Thursday, October 06, 2005

Generational gap, Jordanian style

I had a relative, I'll call him my "uncle", whom I really liked when I was growing up. During the 2 "Eids" (religious festivals) when adults typically handed out cash to youngsters, he would always happily (and reliably) hand out the biggest sums, and I used to love that and love him for it. I remember that he was very generous with money, and also that he was always a rather helpful and resourceful man. He always had 'contacts' that would help achieve the impossible, like getting our Lebanese relatives into Jordan despite problems with their visas, that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, this man's business took a turn for the worse during the 80's and did not recover. He went bankrupt and he had to take his family out of the house that he built for them and that they were so proud of. He later died, leaving his sons with an enormous amount of debt. Whats more, as I became an adult, I found that he had secrets that I did not know about growing up. I didn't realize, for example, that he wasn't educated, but what really came as a surprise was to learn about a life he had that I did not see as a child. My "uncle" liked women, had mistresses, apparently had a 'kept' woman whom he had set up with a house in Amman, and liked to throw drunken parties with those whom he felt were rich and powerful as some sort of means to further his status.

Now you may think that this really is not so unusual, and I suppose it isn't. But the reason I am writing this is recent news that I heard about this man's son, whom I adored and used to play with as a kid. The son, unlike his father, took to religion. He took on the broken family business, and while I wouldn't say he revolutionized it or created a model business, he managed it successfully enough not only to eek out a reasonable living but also to pay back most of his father's debts. Six or seven years ago he married a woman who is 'mohajjabeh', i.e. wears the headscarf, and now they have 3 children.

I am not sure what prompted him to do so, but last week the son revealed to his wife that he has been married to another woman for a year and a half. This came as a complete surprise, and his (first) wife was quite upset, although I do not know the details of how she reacted and how things have/are unfolding since the revelation. Anyway, my intention here is to draw the connection between the son's secret life and that of the father. The son couldn't take a mistress, as his father did, because of religious considerations. Instead, he took a second wife whom, like a mistress, he concealed from his first wife and from his family.

Technically speaking, of course, one is allowed up to 4 wives in Islam, but is it considered OK, from an Islamic moral standpoint to hide this information about one spouse from the other(s)? Also, which act is more moral, the secret mistress of the father or the secret wife of the son?

Note that although I do not mention names here I still worry about the person in question seeing his life discussed in my public blog. Nonetheless I am writing about this subject here because I do not think that the man in question is internet savvy or that there is much of a chance of him, or anybody whom he knows, coming across this (I mean, there's only 8 people that I know of who look at this blog anyway!).