anybody else getting a little bored with europe and europeans? yeah, i thought so. here’s a little diversion! (i will return to the mating patterns of europeans shortly.)
the arabs. and by “the arabs” i mean the ones on the arabian peninsula. even more specifically, i mean to contrast the arabs living in the hejaz on the west coast with the arabs from the najd in the interior. for a very long time, the hejazi arabs have been quite comopolitan and internationally-oriented, whereas the najdi arabs were mostly camel-herding nomads or settled in and around desert oases. the balance of power between the two shifted beginning in the 1700-1800s when the al saud clan — from the najd region — gained control of the region, and, most importantly, when they eventually acquired de facto control of the nation’s oil.
consang.net tells us that the saudi arabians today inbreed a LOT: 50%+ of all marriages are consanguineous (between second cousins or closer). there is variation within the country though.
from Consanguinity among the Saudi Arabian population (1995) [click on table for LARGER view] …
… the total consanguinity rate in what the authors refer to as the “north western province” (i think this must be some former provincial designation), which is basically the hejaz region, was 67.7% in 1995. the “central province” — the northern part of the najd region — had a consanguineous marriage rate of 60.8% — so lower than the hejaz region.
i don’t think that this was always the case, that consanguineous marriage was more common in the hejaz region than in the najd region. in fact, i think that the hejazis have adopted cousin marriage more and more over the course of the last couple of centuries thanks to a process of “najdification” that, presumably, the entire country has been undergoing since the al saud clan came to prominence. (also, perhaps many najdis have moved to places in the hejaz region like mecca.)
from Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for an Arabian Identity (2004) [pgs. 77-81]:
“Of key interest here is the introduction of what may be called the ‘tribalisation’ of marriage relations amongst the Hijazis. In contrast to past practices of marriage with non-Arab Muslims, marriages now take place within the Hijazi cultural group. The definition of what constitutes a Hijazi for marriage purposes has become more strict….
“One implication of ‘tribalisation’, however, is that it draws the cultural form of association that sets the standards for the Hijazis from Najdi life. The emphasis placed on lineage, purity and related ideas confirms the superiority of a particular conception of what a social group should be: a tribe….
“For members of the Hijazi *’awa’il*, establishing and dissolving contemporary marriage relationships is now regulated by several sets of rules and considerations, most of which are relatively recent in origin…. All of these changes are best understood in light of the contrast between the period prior to and that following the Hijaz’s political unification under Saudi rule….
“In the period before Saudi political unification the rules governing marriage derived from largely religious sources, reflecting a very different relation between state and society to that which exists in the present. All contemporary marriage rules are closely related to these earlier ones, either as refinements or entailing new but subordinate principles.
“At the most general level, the Quran is broadly permissive of potential marriage partners: ‘Oh! Mankind! We have created you from a single [pair] of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most pious of you.’ There are, however, some qualifications to this open-ended approach. The first is that Islam permits marital ties between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, provided the latter are ‘people of the book’, *ahl al kitab*, i.e. Jews or Christians. The Quran tells male Muslims that, ‘lawful for you are the chaste women from among those who have been given the book’. Muslim women, on the other hand, are absolutely prohibited from marrying non-Muslims. A Muslim woman’s marriage to a non-Muslim is considered to entail illegal intercourse and thus produces illegitimate offspring who are prohibited from inheriting the father’s wealth….
“In addition to religion, considerations of the nature of wider family life have been most influential in regulating marriage. Here the promotion and defence of patrilineal group status is of central significance. Family status is related to the *’ird* (honour) of its male members, which is defended by ensuring the chastity of female dependants. The idea of *’ird* is a key reason why marriage based on overt love has traditionally been considered *’ayb* (shameful): admitting love implies a clandestine pre-marital relationship. Indeed, the idea that marriage should be based on an emotional bond between husband and wife conflicts with the primacy of maintaining well-integrated families; it implies putting one’s personal interests and needs above the extended family’s wellbeing. In this, Hijazis conform to general Arabian attitudes but, as ever, the Hijazi preoccupation with family creates a specific distrust of bonds based on emotion or sentiment….
“Accounts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries clearly show that these rules did indeed regulate Hijazi marriages. For instance, being Muslim, regardless of other origins, provided a sufficiently strong basis on which to build marriages. Mecca was a melting pot for the Islamic world, so mixed marriages were common. Marriage made a significant contribution to the heterogeneous and cosmopolitan nature of Hijazi society.
“By contrast, Najdi marriage was, and remains within the same lineage, with bonds among the tribal families usually reinforced by patrilineal parallel-cousin marriages. There is, however, an important distinction between *khadiri* (non-tribal, i.e. ‘non-pure’ Najdi), and *gabili* (tribal ‘pure-blooded’ Najdi). Strict patrilinearity allowed *gabili* men to marry outsiders, such as Egyptian, Moroccan or Lebanese women, but their female relatives have never married outside the tribe. In principle, then, men from the Hijaz would not have been able to marry into a pure-blooded Najdi family, while women would, although Hijazi women were not, as a rule, given in marriage to Najdi families, nor were they asked. In this intricate system of social boundaries expressed through marriage practices, Hijazis — both men and women — married from the Asir tribal region more easily than from the tribal Najd….
“Among elite Najdi men polygamy has also been more prominent.”
so it sounds as though the najdi arabs have had a longer history of closer inbreeding than the hejazi arabs.
if we go even further back, there are more hints that the hejazis may have been comparative outbreeders, as far as arabs go anyway. from Close Relationships: Incest and Inbreeding in Classical Arabic Literature (2005) [pgs. 78-81]:
“Much has been written on the extent to which Islam changed or confirmed the existing customs in pre-Islamic Arabia. Data on these customs are scanty…. As for the forbidden degrees of marriage, early Muslim authorities explain that the main differences between pre-Islamic and Islamic customs concerned the marriage of stepmothers and sons, and being married to two sisters simultaneously. Muhammad ibn al-Saib al-Kalbi (d.146/763) praises the Arabs in the Jahiliyya, the period of ‘ignorance’, for anticipating the Qur’anic prohibitions:
“‘The Arabs, in the time of their Ignorance, held things for forbidden that the Qur’an was to declare forbidden. They did not marry daughters or mothers, nor sisters or aunts from the mother’s side or the father’s side. The worst thing they used to do was to be married to two sisters at the same time, or to succeed one’s deceased father as husband to his wife. They used to call someone who did this *dayzan*….
“‘(…) If a man died, leaving a wife, or divorced his wife, his eldest son would stand up and throw his cloak over her if he wanted her. If he did not want her, one of his brothers would marry her, with a new brideprice.’
“Ibn Habib (d. 245/860), who has a nearly identical passage, adds that ‘Islam has separated men from the wives of their fathers; they are numerous’….
“Ibn Habib also states that the Arabs used to marry two sisters….”
not too much about marrying cousins there, but there’s this…
“Against the tendency of presenting the pre-Islamic Arabs as being very close to Islam already, others restrict this virtuous behaviour to the inhabitants of Mecca, contrasting them with the Bedouins, as did Yaqut in the passage quoted above….“
and that passage from yaqut [pg. 60]:
“In his ‘Kitab al-Arab’ (‘Book of the Arabs’), devoted to the virtues of the Arabs, Ibn Qutayba praises especially Quaysh, the Prophet’s tribe, for preserving something of the old Abrahamic religion, inherited through Abraham/Ibrahim’s son Ismael/Imail; these remnants included ‘circucision, ritual ablution, repudiation of women, manumission of slaves, and the prohibition of marriage with forbidden family members, through kinship, milk relationship, or affinity by marriage’. Yaqut (d. 626/1229) rephrases the same idea: the pre-Islamic Meccans:
“‘were not like the uncouth Bedouins. They used to circumcise their sons, to perform the Hajj at the Kaaba; … they shunned marriages with a daughter, a daughter’s daughter, a sister, and a sister’s daughter, because of their sense of jealous honour and in order to keep aloof from the Magians.'”
in other words, perhaps the pre-islamic hejazi were not at all like the pre-islamic najdis (bedouins) … and, perhaps, the hejazi — the population from whence mohammed hailed — didn’t inbreed so much [pg. 81]:
“In general, as far as may be ascertained, inbreeding was not very common in pre-Islamic times. It is difficult to obtain precise information. The genealogies of tribes and clans in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods, though very detailed, are notoriously unreliable, loaded as they are with politics and sentiments; an alliance between tribes was often cemented by fabricating a common ancestor. Moreover, the genealogies normally present the male lines only and give very little information on females. Among the exceptions are the lineages of the Prophet Muhammad and other prominent early Muslims. Thus Ibn Habib gives Muhammad’s ancestors in the all-female line, going back seven generations. Similar but shorter matrilinear lines are given for Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, and al-Hasan. Only two lines are given in full in these lineages: the all-male and the all-female, out of the theoretical maximum of 128 (2 to the 7th) lines of ascendants that go with a full picture of seven generations in Muhammad’s case. Therefore it is hazardous to draw any firm conclusions. Yet the general picture that emerges from this admittedly limited sample is clear: there may have been ‘irregularities’ by Islamic standards, such as the above-mentioned stepmother-marriages, but the spouses are not closely related and even first-cousin unions, often assumed to be dominant in Arab society, are almost absent as far as can be observed. In the Prophet’s lineage, one finds that his great-grandmother Umm Habib and her husband Abd al-Uzza had a great-grandfather (Qusayy) in common; Uthman’s maternal great-great-grandmother Sakhra bint Abd ibn Imran married her first cousin Amr ibn Aidh ibn Imran.”
perhaps mohammed — who invented a fairly (fairly) universalistic religion — came from a comparatively not-so-inbred population [i.e. the hejazi arabs – mohammed’s tribe, the quraysh tribe, was from mecca]. -?- dunno. difficult to tell, but it’s an interesting question, i think.
(note: comments do not require an email. tl;dr.)