The women’s majlis: Is it taboo to marry cousins?

Marrying within the family is not uncommon in the UAE - what matters most is common dreams and goals.

I am married to my cousin. This statement has always resulted in confused facial expressions every time I have said it out loud in Brisbane, Australia, even from my Australian friends and my tutors at school.

Living abroad drew my attention to the fact that what we think is normal here in the UAE is not necessarily normal elsewhere in the world. Sitting with my sisters during one of our regular Thursday gatherings at my parents’ home, I brought up this subject. I was telling them how people in Brisbane found my marriage difficult to comprehend. To them, marrying your cousin is as weird as marrying your brother. Since we sisters have different opinions, half of us laughed at my remark, while the rest actually agreed and could relate to the western minds.

My eldest two sisters are both married to two of my cousins (first cousins, who happen to be brothers). Out of a total of six ­married sisters, three of us are ­married to our cousins (including myself). The other three are married to men who are not related to our family. It is a 50/50 ­situation so it is a controversial issue, even between us siblings.

One of my sisters, who strongly disagrees with marrying cousins, went through a horrible experience that led her to think this way. An arranged marriage to one of my cousins, completely based on keeping the wealth within the family, was not what she wanted. She refused, not considering whether he was a good guy or not. She did not give the man a chance to express his real intentions. If our parents are thinking of the wealth, we kids might have a different reasoning. It could have worked for them, but this was her answer: “I refuse to get involved in any marriage based on wealth and not on love.” She went ahead and married the next guy who proposed to her, and is not related to our family at all.

A marriage is a big step in anybody’s life. It should be a decision taken by two souls who have the same perspective as to the kind of life they want together. Similar dreams, goals, and most importantly, the same feelings. Love is the backbone to any successful marriage. Arranged or not, if love does not exist, there will be no future in a marriage to look ahead to.

In my case, I did not have an arranged marriage – it was my own choice. When my cousin proposed to me, I said yes because to me, he was Mr Right. I could not say no to him because he was my cousin. Why put boundaries on opportunities? Even if he were not my cousin, I would not have refused him. In either case, I would have said yes to the man I call my husband today. He is the one and only.

Elham Al Dhaheri is an Emirati journalist who lived in Australia for more than two years. She is the mother of one child.

If you’re an Emirati woman who has an interesting story to tell or an important issue to debate, contact Shireena Al Nowais on

Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM


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