One of the polygamists in the world married 58 wives in 50 years. However, he forgot most of their names. Saleh al-Sayeri, a 64-year-old shepherd-turned-businessman, says he is the happiest man in the world being a polygamist.
Al-Sayeri knows he has 10 sons, but ask about daughters and he counts on his fingers: 22. He says his marital adventures have cost him more than $1.6 million in wedding expenses and settlements for divorced wives. But the man who remembers being forced into his first marriage at age 14 says he’d do it a million times over.
“Marriage doesn’t bore me,” he said, relaxing on cushions at a carpeted, open-air reception area in his 22-horse stable in Usfan, in the desert 500 miles west of Riyadh. “I’m the happiest man in the world.”
Al-Sayeri’s story might seem a bizarre curiosity, but it touches a nerve in Saudi Arabia, the status of whose women is a matter of international controversy.
When it surfaced in Saudi media in March, some readers reacted angrily.
A woman who identified herself as Maryam, a convert to Islam, wrote to the Arab News, an English-language daily, that al-Sayeri’s story “really sent me over the edge.”
“What kind of a family structure is this? What is divorce doing to the psychologies of the ex-wives and children? How can this man devote any quality time to his children — teaching them about Islam and being a constant role model?” She wrote.
Sayyidaty magazine, which interviewed al-Sayeri, also spoke to psychiatrist Mona al-Sawwaf who said al-Sayeri does not treat a wife as a human being “but as a piece of clothing he can change whenever he pleases or an object.”
“The biggest blame lies with the parents” who let their daughters enter such marriages, she said.
Al-Sayeri dismisses such critics as “crazy,” insisting he is not breaching Islamic laws, which permit a man to have four wives at a time.
“I have a clear conscience,” he said.
None of Al-Sayeri’s ex-wives could be reached. He said many have remarried, but to reveal their identity would be a gross violation of Saudi custom. One of his sons said his mother has remarried, but refused to give details.
Divorce has become quite common in the kingdom, with press reports saying half of all marriages break up. But the fate of a divorced woman depends on her parents’ frame of mind.By: John Lester
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