Hus­band tells the story of two wives

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Rym Ghazal Rym Ghazal is a colum­nist at The Na­tional.

‘Alife that I have been cop­ing with for nearly three decades and fi­nally had the courage to tes­tify to, re­veal­ing se­crets that were kept hid­den within its walls for so long. I apol­o­gise. I apol­o­gise to those who fell vic­tim to my life: my­self first.” These lines in Be­tween Two Wives, a book by Hus­sain Ali Lootah, an Emi­rati lawyer and poet, cap­ture the heart of this semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the au­thor’s life with two wives.

It’s an hon­est ac­count of his life and his mar­riage to two women from dif­fer­ent back­grounds: his first wife is Emi­rati; the sec­ond Ecuado­rian. Through the char­ac­ter “Yusuf”, the au­thor shares his views on mar­riage, fam­ily, racism, cus­toms and Jinn.

“I wrote this book to share my ex­pe­ri­ence with fam­ily and friends and peo­ple who have been curious about my life for a long time,” says Lootah, 56, who is a fa­ther of nine chil­dren and six grand­chil­dren.

“It is not a book writ­ten to ex­plain the re­li­gious rules of mul­ti­ple wives, nor do I pre­tend to be an ex­pert. It is my per­sonal jour­ney and what I went through when I de­cided to marry for a sec­ond time. I felt guilty for caus­ing pain to my­self and to those peo­ple around me.”

Pub­lished by Mo­ti­vate Pub­lish­ing last July, Lootah will be a guest au­thor at the Emi­rates Air­line Fes­ti­val of Lit­er­a­ture on March 10. The novel will be pub­lished in Ara­bic, the lan­guage in which it was orig­i­nally writ­ten, this month.

“I chose English as I wanted more peo­ple to read the book.”.

Read­ers meet Yusuf as he is suf­fer­ing chest pains. He com­plains about feel­ing “ex­hausted most of the time” and how he needs to have an hon­est look at his life. Read­ers are then trans­ported to his tra­di­tional child­hood in which his fa­ther was a sea­man and falconer. Yusuf as a young man won­ders about tra­di­tions and mar­riage, and read­ers are in­tro­duced to his first wife Aliyaa, who strug­gles af­ter the death of her par­ents be­fore their mar­riage in 1984. Af­ter the cou­ple set­tle down, the read­ers meet Maria, who mar­ries Yusuf in 1986.

What fol­lows is Yusuf’s strug­gle liv­ing two sep­a­rate lives (in Dubai with Aliyaa and with Maria in Abu Dhabi), with fears of back­lash from both of the wives’ fam­i­lies if ei­ther find out.

“Fear! Fear for the zil­lionth time... He was afraid of Aliyaa’s re­ac­tion and its after­math on her and their chil­dren. But he was much more afraid of the neg­a­tive change, the glances and at­ti­tude he would get from Aliyaa’s cousins and fam­ily,” the book reads.

A fire at Maria’s house re­sults in Yusuf con­fess­ing to Aliyaa. Yusuf then en­dures in­ter­fer­ence from his com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing ac­cu­sa­tions that he was be­witched by Maria.

“One of the near­est to Yusuf even used to in­tro­duce him to oth­ers as a poet, an at­tor­ney at law and the spouse-of-two, as if this last at­tribute was some kind of pro­fes­sion or skill that he had to be known for,” it reads.

Yusuf then works mul­ti­ple jobs to take care of ev­ery­one fi­nan­cially, and each wife tries to help out the best she can. Aliyaa “sent her chil­dren to public schools in­stead of pri­vate ones” and Maria “bought a sewing ma­chine to em­broi­der tow­els and sell them.” Yusuf fi­nally be­comes suc­cess­fully and sets up a law firm, and yet his trou­bles are not over. The novel ends in am­bi­gu­ity with a far from sim­ple so­lu­tion: “You owe a duty to your­self.”

“I am a deeply re­spon­si­ble per­son,” says Lootah, who spent more than four years writ­ing his book. He has al­ready pub­lished four poetry works and is work­ing on an­other.

“At times the re­spon­si­bil­ity as a hus­band weighed heavy on me and I have strug­gled meet­ing my own stan­dards in both the re­la­tion­ships. So at times, as por­trayed in the book, I have felt sorry for my­self.

“Many who wanted to marry an­other came to me and asked my ad­vice, and I would tell them the truth, that it is not easy. Mar­ry­ing for the wrong rea­sons will have se­ri­ous con­se­quences.”

The book, he says, got a mixed re­cep­tion. “For Emi­ratis, mul­ti­ple wives is a com­pletely nor­mal sit­u­a­tion and com­monly un­der­stood as a cul­tural and re­li­gious prac­tice. So, I be­lieve some are able to re­late to the ex­pe­ri­ence. For some expats, this may be a com­pletely for­eign prac­tice and they may re­sist the con­cept as be­ing dif­fer­ent from what they per­ceive as a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship.

“What­ever the view, I be­lieve those who read my book should read with an open mind and em­brace the dif­fer­ences and similarities. There is some­thing to gain from ev­ery­one’s ex­pe­ri­ence.”

At the same time, he is care­ful to ex­plain that this book is “not a judgment” on mul­ti­ple mar­riages, but a per­sonal ac­count. “I am just telling my story,” he says.

“The great­est mis­con­cep­tion in my view is that mul­ti­ple mar­riages are sim­i­lar to ex­tra-mar­i­tal re­la­tions. Is­lam al­lows a man to marry four times and so each is a le­gal wife,” he says. His wives are sup­port­ive of him telling the story, he says.

“They saw me writ­ing up the draft and saw how it was bring­ing me peace,” he says. “I know I was tak­ing a risk by open­ing up, but some­times it is im­por­tant to take risks for real change to hap­pen, even if the change is within.

“Writ­ing this book was ther­a­peu­tic for me and I changed as a re­sult of it. I made peace with my­self.”

Hus­sain Ali Lootah is speak­ing about Be­tween Two Wives at the Emi­rates Air­line Fes­ti­val of Lit­er­a­ture on March 10 at 6pm. For more in­for­ma­tion and to book tick­ets, visit www.emi­rates­lit­fest.com

He was afraid of Aliyaa’s re­ac­tion and its after­math on her and their chil­dren. But he was much more afraid of the neg­a­tive change Be­tween Two Wives

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Lawyer, poet and au­thor Hus­sain Ali Lootah.

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