In Saudi Arabia, it is perfectly legal for a man to be married to four women at the same time. The country is ruled by Islamic law, and according to Islam, men are allowed up to four wives. The logic behind it all started out with good intentions. Back in those times, men went off to war and many of them never came back, leaving behind an overabundance of widows, fatherless children, and young unmarried women. So the four wives concept set out to solve this dilemma.
Men with more than one wife here in Saudi Arabia is not really all that common, although I bet that most people who live here can name at least one - if not several - men or women who are in a multiple marriage. I personally can name five different cases that I know of - and I don't really know that many people and have only lived in KSA for less than three years. One of the problems with having multiple wives is the manner in which most men go about it. Permission or approval is not required from the First Wife, but most men are afraid of the First Wife's reaction, so they secretly wed Wife #2. There is not much thought or consideration given to the First Wife's feelings or her children's feelings. And more than likely, Wife #2 is not some poor widow with lots of children to care for or an older not-so-pretty spinster that life has passed by. All five of the cases of second wives that I personally know about were sneakily married in secret without the First Wife's knowledge - and when the First Wife and her children did find out later, they were devastated. To me, the fact that the man sneaks around in secret to do this indicates that he knows what he is doing is wrong and hurtful.
Women in Saudi Arabia for the past several decades have been pursuing their educations and a percentage of them have chosen careers over the usual expectation of marriage and children. A Saudi woman has a legal guardian, or "mahram" all her life - either her father, her husband, or her brother or possibly an uncle. This mahram can allow or prevent her from doing things like going to school, working, or traveling. She cannot appear in court without her mahram and cannot leave the country without his written permission. The Saudi woman is relegated to the legal status of a child in Saudi Arabia. It is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, for Saudi women to marry men from other countries, even if the men are Muslim.
Over the years, the costs of extravagant weddings have risen dramatically, plus Saudi families have demanded an unrealistic and increasing amount of money to be paid for her dowry upon her marriage. The dowry money is supposed to go to the bride herself but some unscrupulous fathers have taken the money for themselves, many times to settle debts that they owe. Virgin girls as young as 8 have been sold by their fathers to men in their 50s or even up into their 80s. But this post isn't about these cases or the fact that there is no legal minimum age requirement for marriage in Saudi Arabia. This post is about the claim that there is a social problem due to the rising number of spinsters in this country, where a woman in her late 20s is often overlooked as a viable marriage partner because she is too old. I've always disliked how unmarried men are playfully, and even admirably, referred to as "bachelors," while their female counterparts are negatively and pitifully called "spinsters" or "old maids."
Some young Saudi men are trying to tackle this issue of spinsterhood in their country and have formed a group on Facebook called "We Want Them Four," a campaign to encourage men to marry the four wives that they are legally entitled to according to the religion. The group now has over 600 members. Lines are being drawn in the sand dividing those in favor of this campaign and those who are just against the concept of multiple marriages in the first place.
Being a First Wife or Wife #2, #3, or #4 is a degrading, offensive, and insulting thought to most women, including Saudi women that I have spoken to about this topic. And what about the children? I know of some children of First Wives who are hurt, bitter, and scarred for life because of their fathers' actions of taking another wife. What about making it easier for Saudi women to marry men from outside the country? Nothing in Islam dictates that Saudi women should be restricted in this way. Do single women in Saudi Arabia really want to be "saved" and married off as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wife? Certainly there are better solutions than men marrying four women. I'd rather stay single myself...
Click here to read an amusing and unbelievable 2005 news story about a Saudi man who has married at least 58 different women.