How many widows for Saddam Hussein?

There’s one single thing that every American knows about Arabs/Islam: men can have more than one wife. The news media can’t get past the exciting, racy idea that Arab men, especially powerful men, have more than one wife. There is no proof that Saddam Hussein had more than one, but every news agency likes to breathlessly report on his “first wife,” or his “favorite wife.”

It’s hard to know the truth coming out of a country that has kept a tight lid on its information for many decades. There are definitely rumors of Saddam’s marrying a second time, to a woman named Samira Shahbandar. These rumors are intertwined with rumors of the happy couple’s having a son, Saddam’s third son, named ‘Ali. However, after the invasion of Iraq and the Hussein family’s removal to Jordan, Saddam’s daughter Raghad has stated that Saddam has no son named ‘Ali and people must have been confused by the name of her own son, Saddam’s grandson. Also, there’s the marked lack of U.S. interest in locating this ‘Ali and bringing him in for questioning, suggesting that the U.S. government and/or military is confident he doesn’t exist. Which leaves me wondering if the marriage exists.

Wikipedia even reports the existence of a third and fourth wife, Nida al-Hamdani and Wafa al-Howeish, but admits there is no documentation available of either marriage. It also fails to offer any documentation or proof of the second marriage, but doesn’t mention this omission.
Even if Saddam has had multiple wives, he may have acquired them sequentially. Marriage, divorce, marriage divorce, marriage.

Or maybe he really has had more than wife at a time. It seems only very slightly different from the habit of powerful, western men of serial marriage and occasional philandering.

I don’t claim to know that Saddam hasn’t had four wives, I just object to 1) the assumption that he must have, because everybody knows that Arab men have multiple wives, and 2) the sensationalistic way the media reports these salacious “facts” to the public, especially when they refer to one wife as the favorite.


Filed under arab, arabist, pedantry

2 responses to “How many widows for Saddam Hussein?

  1. cingeneer

    I guess I had heard that Saddam had a second wife somewhere. I can’t say that the multiple marriage thing is in the forefront of my mind though. I know I heard about it with respect to Osama’s father having multiple wives but I guess I didn’t really put it together that is was allowed in Islam.

    I can’t imagine that most arab men can have many wifes as the numbers just don’t support it. This would not be the issue that most disturbs me about Islam. It is the lack of equality that troubles me and it troubles me greatly. As I understand it the Shia (sp?) follow strict islamic law and women do not have equivalent rights with men. I absolutely cannot abide by that. I feel the same way about Christian sects that give men power over women. People should not have the right to restrict the rights of other adults. Any other adults. (Law-abiding adults of course).

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