Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. I hear a lot about this issue in the Pakistani community. Is this relevant to other communities as well?

Genetic disorders are found in every community. However, all communities that practice cousin marriage have higher numbers of children with recessive disorders. Health services are responding to the needs of these communities around the world. In the UK, the Pakistani origin community has the highest level of cousin marriage, so there is a higher proportion of children with recessive disorders in this community.

Q2. I know people who are married to cousins and have healthy kids. Is it really true that marrying a cousin results in disabled children?

Being married to a cousin is not the reason that a child is born with a disability. Most babies born to cousin couples are healthy. However, the problem arises when there is an unusual changed gene for a recessive disorder in the family and both parents happen to have this unusual gene. For such a couple, there is a chance in every pregnancy that the child may inherit the disorder. This happens if the child inherits the changed gene from both the father and the mother (see Ruby and Adam's story). When a cousin couple has a healthy child this may be because they do not have the unusual changed gene in common, or because that child did not happen to inherit the changed gene that the parents share.

Q3. I don't see why this issue is relevant to me. I am already married to my cousin. Is there any point in learning more about this?

Whatever the stage of your life, genetic information may be valuable to you and your family. People who are well informed are in a better position to make the right choices for themselves. Genetic services can be useful for anyone who has a genetic disorder in their family or people who are concerned about such conditions.

Q4. My husband and I are not cousins. In fact we are not even related, but my child has a genetic disorder. If genetic disorders are related to cousin marriage, then why is my child affected?

Genetic disorders can affect anyone. Every couple, including those who are not related, has a chance of having a baby with a genetic disorder. Children of unrelated parents have on average a 2-3% chance of being born with a birth disorder of some kind. For most genetic disorders, the risk of having an affected baby is the same whether or not the parents are related to each other.

Q5. I am married to my cousin and my oldest son has a serious genetic disorder. However, my younger child is completely healthy. If cousin marriage is related to genetic disorders then why is one of my kids OK and the other is not?

Being married to a cousin is not the reason that a child is born with a genetic disorder. Most babies born to cousin couples are healthy. However, the problem arises when there is an unusual changed gene for a recessive disorder in the family and both parents happen to have this changed gene. For such a couple, there is a chance in every pregnancy that the child may inherit the disorder (see Ruby and Adam's story). In this case, the older son must have inherited an unusual changed gene from both his mother and his father. In the case of the younger son, who appears healthy, there are two possibilities. First, it is possible that he is a carrier of the condition having inherited one usual and one unusual changed gene. Second, he may have inherited two usual genes, one from each parent and therefore is not affected.

Q6. I am interested to know more about this important issue but I want to understand the religious and moral aspects, not just the scientific evidence, where can I get help?

Thinking about marriage and childbearing raises religious and moral questions in many people's minds and you may want to discuss the information provided here with family, friends and other people you trust.

Contact information for Muslim scholars who are willing to discuss these issues are listed below:

Mufti Muhammad Zubair Butt
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Tel: 0113 206 4365
Email: zubair.butt@leedsth.nhs.uk

Imaam Shoeb Desai
Yorkshire Muslim Academy, Tel: 07878663330
Email: shoebdesai@live.co.uk