Close Relationships: Incest and Inbreeding in Classical Arabic Literature

Front Cover
Bloomsbury Academic, 2005 M03 24 - 278 pages
"Close Relationships is Geert Jan van Gelder's groundbreaking and comprehensive study of the diverse facts and opinions found in pre-modern Arabic texts - both literary and non-literary - concerning incest and inbreeding resulting from repeated close-kin marriage. The pre-Islamic Bedouin Arabs knew about the dangers of human inbreeding, yet by the time the Prophet Muhammed is said to have warned "Marry strangers, then you will not produce stunted offspring!" marrying one's father's brother's daughter had traditionally been the preferred choice in order to keep wealth and marriage in the same family. The Qur'an laid down the basic rules of marriage impediments, which, uniquely, include not only blood-relationships but also milk-relationships i.e. being suckled by the same woman. Later generations of jurists and exegetes elaborated and discussed these rules; some of them tried to justify and explain the prohibitions, mostly in ethical and social rather than in biological terms. Incest is shown to be a motif found in lampoons, anecdotes, jokes, stories, legends, creation stories (Adam and Eve's children), dream interpretation, and polemics with other religions or ethnic groups. In particular, the Zoroastrian Persians, who allegedly recommended next-of-kin marriage in pre-Islamic times, were attacked. Van Gelder acknowledges that while it is dangerous to make general assertions about the difference between "Western" and Arab or Middle Eastern customs and attitudes, he argues that the theme of incest, so prominent at least in European literature since the Greek myths, is somewhat marginal in Arabic literature. Many of the relevant passages have been translated into English specially for this richly documented book that will be of interest not only to philologists and students of Arabic literature or Islamic culture but also to the general reader interested in the history of incest and inbreeding and attitudes towards these closely related concepts."--Bloomsbury Publishing

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About the author (2005)

Geert Jan van Gelder is Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford.

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