesting. But what do you mean when you say that we desire to reach God with every experience?”
“Well, do you agree that every human being wants happiness? We seek happiness from everything around us: our partner, our job, house, education but every time we think we’ve found it we realise that it is not what we thought it would be. We realise everything we’ve reached is
temporary. So we go on seeking things that make us happy. But every time we think we’ve reached the edge of eternal happiness we are disappointed. We don’t want to admit to our disappointments. Sometimes we measure our lives against people who we think are less fortunate and feel happy.”
“Those are deep words, Hatef, they really speak to both my head and my heart. But how can people less fortunate than us make us happy?”
“It works like this… when we surround ourselves with things and objects of value we become attached, become slaves to them. In a way we are possessed by them instead of us possessing them. And this deludes us into thinking we’re in a better position than others who don’t have what we have.”
“So we begin measuring happiness with what we have…”
“Exactly, and then we begin to worry about losing what we have. This worry makes us actually less happy than someone who hasn’t got as much to lose.”
“That’s so ironical, we actually victims of our desires.”
“A Sufi is a person who’s constantly struggling to free himself of these desires. He’s constantly struggling to reach a state of nothingness. The only desire he has is to reach God, who is everywhere and is undying.
But in order to reach him a human being needs to become nothing; freed from all his desires, all that is temporary and earthly.”
“Wow. That sounds heavy! Maybe, Hatef, you could tell me some more about Sufism.”
“Sufism is the mystical core of Islam. But I also believe every belief system has its own mystical core saying the same thing in a different way. The mystical, spiritual journey of every human being is reach beyond religion, beyond a religious belief.” I wait for her response.
“Please continue, this gets better and better.”
“I am not an expert, you know. Maybe you could do some of your own research…”
“I would definitely, but I really want to hear what you know about it, please carry on.”
I am really pleased by her insistence and her curiosity. I like the respect and admiration she has for different points of view. How nice it is to meet a girl, born and raised in Europe, to be so open about Eastern philosophy. As our world gets more and more steeped in materialism
these kinds of conversations happen less and less. Anna has been a great listener.
‘Nykoebing, Nykoebing!’ The voice of the conductor snaps me out of my thoughts. I sink in my seat further.
“Have you heard about Rumi?” I ask her.
“No, is he a Sufi too?”
“Yes, he’s one of the greatest Sufis ever born. A Sufi master, actually!
Mewlana Celaluddin Rumi has shown us how to become fully human.
To me personally, Rumi’s been the greatest ever professor of the human soul. Through his poetry and his life he taught us how to go beyond the physical, into the metaphysical.”
“Tell me how?”
“How can you, Anna? It is meant for humans not angels.” She starts laughing caught by surprise in the middle of our serious conversation.
“You silly man, stop it!”
“Jokes apart, you too, Anna, could get there with the right teacher and the right attitude. According to Rumi, human beings are the centre of all creation. Everything has been created around man, for him… to make him happy. And no one, regardless of colour, creed, religion or sex can be excluded from this infinite love and grace of the Almighty. The human being is regarded as the khalif, the light of the Creator. He is the only creature on earth with the ability of taking God’s love and spreading it around. But not everyone can use this ability because people are prisoners of their nefs. Nefs is explained as a tether of earthly desires and urges.
For example if hate is part of your nefs, then it will manifest itself as jealousy, pride, etc. This way all the pain and suffering on our planet can be related to the nefs of its human population. But on the other hand, God has also given us his divine characteristics. We have the ability to
love, to show grace and mercy, to be noble, to show patience and understanding, to choose between right and wrong. And so our life becomes a constant struggle, trying to make our divine characteristics prevail over our nefs.”
“This means we’ve not done a good job of our struggle, because there are so many things going wrong in the world. We have so many wars and so much poverty in the world today.”
“Yes, we’ve in fact done a very bad job of it.”
“But then why does God allow it to happen… for example children dying of hunger. Especially, when he has the power to prevent it.”
“Anna, God doesn’t put himself as a controller above us. Someone who constantly intervenes in our daily life. He says, ‘don’t murder’ but there isn’t a hand coming down from heaven every time someone’s going to commit murder. He says, ‘don’t steal’ but people still steal. He says,
‘don’t lie’ but people still lie. But then he has appointed a day when he’ll audit our accounts, so to speak,” I say smiling. “God has given us a map of both Heaven and Hell. But it is up to us to choose what we want. He has given us all the tools to do the right thing. Also given us a free will.
For example there’s enough wealth on this planet to feed and give shelter to each and every one of us, provided we’re willing to share this wealth.
Essentially, we have to overcome our desire to own more than we need.
We should be willing to give away what we don’t need.
“So what prevents us from doing this? Again we come back to our nefs.
It is what makes us selfish and indifferent. The more we overcome our nefs the closer we get to making the world a happier place. We have today people who own millions on the one hand and on the other there are children who’re dying of hunger. God didn’t create this.”
“If I understand correctly, nefs is what we call the Devil. And he prevents us from using all the goodness we possess inside…”
“Yes, you could say that. Metaphors are always helpful. In fact Heaven and Hell according to some Sufis like Muhammed Iqbal are also metaphorical ideas. He believed they’re not physical spaces where we will be going after death but are areas we can create here on earth. Perhaps,
Heaven and Hell exist physically too somewhere on earth and we call them into our lives with our decisions and actions.”
“That is really very deep, Hatef. Could we then say Sufism and other teachings like it are ways of transforming the individual, making him perfect?”
“Well, absolute perfection belongs to God alone. But Sufism talks about a kemal, an individual who has reached the pinnacle of human perfection.
This is the closest we as humans can come to perfection. You see, when we say that God is perfect we don’t mean it by our human standards but that he’s perfect by his own standards. Because we cannot even begin to understand his standards we can never grasp his kind of perfection.”
“I understand. But tell me is the message of Sufism for everyone? Does it for example also apply to people who’re deep in their nefs?”
“Let me answer your question with one of Rumi’s more famous poems.
It’s obviously a translation of the original Persian.
Come, come, whoever you are,
wonderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times.
Come again and again, come.
Here Rumi’s trying to tell us how this gift of overcoming our nefs is for everyone, whatever his state in life. He says there isn’t really any reason for guilt and despair.
“I want to add something else about Rumi here. He was greatly inspired by the prophet Mohammed. The Prophet himself was a great Sufi. for example he has said: ‘Die before you are dead’. This in fact is a very important principle of Sufism. A Sufi aims to kill his nefs and be
resurrected in love and compassion. This happens through a process called seyr-e-suluk. Through this process a Sufi reaches total freedom from all his earthly desires. Finally, he aims to reach a state of fena fillah. This is where he merges into God. In Buddhism they call it nirvana. After
reaching fena fillah the Sufi only strives to share his state with others.
And in this striving he exhausts himself day after day… all for the love of God.” I take a deep breath.
“How can I meet this Rumi, is he still around?”
I smile because I like the sound of Anna’s innocence.
“I would really like to meet him too. But he left our world about seven and a half centuries ago. Though I believe, he is here among us with his message.”
“Oh. But Hatef, I am quite dazzled by your words. Do you think you could tell me more about Rumi?”
“Well, Rumi was born in Khorasan, a village near Balkh in present-day Afghanistan in 1207. He was known as Rumi, meaning ‘the Roman’, because he grew up in an area under Byzantine rule at that time. His family travelled to Anatolia and eventually settled in Konya under the Turkish
Seldjuk sultanate. Rumi spent the rest of his life in Konya, which is where he was also buried after he died in 1273. Today, Konya is a place of pilgrimage for Sufis across the world.
“After his death his followers, especially his son Sultan Walad founded the Mawlawiyah Sufi Order. They’re also known as the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ because of the whirling dance they do. A dervish goes round and round on his feet with one hand lifted up to the sky and the other facing the earth, at 90 degrees to each other. The head is bent slightly to the side indicating nobility. The dervishes keep this position through the dance celebrating the scattering of God’s love from above over everyone on earth.
The bent head indicates the exalted position of the dervish as an intermediary between the Creator and the created. Dervishes are known to lose themselves completely while dancing. This trance-like state is called sama.
I have seen dervishes whirl for more than an hour.”
“I think I have seen a picture too. They were dancing… whirling in front of a green-domed building, says Anna.
“Yes, this is probably the dergah or mausoleum of Rumi. It is in Konya.
It is where he is buried alongwith his father and other members of his family. This place is visited by hundreds if not thousands of people daily.
You should go if you’re ever in Turkey.”
“Yes, hopefully I will.”
“I really liked that poem of Rumi you just recited. Is there a book where I can read more?”
I think Rumi’s words have worked their magic on Anna.
“Of course. His most important book is called Masnawi, and it is quite amazing. You can find a translation of the Masnawi on the Internet, perhaps. I also recommend The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks. I always find great joy when I read Rumi. His poems give me hope and strength in moments of despair. There is actually one that I read often.”
“Can you please read it to me now?”
“I knew you’d say that… Here’s The Guest House dedicated especially to you, Anna:
Man is like a guest house
each day brings a new guest
some days comes Joy; others, Sadness
but Awareness is always
an unexpected visitor.
Rumi says, welcome them all
even if there’s a mob of sorrows
sweeping across your house
emptying it out.
Treat every guest with honour
each one’s come to help you
The pleasant Surprise
the dark Thought, Shame, Malice
meet them all at the door laughing.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each one has been sent
from the beyond to help you.”
“That is really beautiful, Hatef. It really does have the power to speak to everyone.” She seems moved by it. “I think I have quizzed you enough for a day,” she says smiling.
“Yes, you have young lady, but I never get tired talking about Rumi,” I smile back. We fall in this silence together allowing Rumi to sink into our souls.
“Vordingborg! Vordingborg station!”
Another stop less in our journey.
This post is glimpse of my book A Yoik for Anna - A Journey between Two Worlds
It is estimated that at least 55% of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins and the tradition is also common among some other South Asian communities and in some Middle Eastern countries. But there is a problem: marrying someone who is themselves a close family member carries a risk for children, a risk that lies within the code of life, inside our genes. Communities that practice cousin marriage experience higher levels of some very rare but very serious illnesses known as recessive genetic disorders.
Such unions are seen as strong because they build on tight family networks and family events gets better because the in-laws are already related to each other and have the same family history. But the statistics for recessive genetic illness in cousin marriages is serious as British Pakistanis are 13 times more likely to have children with genetic disorders than the general population.
Cousin marriage is marriage between two cousins. This kind of marriage is highly stigmatized today in the West, but it does account for over 10% of marriages worldwide as it is common in the Middle East, where in some nations they account for over half of all marriages.
According to Professor Robin Fox of Rutgers University, it is likely that 80% of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or closer. It is generally accepted that the founding population of Homo sapiens was small, anywhere from 700 to 10,000 individuals. Rates of first-cousin marriage in the United States, Europe, and other Western countries like Brazil have declined since the 19th century, though even during that period they were not more than 3.63% of all unions in Europe. But in many other world regions cousin marriage is still strongly favoured: in the Middle East some countries have seen the rate rise over previous generations, and one study finds quite stable rates among Indian Muslims over the past four decades.
Cousin marriage has often been chosen to keep cultural values and ensure the compatibility of spouses, preserve familial wealth, sometimes via advantages relating to dowry or bride price. Other reasons may include geographic proximity, tradition, strengthening of family ties, maintenance of family structure, a closer relationship between the wife and her in-laws, greater marital stability and durability, ease of prenuptial negotiations, enhanced female autonomy, the desire to avoid hidden health problems and other undesirable traits in a lesser-known spouse, and romantic love.
The United States has the only bans on cousin marriage in the Western world. As of February 2010[update], 30 U.S. states prohibit most or all marriage between first cousins together with other 6 states.
Cousin marriage was legal in all US states in the Union prior to the Civil War. However, according to Kansas sociology professor Martin Ottenheimer, after the Civil War the main purpose of marriage prohibitions was increasingly seen as less maintaining the social order and upholding religious morality and more as safeguarding the creation of fit offspring. By the 1870s, Lewis Henry Morgan was writing about "the advantages of marriages between unrelated persons" and the necessity of avoiding "the evils of consanguine marriage." Cousin marriage to Morgan, and more specifically parallel-cousin marriage, was a remnant of a more primitive stage of human social organization. Morgan himself had married his mother's brother's daughter in 1851.
In 1846 the Governor of Massachusetts appointed a commission to study "idiots" in the state which implicated cousin marriage as being responsible for idiocy. Within the next two decades numerous reports appeared coming to similar conclusions, including for example by the Kentucky Deaf and Dumb Asylum, which concluded that cousin marriage resulted in deafness, blindness, and idiocy. Perhaps most important was the report of physician S.M. Bemiss for the American Medical Association, which concluded "that multiplication of the same blood by in-and-in marrying does incontestably lead in the aggregate to the physical and mental depravation of the offspring."
These developments led to thirteen states and territories passing cousin marriage prohibitions by the 1880s. Though contemporaneous, the eugenics movement did not play much direct role in the bans, and indeed George Louis Arner in 1908 considered them a clumsy and ineffective method of eugenics, which he thought would eventually be replaced by more refined techniques. Ottenheimer considers both the bans and eugenics to be "one of several reactions to the fear that American society might degenerate." In any case, by the period up until the mid-1920s the number of bans had more than doubled. Since that time, the only three states to successfully add this prohibition are Kentucky in 1943, Maine in 1985, and Texas in 2005. The NCCUSL unanimously recommended in 1970 that all such laws should be repealed, but no state has dropped its prohibition since the mid-1920s.
Only Austria, Hungary, and Spain banned cousin marriage throughout the 19th century, with dispensations being available from the government in the last two countries. Protestant, the Church of Sweden didn't ban first-cousin marriage until 1680 and required dispensation until 1844. England maintained a small but stable proportion of cousin marriages for centuries, with proportions in 1875 estimated by George Darwin at 3.5% for the middle classes and 4.5 % for the nobility, though this has declined to under 1 % in the 20th century. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were a preeminent example.
The 19th century academic debate on cousin marriage evolved differently in Europe than it did in America. The first-cousin marriage was legal in ancient Rome from at least the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) to its ban by the Christian emperor Theodosius I in 381 AD in the west and until after Justinian (d. 565 AD) in the east.
Early Catholic marriage rules forced a sharp change from earlier norms in order to deny heirs to the wealthy and therefore increase the chance they would will their property to the Church.
The Middle East has uniquely high rates of cousin marriage among the world's regions. Saudi Arabia, have rates of marriage to first or second cousins that may exceed 50%, Iraq was estimated in one study to have a rate of 33%, and figures for Iran and Afghanistan have been estimated in the range of 30–40%. Though on the lower end, Egypt and Turkey nevertheless have rates above 20%.
All states in the Persian Gulf currently require advance genetic screening for all prospective married couples. Qatar was the last Gulf nation to institute mandatory screening in 2009, mainly to warn related couples who are planning marriage about any genetic risks they may face. The current rate of cousin marriage there is 54%, an increase of 12–18% over the previous generation. A report by the Dubai-based Centre for Arab Genomic Studies (CAGS) in September 2009 found that Arabs have one of the world's highest rates of genetic disorders, nearly two-thirds of which are linked to consanguinity. Research from CAGS and others suggests consanguinity is declining in Lebanon and Egypt and among Palestinians, but is increasing in Morocco, Mauritania and Sudan.
Dr. Ahmad Teebi, a genetics and pediatrics professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, links the increase in cousin marriage in Qatar and other Gulf states to tribal tradition and the region’s expanding economies. “Rich families tend to marry rich families, and from their own – and the rich like to protect their wealth,” he said. “So it’s partly economic, and it’s also partly cultural.” In regard to the higher rates of genetic disease in these societies, he says: "It's certainly a problem," but also that "The issue here is not the cousin marriage, the issue here is to avoid the disease."
Cousin marriage rates from most African nations outside the Middle East are unknown. It is however estimated that 35–50% of all sub-Saharan African populations either prefers or accept cousin marriages. In Nigeria, the most populous country of Africa, the three largest tribes in order of size are the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. Muslim Hausa practice cousin marriage preferentially, and polygamy is allowed if the husband can support multiple wives. Divorce can be accomplished easily by either the male or the female, but females must then remarry. Even for a man, lacking a spouse is looked down upon. Baba of Karo's first of four marriages was to her second cousin. She recounts in the book that her good friend married the friend's first cross cousin.
The Yoruba people are split between Islam and Christianity. A 1974 study analyzed Yoruba marriages in the town Oka Akoko, finding that among a sample of marriages having an average of about three wives. These included not only cousin marriages but also uncle-niece unions. Reportedly it is a custom that in such marriages at least one spouse must be a relative, and generally such spouses were the preferred or favourite wives in the marriage and gave birth to more children. Finally, the Igbo people of southern Nigeria specifically prohibit both parallel- and cross-cousin marriage, though polygamy is common. Men are forbidden to marry within their own patrilineage or those of their mother or father's mother and must marry outside their own village. Igbo are almost entirely Christian, having converted heavily under colonialism
In Ethiopia the ruling Christian Amhara people were historically rigidly opposed to cousin marriage, and could consider up to third cousins the equivalent of brother and sister, with marriage at least ostensibly prohibited out to sixth cousins. A man marrying a former wife's "sister" was seen as incest, and conversely for a woman and her former husband's "brother." Though Muslims make up over a third of the Ethiopian population, and Islam has been present in the country since the time of Muhammad, cross-cousin marriage is very rare among most Ethiopian Muslims.
Attitudes in India on cousin marriage vary by region and culture. For Muslims it is acceptable and legal to marry a first cousin but for Hindus it may be illegal under the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act, though the specific situation is more complex. The Hindu Marriage Act makes cousin marriage illegal for Hindus with the exception of marriages permitted by regional custom. Cousin marriage is proscribed and seen as incest for Hindus in north India. In fact it may even be unacceptable to marry within one's village or for two siblings to marry partners from the same village but in south India it is common for Hindu’s to marry cross cousins, with matrilateral cross-cousin (mother's brother's daughter) marriages being especially favoured. In Mumbai, studies done in 1956 showed 7.7% of Hindus married to a second cousin or closer in contrast to the northern city of New Delhi where only 0.1% of Hindus were married to a first cousin during the 1980s.
India's Muslim minority represents about 12% of its population (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) and has an overall rate of cousin marriage of 22% according to a 2000 report. Most Muslim cousin marriages were between first cousins with a rate of 20%.
There has been a great deal of debate in the past few years in the United Kingdom about whether to discourage cousin marriages through government public relations campaigns or ban them entirely. The debate has been prompted by a Pakistani immigrant population making up 1.5% of the British population, of whom about 55% marry a first cousin. There is evidence that the rate of cousin marriage has increased among British Pakistanis from rates in their parents' generation. Most British Pakistani marriages are arranged, but these can be of two types: conventionally arranged marriages where the bride and groom have little or no say, and what some British Pakistanis describe as "arranged love marriages" where the bride and groom play an important role.
In the East, South Korea is especially restrictive with bans on marriage out to third cousins, with all couples having the same surname and region of origin having been prohibited from marrying until 1997. Taiwan, North Korea, and the Philippines also prohibit first-cousin marriage. It is allowed in Japan, though the incidence has declined in recent years. China has banned it since passing its 1981 Marriage Law, yet there is a conspicuous lack of data on actual cousin marriage rates there.
Recent 2001 data for Brazil indicates a rate of cousin marriage of 1.1%, down from 4.8% in 1957. For example, in São Paulo in the mid-19th century the rate of cousin marriage apparently was 16%, but a century later it was merely 1.9%.
Social aspects of cousin marriages
People may think that cousin marriages are more common among those of low socioeconomic status, among the illiterate and uneducated, and in rural areas due to the dowries and bridewealths that exist, but some societies also report a high prevalence among land-owning families and the ruling elite: here the relevant consideration is thought to be keeping the family estate intact over generations.
In South Asia, rising demands for dowry payments have caused economic hardship and have been linked to "dowry deaths" in a number of North Indian states. The increasing number of cousin marriages in the West may also occur as a result of immigration from Asia and Africa and some observers have concluded that the only new forces that could discourage such unions are government bans like the one China enacted in 1981.
In April 2002, the Journal of Genetic Counseling released a report which estimated the average risk of birth defects in a child born of first cousins at 1.7–2.8% over an average base risk for non-cousin couples of 3%, or about the same as that of any woman over age 40. In terms of mortality, a 1994 study found a mean excess pre-reproductive mortality rate of 4.4%, while another study published in 2009 suggests the rate may be closer to 3.5%. Put differently, first-cousin marriage entails a similar increased risk of birth defects and mortality as a woman faces when she gives birth at age 41 rather than at 30. Critics argue that banning first-cousin marriages would make as much sense as trying to ban childbearing by older women.
In Pakistan, where there has been cousin marriage for generations and the current rate may exceed 50%, one study estimated infant mortality at 12.7 % for married double first cousins, 7.9 % for first cousins, 9.2 % for first cousins once removed/double second cousins, 6.9 % for second cousins, and 5.1 percent among nonconsanguineous progeny. Among double first cousin progeny, 41.2 % of prereproductive deaths were associated with the expression of detrimental recessive genes, with equivalent values of 26.0, 14.9, and 8.1 % for first cousins, first cousins once removed/double second cousins, and second cousins respectively.
For example because the entire Amish population is descended from only a few hundred 18th century German-Swiss settlers, the average coefficient of inbreeding between two random Amish is higher than between two non-Amish second cousins. First-cousin marriage is taboo among Amish but they still suffer from several rare genetic disorders. In Ohio's Geagua County, Amish make up only about 10 % of the population but represent half the special needs cases. Similar disorders have been found in the highly polygamous FLDS, who do allow first-cousin marriage and of whom 75 to 80 % are related to two 1930s founders.
A BBC report reported about Pakistanis in Britain where 55% of whom had married a first cousin and many children come from repeat generations of first-cousin marriages. The report stated that these children were 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and one in ten children of first-cousin marriages in Birmingham either died in infancy or would develop a serious disability. The BBC story contained an interview with Myra Ali, whose parents and grandparents were all first cousins. She has a very rare recessive genetic condition, known as Epidermolysis bullosa which will cause her to lead a life of extreme physical suffering, limited human contact and probably an early death from skin cancer. Knowing that cousin marriages increase the probability of recessive genetic conditions, she is against the practice. Finally, in 2010 the Telegraph reported that cousin marriage among the British Pakistani community resulted in 700 children being born every year with genetic disabilities.
The increased mortality and birth defects observed among British Pakistanis may, however, have another source besides current consanguinity. Genetic effects from cousin marriage in Britain are more obvious than in a developing country like Pakistan because the number of confounding environmental diseases is lower. Increased focus on genetic disease in developing countries may eventually result from progress in eliminating environmental diseases there as well.
Public Health in Norway published in March 2007 a research on intermarriage in Norway. The report identifies both the prevalence of intermarriage and the medical consequences for the children. The analysis was done on the basis of data from the Medical Birth Registry, Statistics Norway, Population Register and the Cause of Death Register of data for all persons born in Norway from 1967 to 2005 because Norway is the only country in the world that keeps the statistic numbers between the parents of all born babies. These were the key findings:
Prevalence of intermarriage:
- In Norway, the most widespread intermarriage can be found among people of Pakistani origin. In first-generation immigrants from Pakistan intermarriage is 43.9% of all children born of parents who are cousins, and the total intermarriage ratio is 54.4%.
- Among the descendants of first generation immigrants from Pakistan, the proportion of cousin pairs 35.1%, and the total intermarriage ratio 46.5%. Interbreeding units are therefore somewhat lower than in the parental generation.
- Intermarriage-shares seem to be heading down in the Norwegian-Pakistani population, both first generation immigrants and descendants.
- Intermarriage is relatively common also among people with origins from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Somalia.
- For people of Norwegian origin, intermarriage is very rare, but it used to be more common a few decades back. This particularly applies to second cousin marriages. In those of Norwegian origin is 0.1% of parental pairs cousins and second cousins 0.4% (in the period from 1967 to 2005).
Medical risks of intermarriage
Intermarriage leads to increased risk of stillbirth, infant death and congenital malformations. In addition, there is an increased risk of death right up to adulthood among children of intermarried parents.
For children of cousin marriage is the increase of risk in the following order:
- Stillbirth: 60%
- Deaths during the first year: 150%
- Congenital malformations: 100%
- Deaths from the age of one year and up to adulthood: 75%
These findings are statistically reliable, and not the result of random variation.
The significance of intermarriage for public health
Since intermarriage is rare in the population as a whole, intermarriage does little for public health in Norway, however, it is a major cause of illness and death among children in the country groups where intermarriage is common.
One must always bear in mind that most children of intermarriage, marriage is healthy and completely normal. Illness and death affects only a small minority of them.
Jewish communities affected by Tay-Sachs
Tay–Sachs disease (TSD, also known as GM2 gangliosidosis or Hexosaminidase A deficiency) is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder. In its most common variant, known as infantile Tay–Sachs disease, it causes a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities that commences around 6 months of age and usually results in death by the age of 4. Tay-Sachs is caused by a genetic defect in a single gene with one defective copy of that gene inherited from each parent. The disease occurs when harmful quantities of gangliosides accumulate in the nerve cells of the brain, eventually leading to the premature death of those cells. There is currently no cure or treatment but the Tay–Sachs disease is rare.
Tay-Sachs disease was named after British ophthalmologist Warren Tay, who first described the red spot on the retina of the eye in 1881, and the American neurologist Bernard Sachs of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York who described the cellular changes of Tay-Sachs and noted an increased prevalence in the Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi) population in 1887. Research in the late 20th century demonstrated that Tay–Sachs disease is caused by a genetic mutation on the HEXA gene on chromosome 15. These mutations reach significant frequencies in several populations. French Canadians of southeastern Quebec have a carrier frequency similar to Ashkenazi Jews, but they carry a different mutation. Many Cajuns of southern Louisiana carry the same mutation that is most common in Ashkenazi Jews. Most HEXA mutations are rare, and do not occur in genetically isolated populations. The disease can potentially occur from the inheritance of two unrelated mutations in the HEXA gene.
Millions of Ashkenazi Jews have been screened as Tay-Sachs carriers since carrier testing began in 1971. Jewish communities, both in and outside of Israel, embraced the cause of genetic screening from the 1970s on and the increasing number of Tay–Sachs disease led Israel to become the first country to offer free genetic screening and counseling for all couples making Israel a leading center for research on genetic disease. Both the Jewish and Arab/Palestinian populations in Israel contain many ethnic and religious minority groups, and Israel's initial success with Tay–Sachs disease has led to the development of screening programs for other diseases.
Tay-Sachs has sometimes created an impression that Jews are more susceptible to genetic disease than other populations. Sheila Rothman and Sherry Brandt-Rauf, of Columbia University's Center for the Study of Society and Medicine, have criticized this emphasis on ethnic identity in the study of disease. When several breast cancer mutations were discovered in the 1990s, the TSD model was applied, both consciously and inadvertently. Researchers had initially focused on breast cancer cluster families, not on ethnic groups. But because thousands of stored DNA samples were available from Tay-Sachs screening, researchers were quickly able to estimate the frequency of newly discovered mutations in Ashkenazi Jewish populations.
Inbreeding in the Royal and Nobel families
The family relationships of royalty are usually well known to be highly inbreeded. Royal intermarriage was mostly practised to protect property, wealth, and position.
- In ancient Egypt, royal women carried the bloodlines and so it was advantageous for a pharaoh to marry his sister or half-sister. Normally the old ruler's eldest son and daughter (who could be either siblings or half-siblings) became the new rulers. All rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty from Ptolemy II were married to their brothers and sisters, to keep the Ptolemaic blood "pure" and to strengthen the line of succession. Cleopatra VII (also called Cleopatra VI) and Ptolemy XIII, who married and became co-rulers of ancient Egypt following their father's death, are the most widely known example of brother and sister marriage.
The family-tree of Charles II of Spain shows an extraordinary number of uncle-niece and cousin unions of varying degrees that can be seen on the picture.
- Among European monarchies Jean V of Armagnac formed a rare brother-sister relationship. Also other royal houses, such as the Wittelsbachs had marriages among aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. The British royal family had several marriages as close as the first cousin, but none closer.
- The most famous example of a genetic disorder aggravated by royal family intermarriage was the House of Habsburg, which inmarried particularly often. Famous in this case is the Habsburg jaw/Habsburg lip/Austrian lip typical for many Habsburg relatives over a period of 6 centuries. The condition progressed through the generations to the point that the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II of Spain, could not properly chew his food.
- Besides the jaw deformity, Charles II also had a huge number of other genetic physical, intellectual, sexual, and emotional problems. It is speculated that the simultaneous occurrence in Charles II of two different genetic disorders: combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis could explain most of the complex clinical profile of this king, including his impotence/infertility which in the last instance led to the extinction of the dynasty.
- The most famous genetic disease that circulated among European royalty was haemophilia. Because the progenitor, Queen Victoria, was in a first cousin marriage, it is often mistakenly believed that the cause was consanguinity, however, this disease is generally not aggravated by cousin marriages, although rare cases of haemophilia in girls (though not including Victoria) are thought to result from the union of haemophilic men and their cousins.
- Intermarriage within European royal families has declined in relation to the past. Inter-nobility marriage was used as a method of forming political alliances among elite power-brokers and these ties were often sealed only upon the birth of progeny within the arranged marriage. Marriage was seen as a union of lines of nobility, not of a contract between individuals as it is seen today.
- Some Peruvian Sapa Incas married their sisters. The Inca had an unwritten rule that the new ruler must be a son of the Inca and his wife and sister. He then had to marry his sister (not half-sister), which ultimately led to the catastrophic Huáscar's reign, culminating in a civil war and then fall of the empire.
When we look at the Norwegian history, marriage between cousins was rare and attempted to be prohibited in 1687 but the exception was the royals. They married relatives to build alliances, and ensure values and positions. It is not different from the today’s cousin marriages except the only difference was that the royal house had a stronger fundamental superstructure that was at the family's superiority. Monarchical thinking assumes that your place in society is God-given and that your family is predetermined.
King Olav V and Queen Maud of Norway
To keep the heritage in their own hands, the Spanish Habsburgs started to marry more and more within the family. The result was that the lethal inbreeding within a few generations brought the male succession to destruction with 11 royal marriages in 200 years. 9 of these were intermarriages including two marriages between uncles and nieces and four between cousins. As a consequence of this, the Habsburgs suffered stillbirths and deaths of babies. Between 1527 and 1661 there was born 34 children and of these, 10 died before the age of 1 year. Another 17 died before the age of 10.
The Habsburgs last king, Carlos II, was born in 1661 and the Spaniards called him El hechizado, the enchanted. He had a large head and was relatively weak as a baby. He did not learn to speak before he turned four, and learned to walk when he was eight years old and stayed weak and very thin. His first and second wife claimed he was impotent and he would vomit and suffer from diarrhea. As a 30-year-old, King Carlos looked like he was an old man. He also couldn’t manage to bring an heir so the Halsburg Dynasty died with him in 1700.
Scientists have calculated that 25.4% of his gene variants were inherited in double dose and they believe he was hit by two genetic diseases that today are known as CPHD and distal renal tubular acidos (dRTA).
The Danish royal house was struggling with similar problems. Early in the 1800s did not King. Several diseases spread in the European royal houses of the 1800s and the British Queen Victoria's descendants were affected by haemophilia resulting in her son Leopold death of the disease as 30-year-old. Her daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Alice brought the disease to the European royal houses.
Porphyria is another "royal disease" and the British king George III (1760 to 1820) was known as “Mad George” for his madness. Two professors of molecular genetics, Martin Warren and David Hunt of the University of London, examined in the book Purple Secret (1998) a thesis that George III's illness was porphyria. They followed "Mad George" s genes down to today's royals, and estimated that the Queen's cousin William, who died in 1972, suffered from the disease. Also porphyria was brought further into the European royal families.
Norwegian Princess Astrid has been open to and told how she has experienced it to be dyslexic, like King Olaf was and the Princess' five children also struggling with this problem.
In contrast, Swedish King Carl Gustaf, the Crown Princess Victoria and her brother Prince Carl Philip has been open with the disorder.
Camilla Stoltenberg of Public Health in Norway explains:
“If you inherit the gene from one parent, you may get a slight degree of the condition. Inherit it from both mother and father, the stronger the disposition, and then you can get a more serious disorder.” What then is the relationship between intermarriage and dyslexia?
“The chance that you get two identical copies of a gene is higher. This is also true for genes that predispose to dyslexia. And since dyslexia is probably conditioned by many genes, it is also a greater chance that you may have received two copies of several of the dysleksidisponerende genes,” she says.
Dollar was ruling the world and was surviving the severe blows of world crisis and had survived the worst wars in human history but there was something which its competitors were planning from decades to launch it with a bang and end the monopoly of Dollar in global market as favorite trading currency and the moment came on January 1 of 1999 when the world was sleeping enjoying its dreams of midnight – the Euro was launched which set the benchmark in a bloc trading and regional single currency market.
From its start Euro has remained on stronger than dollar but this strengthen has eaten the coffers of the prosperous European Union which after completing the struggling decade with Euro highlights is now knocking every door of its members and have approached the non Euro zone members of the EU. This crisis and the frequent exchange fluctuations had resulted in severe loss to the non European economies like Libya, Iran and major trading nations which have lost billions of their hard earned For-ex reserves while the first recession of 21st century brought shock and awe situation to the entire world but something which ended the parallel dominance of Euro to Dollar and now when the aftershocks too have lowered down Euro Zone face a grime future with weakening and struggling economies which though are counted always as advanced and developed but has never remained the world economic drivers thus enjoying the EU reformed policy benefits and relying on its member nations like Germany, France, Italy, Spain.
The chain of strides was broken by Spain when its economy collapsed under the rubble of the hyper blooming concrete structural market and then the other characters of the card palace were torn away in the acute shortage of jobs and stability. The sleeping reality of Euro under the hidden carpets was exposed to the wrath of already recessionary top economies. This has again build the trust of public in Dollar which from last one year which after the launch of its rival Euro zone was on a diminishing side. 2011 has been a great year for Dollar which has taken back its lost crown as the world’s favorite currency. The complex nature of the Euro Zone crisis and its unpromising bleak future will benefits the Dollar to grow more and maintain its economics even though it still is on a weaker side in terms its exchange value to Euro.