Not by the letter alone…


Not by the letter alone does the Lawgiver guide. I first learned of Saleh Al-Saieri in a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune. The regular columnist was away, so the paper filled his space with an Associated Press story about this brother. The story is an old one, first reported in March 2004 by the Saudi daily Arab News.

In 50 years, Saudi businessman Saleh Al Saieri has married 58 women, including 8 from Yemen, and then divorced 54 of them, in keeping, of course, with Islamic law. His extended family includes 36 children from 15 wives, and he has married into 30 tribes across Saudi Arabia. The newspaper reported, “As soon as Al-Saieri gets the itch to marry again, he draws lots between the current four wives to choose which one will be divorced…Al Saieri said, ‘I first got married to my cousin when I was 14 years old because of my father…A few months later, I divorced her even though she gave birth to my first son, Omar. He is now 50 years old and works as an enineer and a businessman.'”

“Six months later,” Mr. Al Saieri continues, “I married my second wife. I loved her because I had known her when we were young. I started my marriage campaign immediately after the second marriage.” Eventually, he says, he will stop when he “[reaches] wife number 60.” At least he is not a “deadbeat dad”: an office manager handles all the requirements of the ex-wives and children, and he has paid $1.6 million in payments and wedding expenses. That’s a relief.

When I first read the story, I thought to myself, “Anti-Muslim Bias! Why print this story here? Why is this news?” It’s not, really. But, it brought home a very important point about religious law: not by the letter alone does the Lawgiver guide. Yes, the letter of marriage law in Islam is that a man can have up to four wives. But, I do not think the Precious Lord intended this allowance to be taken as a license to play “musical wives.”

Marriage is not a sport like horse racing. It is a sacred bond between a man and a woman, the seed of a strong family, which is the foundation of a strong and moral society. What sort of family life could there be by marrying and then divorcing so many women? Mr. Al-Saieri himself said, “My wives only meet each other occasionally. Each lives far away from the other. Some of my sons only found out that they were brothers through similarity of names at school.”

The Lord God Almighty says about marriage: “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect” (30:21). In another verse, God describes spouses as “garments” for each other. A garment is that which is closest to the human body, providing warmth, adornment, and a cover for whatever defects the body may harbor. The marital relationship is one of peace, love, tranquility, and harmony. How can there be peace, love, tranquility, and harmony when one is marrying and divorcing contstantly, making sure that he follows the letter of the law and keeping only four at one time?

I do not think he can. Yet, I can not say he is committing a sin or breaking a religious law. But, I can say that he–while following the letter–decimates the spirit of the law. Marriage is a bond of love and intimacy, and I do not believe marrying and divorcing women until “wife number 60” is in keeping with the spirit of the law. Did not the Prophet (pbuh) say that–of all the things allowed by God–divorce is the one thing hated most by Him? Isn’t the breaking up of a family a bad thing to do? Isn’t “musical wives” harmful to the woman involved? I hate to single out Mr. Al Saieri like that, but I had to in order to make this point: not by the letter alone does the Lawgiver guide.

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