By Jean Sasson
7 May 2011
Don’t be fooled by the talk that Yemeni wife Amal was Osama’s favorite wife. I’ve got several reasons to think that is not true, although I’m sure he had affection for her loyalty in staying with him through the final days.
I’ve been reading many current articles on the Osama Bin Laden drama. It’s impossible not to compare what I’m reading to what was revealed to me by Omar and Najwa Bin Laden when I was gathering their memories to write their personal accounts of living with Osama (in GROWING UP BIN LADEN). (Omar was Osama’s favorite son who courageously ignored his father’s call for violence, while Najwa held three coveted positions in a Muslim marriage: the first wife, a first cousin, and the mother of his first son, Abdullah). Note to those journalists who are writing that his Yemeni wife was his favorite: Don’t assume that because Amal was the wife with him in Pakistan that she was the favorite. Believe me when I say that he would have preferred Najwa by his side. There was an intense life-long bond between Najwa and Osama. They had known and loved each other since infancy. They spent many summers affectionately playing together in Syria when Osama’s mother Allia took her family to visit Najwa’s family (Najwa’s father was Allia’s brother).
Najwa first left Osama in 1999 when it was time to deliver her 11th and final child with Osama. Omar, seriously worried about his mother’s health and safety, had defied his father, campaigning diligently to obtain his father’s permission for his mother to go to Syria, to be with her own mother when she delivered her child. Osama had reluctantly agreed. When Najwa settled in the black SUV that was going to take her from Afghanistan to Pakistan and from there to Syria, Osama walked to her and said, “Najwa, no matter what you might be told, I will never divorce you.” Then, he said, “As soon as you can travel, return with the baby.”
Their marriage was a love marriage, while his other marriages were arranged, without Osama even seeing the selected brides prior to the marriage. There is no doubt that Najwa was his rock (when it came to wives and marriages). When there are multiple wives in Muslim marriages, generally the husband sees each wife every four days. Najwa told me during the process of writing her life story that she saw Osama every day, that he came by to be with her each day of their marriage (when he was not traveling) to check on her and the children and to learn anything he might need to know about his domestic life. As someone who lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years, and was privy to information about marriages including more than one wife, this is quite unusual.
Najwa did as her husband asked, returning to Afghanistan in 2000 with her two young daughters, the last children she would have with Osama. This, despite Omar’s pleas for her to never return to Afghanistan and to the rugged life she was living. In the spring of 2001, Omar once again returned to Afghanistan after Osama’s mother Allia told him that his father had ordered him to return. Omar did not disobey his father’s command, besides, he felt a need to see his father and to plead with him one final time, to give up the violence and to return to a normal life. But it was too late for that. Omar revealed that his father was so disappointed that Omar had walked away from life with his father Osama, that he was unusually cool towards his favorite son. (Several years before, Osama had revealed to Omar that he was the chosen son. Osama was startled and hurt when Omar confessed that he could never follow in his militant footsteps, that he could never head Al-Qaeda, an organization he disliked, an organization whose violent creed he strongly disagreed with. Due to Osama’s disappointment in his favored son, Omar failed to have the long meeting he wanted with his father. Omar also noted that his father was busy meeting with men Omar had never seen before. Quite obviously Osama was already in the busy stages of plotting with his fighters regarding 9/11, and other militant attacks. The father and his son only exchanged a few words. But Omar did visit extensively with his mother, once again pleading with her to leave Afghanistan, to take as many of the children as she could, that something bad was coming. (Omar had been warned by a good friend that he should leave, that he had never committed any violence, and that he should not get caught up with what was coming. Omar did not want to leave his mother and younger siblings behind.)
Each day he was in Afghanistan, Omar discussed their departure with his mother. Najwa said nothing, neither yes, neither no. Omar finally had no option, leaving Afghanistan for the last time, fearing he would never see any family members again. As the hot summer passed, Najwa slowly changed her mind. Then one day out of the blue she told her husband, “Osma, can I go to Syria?” Osama did not move. He stared at Najwa. He said, “Do you want to go , Najwa?” Najwa responded: “Yes, my husband. I want to go to Syria, to my mother’s house.” Osama, giving her every opportunity to change her mind, asked again, “Are you sure you want to go, Najwa?” Najwa replied, “I want to go to Syria.”
Tragically, Osama would not allow Najwa to take two of her young children with her: daughter Iman and son Ladin. They were Osama’s insurance, knowing that Najwa would not be able to leave her children for long. (Osama’s reaction was very different when his second wife Khadijah left him in Sudan. Osama allowed Khadijah to take all three children with her back to Saudi Arabia. Osama only saw their son, Ali, once, when Ali returned for a short visit with his father and half-siblings.) Clearly, Osama was not trying to keep any of Khadijah’s children as hostages. Obviously, he did not mind if Khadijah never returned. He did care deeply about Najwa, using two of their eleven children as hostages to tempt her to return.
Once again, Osama came back to Najwa a number of times prior to her departure from Afghanistan, each time telling her, “I will never divorce you, Najwa. Even if you hear I have divorced you, it is not true.”
It appears that Osama stuck with that promise. News is coming out of Pakistan that Osama lived in the villa in Pakistan with three wives. Had he wanted a 4th wife, he would have divorced Najwa, to make room for that 4th position (In Islam, believers are allowed 4 wives at one time).
We know from reports that one of his wives in attendance was Amal, his young Yemeni wife. Who were the other two? I have a personal opinion on this and will post it in another blog, later today or tomorrow.
The rest is history, of course, 9/11 occurred and Najwa was unable to return to Osama or to her children left behind. It took nine years before Najwa would see her precious children again.
When Osama died, he was still married to four women, one of the four being his first cousin Najwa, who was his first wife and the mother of his first son.