Friday, June 22, 2007

cousins

maryam

Matt asked me to elaborate more on the idea of cousins marrying cousins. I mentioned it briefly in my last entry. To ease his confusion, I will oblige. However, there are some disclaimers:
1. Cousins marrying cousins is a tradition that still exists to this day in the West. Even though it is looked down upon in the main stream culture, it is found in places that we refer to with high regards, mostly royal families. Also, it was a part of main stream culture in Europe all the way to the 1800s.
2. Whatever generalizations I make do not refer to all Arabs. There are definitely many families that do no allow the intermarriage of cousins.
3. The generalizations I make refer to the Arab culture, not the Muslim culture. Many Arab Christians hold onto this tradition as well.
4. Whatever generalizations I make does not necessarily refer to my family.

So, the intermarriage of cousins. Don’t be so grossed out. As I mentioned before, it is fairly common despite it being illegal in 25 states in the USA.
To start out with, let’s talk about why it became a tradition. Arabs are, as many other cultures also are, a family orientated society. The intermarriage of cousins is a way to keep the family together. It saves the family name. For example, when a girl gets married, for all purposes she becomes a part of her husband’s family more than her original one. Even if she does not take up his last name as hers, her children will have their father’s last name. In her original family’s eyes, she and her children are lost. Rather than loose members of the family, some families will marry their daughters to their cousins so that when they marry, they will be leaving the family only to come back into it since her husband’s family is hers. This way the girl’s children will keep the family’s last name.
Is that confusing? That really sums up the most basic why of the issue. In the olden times, the unspoken rule was that the cousin of girl had more rights to marry her than an outsider. If the guy wanted to marry her, any other guy stood no chance. But if the cousin didn’t want to, then she was free to marry outside of the family. Many times the cousin didn’t want to marry his cousin, but is pressured by the older members of his family to not let his cousin ‘be lost.’
To lessen the gross factor for the readers, let me explain the relationship between cousins in the Arab culture. Some families think of their cousins as their brothers and sisters. If this is so, then the intermarriage of cousins is NOT allowed in this family, because if you think of someone as your brother or sister and marry them, well that is just incestuous. For most families, cousins are people you know as you know your friends, people you can trust to watch out for you and you watch out for them, and people you are comfortable with. However, there always exists an unspoken partition between the girl and guy cousins. They are not allowed to be alone together and if you are a Muslim, the hijab barrier exists between them. Cousins are your family but are really like close family friends. What if you fell in love with the daughter or son of a close family friend? Sure there would be complications but it wouldn’t be gross would it?
Now society today has been greatly affected by Western ideology, where it is considered wrong to marry your cousin. So most families today generally do not hold very much to this tradition. Cousins are becoming more and more as siblings and less as strangers. In fact, it is actually hard to find people from my generation who would accept marrying their cousins. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist anymore, only that it is definitely less common.
I hope that covers everything. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions about this topic or any other topic.
The most important thing to remember when looking at issues in the Middle East, is that the people here have a totally different frame of reference than you do. Trust me. I’ve had discussions with members of family that leave me speechless (and those who know me know how hard that is). For example when talking to my aunts how I don’t want to get married or at least don’t feel the need to get married anytime in the near future they ask me about things that I didn’t think of as an issue before. Like where I was going to live. I hadn’t considered before that I needed to be married to move out of my parents’ home, but they thought it was scandalous that I wanted to get an apartment by myself after college. Not scandalous as in unIslamic or morally wrong, but scandalous as in what will society think?
I’ve learned to accept the different modes of thinking because mistake number one is to think that your way of thinking makes the most sense. Maybe it makes the most sense for you but you cannot push your way of thinking on the world. Me moving out is something that will work out for me (God willing) but I would not recommend it for my girl cousins here.
Sorry if I sound a little preachy but I learned these lessons the hard way so I can definitely imagine people reading this who would not have thought of this before. Just some words of advice.
Well, this update has certainly been longer than the others. But please, don’t shy out of asking me any questions that you might have on Arabs, Arab culture or Muslims. I really would love to answer them. Trust me, I don’t have anything else to do ☺

Take care everyone,
Maryam

2 comments:

C-Rin said...

Wow, I really like your post. I'm actually quite interested in different cultures, and this has really sparked my curiosity. I never seem to hear that much about Arab culture, and regarding this post i do have a question. When cousins marry cousins, is that what they are supposed to do? Do they have a choice not to, or is it a must? I'm very curious. Thanks!

outspokenarab said...

Excellent question.
The answer is that generally nobody is really forced with their hands tied, shouting and screaming to get married. But in the olden times, if a cousin wanted to marry you, well even if you didn't want to marry him, nobody else would step up to the plate because all the guys knew that your cousin had the most chance of having your father accept the marriage proposal.
remember that the whole marriage idea is different here as well. It's really an intermarriage of families, not just two people. Which is a really nice concept if you think about it.
But if you for some reason really really did not want to marry your cousin, i'm sure he would have gotten the point and maybe withdrew the proposal.
Now the modern times, if you don't want to marry your cousin, hell aint nobody gonna force you.

i hope that answers your question :)