ASFAN, 3 January 2005 — In 50 years, he says, he has married 58 women and has forgotten the names of most of them. He knows he has had 10 sons, but ask about daughters and he counts on his fingers: 22. No, no, 28. No, that’s too many. He settles on 25.
Saleh Al-Sayeri, a 64-year-old shepherd-turned-businessman, 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 the age of 14 says he would do it a million times over.
“Marriage doesn’t bore me,” he said, relaxing in his 22-horse stable in Asfan. “I’m the happiest man in the world.”
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 local custom.
Divorce has become quite common in the Kingdom, with reports saying half of all marriages break up. But the fate of a divorced woman depends on her parents’ frame of mind. If they oppose the divorce, they are likely to confine her to the house and monitor her movements.
Some parents, on the other hand, are modern-minded enough to let their daughters finish their schooling or go out to work. And although Islamic laws permit a man to have four wives at a time, most Muslim men today take one wife, because it has become the cultural norm and polygamy is costly.
Money is not an issue for Al-Sayeri, who says he has made a fortune trading in cars and property. Al-Sayeri said he keeps each wife in a separate villa and sometimes even in a different town to keep the peace, and assures each that she’s his favorite.
Al-Sayeri said he has married first cousins and women from about 30 tribes. His latest marriage — and at 10,000 guests his most sumptuous — was to a teenager nine months ago. When he heard about her, he sent his niece to check her out. She came back with a favorable report.
Then he visited her family. When the girl came into the living room to offer him refreshments — an excuse for him to see her face — he asked her if she would marry him.
“She was shy at first and didn’t answer but then she said yes,” Al-Sayeri recalled. “Now, we’re such good friends it feels we’ve known each other for 40 years.”