Today, 8th of March, is International Woman’s Day which is celebrated the world over to highlight Women’s rights. Here in the West over the last century, we have witnessed a woman’s role expanding from being the caretaker of the household to holding a myriad of responsibilities in society. Women are now seen as an integral part of the workforce. However many feel they often need to work harder than male colleagues in order to demonstrate their worth and to push against the glass ceilings that impede their progress. Many are also often left to shoulder much of the responsibilities of the home, leaving them frustrated and exhausted.
A movement has now burgeoned, – the Traditional wife or ‘Tradwife’, which some might view as a backlash to these multiple demands on women. Proponents argue that the role of housewife and mother has been devalued by society leaving many with no choice but to work.
The Review of Religions team decided to investigate this swing back of the pendulum and to speak to one of the women at the forefront of this movement, Alena Petitt, founder of the Darling Academy, a blog on the tradition lifestyle. Alena has recently gone viral with media interest in the “TradWife” movement. We also invited Dr Fariha Khan, an Ahmadi Muslim General Practitioner and head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Ladies Association UK to share her thoughts on women in the workforce and as homemakers/mothers/wives in today’s society. We asked both what they thought the role of a woman was in a marriage and whether women can hold multifaceted roles in this modern age and have it all .
Transcription of the Podcast presented below:
This programme was produced by The Review of Religions’ team. The Review of Religions is an international magazine published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The Review of Religions aims to present the true teachings of Islam and is devoted to promoting intellectual and lively debate based on respect for all religions.
In light of International Women’s Day, we wanted to explore the multifaceted roles of women especially as wives and mothers. Our guests today are Alena Pettitt who is the founder of The Darling Academy which is an online support group for women who have decided that they want to reclaim the role of women as traditional wives. We will be talking to Alena to discover what that means in a bit more detail. Also with us is Dr. Fariha Khan, who is head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association in the UK and she is also a G.P. Welcome ladies and thank you for coming today.
Sarah: So, Alena I wanted to start with you. Thank you very much for joining us. Could you outline for us, the role of a wife and a mother in a marriage as you see it from the viewpoint of traditional wives.
Alena: Okay, well I can only speak about how I see it, because everybody’s marriage is individual, and everybody’s belief systems are individual. The difference, I think the reason why there is this movement lately of ladies calling themselves traditional housewives is that we almost hark back to a time when the housewife was celebrated in mainstream media. Lots of us feel like the housewife is actually vilified now, almost ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ approach and we take our role as housewives seriously, as would any career woman. So, like I say about housewives being vilified in the media, they are seen to be lazy, or that their homes are prisons, and they can’t wait to escape the drudgery of the day to day chores in the house. We are different in the fact that we really embrace that life. We see that as our kind of fulfilment. So, we are very domesticated. We are here by choice. We are not here through oppression or control – coercive control of our husbands. So, we felt we needed to, really kind of identify in that way because there is no support system for us. We are, as I have experienced lately in the press, I am told that my husband is, you know, controlling me and that ‘wait until he cheats’ on me and that my life will be over. There is no respect for the family unit or the woman’s role within the home. And that stands with women who stay at home and women who go out to work actually. It seems like we can’t win.
Sarah: Yes, that’s a very interesting and important point. Alena, can I check are you a mother as well as a wife?
Alena: Yes, we have a seven-year-old son.
Sarah: Wonderful! And I know that Fariha is a mother as well as a wife. Fariha, can I ask you, what your views are on the role of the housewife? Do you think this is important and do you think the society has, as Alena is saying, devalued that role in some way?
Fariha: Absolutely! I agree with everything that Alena said. That the role of a housewife is extremely important and somehow over the years as a society, we have devalued this role. And I don’t know when it happened and how it happened but somehow we have started to value people’s roles and responsibilities within society in terms of monetary gains or their pay or the money they bring into the economy, and we can say that the unpaid roles are not valued although they are the linchpin of our society. And yes! I absolutely agree that housewives are not given importance in the current modern day society as they should be. A house is a unit of the society. That is how I see it. If a house is run properly and organized properly, it is so beneficial to the whole society but somehow unfortunately, society does not realize that. So, I absolutely agree with what Alena said. Yes, we need to give it more importance and we need to talk about it and we should not be ashamed about it.
Sarah: Thank you! That’s an interesting concept. I want to explore a little bit more by asking you both the same question. If I could start with you Alena. We talked about the housewife. Can I ask you Alena, how do you view the role of a wife within a marriage, within this traditional wife concept, which is also known to our viewers, sometimes referred to as the ‘trad wife’ wife. How do you view the role of the wife in a marriage?
Alena: Ok, well, within a traditional family model, I mean, you know it’s no secret I am a Christian so we take a lot of our lifestyle guidance from the Bible which expresses that the husband is the head of the household but he is not a tyrannical head of the household. What he does, he does for love and protection and honour of his family unit, and the wife submits to his decisions in the fact that because he is the head of the household and the bread winner, he makes the larger decisions that kind of steer the ship and the family in the right direction. So, you can’t have two captains of the ship trying to control everything. You have got a captain and you have got the captain’s mate. So, I also believe that we are created in that order in the fact that I am, kind of, we say ‘help-meet’. It does not mean that I am of any less value, it does not mean that my opinions are not valid. It just means that I embrace my husband’s strength in that area. You know, I am so agreeable that I would say yes, its ok to trample all over things. because you know, conflict for me is something I try to avoid. Whereas, my husband is much stronger in his personality to, kind of, defend. It’s almost animalistic in a way, if you look at the animal kingdom there is this natural order of you know thehunter gatherer and the woman at home nesting and nurturing and nourishing. So that is very much my role as a traditional housewife. My house is my domain where I nurture and nourish and, you know, protect my children. But above usis the husband who protects from the outside influences,provides for us and looks after the family unit. So, it is also a very domestic role, like the feathering of the nest, the education of children and looking after them and being there for them. Not being distracted by outside pursuits, such as, yes trying to self-promote and earn extra money through, I don’t want to say egotistical ways, but we have managed to engineer our lifestyle in such a way that we canafford to live on one income, which is no mean feat today, but you have to let go of certain modern societal expectations, like having new cars or having a larger house or having …[8:30] longholidays and things. You do have to make changes and material sacrifices in order to make this work. But it is also my job to make sure that we are kept shipshape in, you know, economically in terms of budgets and things like that. I am still very much working but it’s just that my concentration is at home for my immediate family unit.
Sarah:Thank you that’s a very comprehensive explanation. Fariha, what would you say, from the Islamic point of view, that you see is a role of a wife within a marriage?
Fariha: Before I come to that, I would like to, just because Alena touched on the Bible and about creation. It was quite interesting to hear. Obviously, we have also heard that the Bible says that a woman was created from a man’s rib. I just wanted to put in a point about what the Qur’an says about creation at this point. Actually, in Chapter 4 verse 2 of the Holy Qur’an, the creation of the human race is mentioned and it states that Allah [God] has created humankind from a single soul. So, in this respect, the Qur’an differs from what the Bible says. Qur’an does not say that a woman was created from a man’s rib. So Qur’anic concepts about the creation of women are different and the Qur’an says that both man and woman were created from a single soul and are of the same kind and species. So, they have the same emotions, the same strengths. Andexplaining this particularverse further, the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, once said, speaking about this concept in the Bible, he said that the Holy Qur’an has categorically refuted (10:23)this concept by saying that men and women are of the same kind. It hasclarified that men and women have the same feelings and emotions. Similarly, as each man willbe accountable before God for his deeds, so will each woman also be held accountable for her acts before God. So that’s the slight difference I wanted to touch upon between the Biblical teachings and the Qur’anic teachings.
Sarah:Thank you for that. Perhaps that’s a point, you know, Alena might want to comment on a little bit later. I think it’s an important conceptual difference. But perhaps if you could tell us from the Islamic point of view how you then view the role of a wife within a marriage?
Fariha: Absolutely. As far what Alena has also said, this is coming up to the point of creation, this is coming up to equality between man and woman. Now from there onwards, there are biological differences between men and women and also the responsibilities according to Islam are different for men and women. And that does not mean that one responsibility is inferior to the other. So, according to the Islamic concept, women have been given the responsibility of raising the next generation, training them, teaching them, guiding them on the moral and religious path. Ok? And that also involves being a wife, obviously looking after your family, caring for your husband, looking after the home and just like the Prophet of Islam (sa) oncesaid that every shepard will be asked questions about his herd. So, all of us have got roles and responsibilities withinsocietyand a women’s primary role is a mother. And that is the main Islamic concept. Primary role is the mother, yes, she has many other roles but the primary role is the mother because she is going to be the one who would shape the next generation, who would raise certainindividuals who would become an important partof society and contribute to society in a positive way. If she fulfils this role fully. That is the main thing and here, I think, we don’t have any disagreements, me and Alena, about this. This is exactly the Islamic concept as well.
Sarah:Alena did you want to respond to that at all?
Alena: Yes. I completely, I mean obviously, our scriptures vary slightly in terms of the creation of man and woman but it’s very much, it brings into this idea that we have different responsibilities and it’s a wonderful thing to actually embrace that responsibility. Even though I might be different from a man, and yes there are biological differences. And I love the fact that you said that the primary role is to be a mother because only women can be mothers. We are the only ones that can birth children andthe future generations. So, I think that it’s really sad that modern culture is trying to almostwrenchus from our homes and the children from our bosoms in order to make us to go to work, in order to be seen as successful or contributing to society. Priti Patel, actually, about two weeks ago, said to, kind of help makeup the workplace deficit, after immigration is stopped, they want to encourage economically inactive people to go back to work and she included mothers as economically inactive.
Fariha: That is a shame.
Alena: I am sorry, we are so economically active!We are teaching our own children; we are raising them. We are not, you know, putting them in childcare settings, whenthey don’t need to be. And yes, the primary role of a mother is so important, yet it is so devalued these days. And I am frightened that there are so many women, and I have had women contact me privately to say this, that they felt they had to go back to work. Not that they wanted to and that’s a real issue.
Fariha: And generally, women do feel like that. I mean this is exactly, sorry to come in, and I absolutely agree that there should not be any pressure. And here the Islamic concept is also, again I think, I am sure as you have explained earlier on in Christianity as well, that because the economic responsibility has been given to men, it is the women’s responsibility or mother’s or wife’s responsibility is in home so there is that there is a balance. It’s a beautiful balance. I think that as society has progressed somehow it has lost its moral and ethical values on the way and hasn’t realized that it has not benefitted anyone. And women are huge contributors to the economy as you said earlier on. Raising their children and doing so much at home, which is undervalued and we need to speak a little bit more about it to give it its due importance.
Sarah:I think also Fariha you mentioned and this is a fact, that I think, feminists have been talking about since the 60’s, that the contribution of housewives to the general economy doesn’t get budgeted anywhere, doesn’t get accounted for anywhere, is huge. So, you know a man brings a wage packet home but that has to be translated into activity that doesn’t get paid for. So, for example, cooking, cleaning, domestic chores, all of that, it gets hidden. But, given that we havesort of started to think about the role of a woman and housewife, Alena can I ask you a bit more about your thoughts on the question concerning a woman who actually does want to do a job that will demand that she has time away from her husband. So, for example we have gotFariha who is a doctor. I mean doctors are on call, engineers have a responsibility. There are various professions where a woman actually does want to be involved in her profession and contribute to society and it does mean time away from home. What would you say to her and to her husband about that?
Alena: Well you know, I think, I am not tyrannical, and I am not so narrow minded that I think, I am going to tell her that she is wrong and she is doing a disservice to her family and things. We are here to do things that make ourselves happy and our family. As long as it’s not negatively impacting anybody, there is nothing wrong with that. I set up The Darling Academy to support the women who want to stay home because there is so much support out there for women who want to advance in their careers now, which is wonderful and I love the feminist movement because of that but at the same time I feel that they have taken away the choice to stay home. So, if a woman wants to go out to work, that’s brilliant and we should celebrate her. We should celebrate every women’s choice. Just as long as it’s not negatively impacting people.
Sarah:And what if that choice is not the choice of her husband?
Alena: Well… Yes… That’s such a tough one isn’t it? That’s a real tough one because what would you say there? Because you have to come to these agreements together in a marriage and marriages are so unique and people’s personalities are so unique. If he is demanding that she stays home and is controlling her then that’s an abusive relationship in my book. That’s not something they have come to together. That’s not a complimentary marriage. So… I am not a counsellor, I am not someone who has experience in domestic issues, kind of contentions and things. I honestly couldn’t comment but I do support women who want to go out and work as well as those who want to stay home.
Sarah:Thanks! Thank you for that. Fariha what would you say then from your perspective that, regarding a woman and her responsibilities to the wider society. Do you feel that there are other duties for a woman outside of her role as a wife or a mother? That she isn’t coached to fulfil within the Islamic model?
Fariha: I think, I would bring obviously, because I am speaking about the Islamic concept, so Islam defines various roles for all Muslims, men and women, and has basically put them in two main categories. One is in relation to the rights of God and the other is in relation to fulfilling the rights human beings. And they are both equally important in the Islamic concept. Every Muslim has to fulfil these duties. And obviously the first one which is to fulfil the rights of God encompasses all matters of faith. So, just like a Muslim man, when a Muslim womanmakesthat pledge to her faith, she has aduty to fulfil the rights of her faith. As in for example, praying, fasting, and fulfilling other commandments inthe Holy Qur’an. And in matters of faith, men and women have been addressed equally in the Holy Qur’an, that is quite important. So, that is her main role, for any Muslim, whether man or women. So, I would that’s themain role. The second one is theresponsibilities to other human beings and that actually just does not include just being a wife or a mother because that includesyour role as a daughter, a sister, your role as a friend, as a neighbour. We have a responsibility towards the poor and orphans and so on. And to the wider society, the community, to those who need help. So, a woman has many, many roles. Yes, Islam does emphasise that the role of a mother is the most important out of all the roles, but other roles are not neglected. And we are encouraged to actually follow those other roles and responsibilitiesfully as much as men are encouraged to do so. So that involves going out of the house. That involves charitable work, that involves many other ways to fulfil those commandments.
Sarah:Thank you! And I think Fariha you are talking there about that due responsibility that every individual has, men and women. The responsibilities to God and to mankind.
Alena, you started the TradWife movement and then developed your Christian faith? If I got it right. The TradWife movement started before that or have I got that wrong? I guess, my point, if I could ask you in response to that, if TradWife started before your… you see where I am coming from? I am wondering about your model of this in response.
Alena: I will clarify. Growing up, I wanted to be a housewife. That was my highest goal. I wanted to get married and have children and build an enchanting home for us and spend my days in those domestic pursuits because that’s where I flourished, that’s what I enjoy. And I love expanding my knowledge in that area, I love to cook, not just basic cooking, I really enjoy kind of, it’s almost like being a chef, you know?You learn new techniques and things. So, it’s not this very insular life where I am just not doing very much. Actually, I am broadening my horizons and educational level every day. But I was told growing up that that was simply not good enough. I had to make something of myself. So, I went and worked in marketing and product development within the beauty industry. The job itself was fantastic, the most creative job but the environment was very toxic and I felt like a fish out of water. So, my husband and I, we got married and I had my fun and I could finally then realize my dream of staying home. But I did not become a Christian until a couple of years later. So, for me, this was very much a natural instinct. The one, you know, to be a traditional housewife but my faith came later. So, what my faith did was actually bolster my feelings, my natural instincts, essentially. But with regards to the TradWife movement, and the fact that it’s a movement, is quite funny because women have been living this role for thousands upon thousands of years you know. I am sure there is evidence in the Bible and I am sure there is evidence in the Qur’an as well. The difference is the fact that, I think, someone mentions not knowing where this started, this demise of the housewives. I personally think it started with the sexual revolution in the sixties when, you know, women were finally able to leave their homes and go out and work, which was a wonderful thing but they threw the baby out with the bath water at the same time. They devalued what they did at home in order to get ahead at work. And… (24:10)these women are still fulfilling that role at home,as well as having a second shift, doing a professional job. So, the TradWife movement or the Traditional Housewife Movement, has always been there. The difference is that we are now talking about it, at a time where I think it is greatly needed because you know, the impact on society, children’s anxiety levels, the fate of marriages, the extra pressure on women to fulfil both rolesbut we are only celebrating one half of her: her contribution in the workplace but not her contribution at home. So, I think the fact that we are talking about it is wonderful.
Fariha: Absolutely, I agree with you. And I think sometimes, you know, obviously, next generation asks questions and sometimes girls ask questions of why should we be the ones doing the cooking etc. And I always say: ‘Be proud of the fact that you are the queen of the house. Why are you giving away that title? Why? This is your domain. Embrace it and feel empowered by it. It is such an empowering role, being a mother and a wife. You shape the next generation, no one else can do that. It is an extremely important role and we should never undermine it. Always celebrate it.
Sarah:That kind of leads me on to another question which I want to ask to both of you as you are both mothers. Alena again, if I could start with you. How much is this concept influencing the way you bring up your children. I think you said you have got one child. I am sorry, remind if it’s a boy or a girl?
Alena: A boy.
Sarah:So, can I ask you in terms of bringing up children, would there be any difference in how you might bring up a boy versus a girl with these beliefs in mind?
Alena: I think that we should, again it’s another Bible reference, raise a child in the way in which they should go. So, I do believe it is vitally important for both boys and girls to have the same set of life skills. So, it’s just as important for a boy to know how to cook as it is a girl. The same with domestic chores because there are moments in life as well, as much as the son might go on to be the breadwinner and the wife stays at home, you cannot predict what might happen in the future. So, the son may never marry, for example. So, he will have to look after himself. He will have to know those things. Or the wife might fall ill. So, it’s not about clipping their wings according to the gender, it’s about encouraging them in everything – in education, in life skills at home, so that they can become what they are destined to be. I am very mindful of the fact that I want to instil very strong family values in my children, regardless of their gender. So, for me that’s the most important thing. And I can only live by example, as a woman and teach them the things that I know and its equally important for my husband to teach our children what he knows as well, with regards to business and management of the household and things like that. So, that is our job as parents, to pass on knowledge but not keep it just because of their gender.
Sarah:And Fariha, can ask you the same question? You have girls.
Fariha: I have got girls. I was thinking, it’s different as I have got three girls. Yes, absolutely, I agree with what you said. Yes, you have to raise them regardless of their gender and you have to teach them life skills. It’s very, very important for them to gain good education in this day and age, so that they can contribute to society. And contribution does not mean economic contribution. Education enlightensthe soul. And within our community, we encourage girls, as much as we encourage boys. Actually, our girls really do much better than boys in education. So, I think education is extremely important. Also, for us obviously, teaching them matters of faith is extremely important. And obviously, we want them to be useful members of the society. Life skills are extremely important for both genders, as you said, because you never know what you will come across and you need to know how to cook and how to eat and how to self-sustain. Family values as again said, these are all parts of any religion and again Islam also puts emphasis on them. So, these are the kind of things. There is another thing that I sometimes feel that I need to teach girls generally, whether mine or others, is to be brave and to embrace their gender and not feel that they are second best or inferior to boys. Not at all. And also, because when we empower them, then they can face any challenges. They can face difficulties. Women have got great strengths in them. As you said, it is only women who can bear children. It is not easy. The whole process that a woman goes through, us women, we know. And women should never think they are weak and I think, this is one of the things that always encourages girls to be brave, to develop that confidence, that their roles, as Islam has defined, does not restrain them, doesnot put them within boundaries of a home but actually they are empowering. They need to change their mindset and not be influenced by the negative stories in society or the way the media portrays the role of women who choose to be housewives or stay at home mothers.
Alena:Sorry, could I just add to that as well? You are so right with regards to that. About empowering girls and obviously in light of International Women’s Day, I would love for us to move away from the fact that we feel that we have to behave like men in order to be strong. Because that was the messaging I was getting when I was growing up. There is so much strength and power in being a woman. We can do so many things that men can’t and that is amazing. It’s when we embrace the beauty and the differences between us, and still work together, that’s when we will make great strides in equality, I think. Rather than trying to become one gender, essentially.
Sarah:That’s a lovely segue into my next question. Again, I ask both of you, I think that the TradWife movement, from what I have read about those people who aren’t as taken with it perhaps, a lot of it has to do with relationship between the husband and wife and this word submission comes up. And I wondered, Alena, what are the limits of submission to a husband? Whenshould a wife say no?
Alena: A lot of people are confused between submission and subservient. So, I am going to put this in the context of a business model. So, as a marketing manager, I would never go and tell a finance manager what they should do and how they should do their job. The finance manager tells me what budget we have and the changes that we are going to make according to that and what I can do with the allocated budget that is given to me. And I therefore, respect them in that decision because that’s where they are educated, that’s where they have control, and as long as they are not stealing from the company and putting us down the drain, then I trust them in that decision. So, it’s very much the same between my husband and I. So, like I said before, he is the captain of the ship. It’s his great responsibility, and I wouldn’t want it personally, tomake sure that we stay afloat. So, he has to work so many hours and he sees the whole kind of the beginning and the end, he has got this broad overview of what’s going on with our finances, and with his business and our, you know, personal finances for the household. So, I submit to his decisions because I trust that he is making the right decisions.
Sarah:But when do the crew say ‘no’ to the captain? I mean, maybe it’s a difficult one to answer and I guess it might vary with every situation. But do you feel there are areas where actually, that’s it. No!
Alena: Well you know, if our relationship was different in the fact that we didn’t openly communicate and we really didn’t see ourselves as one flesh. We pretty much spend every waking moment together. We absolutely know what’s going on in each other’s head. If he was almost a Dickensian husband, where I was kept at home and in my little parlourand he was out doing whatever, then it might be a different view because I would then feel like I was out of control. So, it’s not just that my husband makes the final decision, we come to that decision together in many ways. But if I started to distrust his decisions, you know if there was anything abusive happening, either towards myself ortohimself as well, you might think about alcoholism or dependency or any addictions or things like that, then that’s when you step in and you say, ‘Hang on a minute’.’ But that’s not because I thensuddenly want to take control, it’s because I am wanting to restore the health of our family and the smooth running of our family and it’s out of love for him. But submission in other models and other marriages and things, submission does not mean that the husband has a free reign to beat his wife or to tell her what to do or to control her in any way. My husband loves and cherishes and respects me. It does not mean that he is allowed to tell me what to do. It’s just the fact that I respect him as the head of the house and I trust him in that. But yes, if the rudder was tofall off the ship. then I would definitely be taking over.
Sarah:I like our navy metaphors! Fariha, is there a concept of submission, in the context we are talking about, in Islam, to one’s husband?
Fariha: Actually yes, obviously, there is but actually, I take it a bit differently. According to Islam, the first submission is to God. So, that is the main ethosbehind Islam. So, you put the Islamic principles in front of you and if there is any deviance from the Islamic principles, then you follow the faith. That is the main priority for a Muslim wife and for a Muslim husband. So, this is the main kind of focus or a compass that is directed towards God and towards what the Qur’an says. If that is kept in mind then there shouldn’t be any disagreement and if both are focused on that, then there shouldn’t be any problem. And again, communication is important, making decisions together is important. And in that relationship, there is no concept of submission or anything because you are doing things together for a greater good.
Alena: Yes, that’s the samein Christianity as well actually. You might submit to your husband but your husband also submits to God. So, you both submit to God. So, He is the one who is essentially really steering that ship. I would love to address, I am sorry to kind of go off topic but, this is so different, to the modern narrative for people who are not Muslims and who have no exposure to the Qur’an, we have this impression as people do about TradWives, particularly Christian ones, you are controlled by your husbands. Isn’t that funny that we are facing the same judgement from the outside world?
Fariha: But I am sure after speaking to us you realize that we are not.
Sarah:It’s really interesting that you say that because I think that I was wondering, Alena, as you speak that you have, it sounds like you have quite a strong faith that informs your decisions. But I wonder about the TradWife movement, if I may use that word, that noteverybody there will be informed by afaith belief. So, when you have a faith belief, you have got something higher, you have got God, you know your responsibilities to God and that becomes the model by which you can then direct your life. And I wondered about that, if that creates issues for women who identify as TradWives but don’t have that faith belief and I wondered if anyone has written to you about that and beginning to question it?
Alena: Yes, well there are plenty of women. I mean, in my community now, I have got a faithful group and there are about seven hundred women in there. Obviously, there are portion of them who are Christians, I haven’t done the numbers but many of them do not identify with a faith whatsoever. Some are even pagan, some are Muslims, some are Jewish. So, I think in their circumstances I reflect back to my own upbringing and my own natural instinct, which was for this particular lifestyle. It is so helpful for me that I have a faith that helps cements my personal ideology and personal feelings but I do think that there is something to be said for nature, for natural instinct. That women, when they are of a child bearing age they do want this very secure family unit. It is just a shame, unfortunately, that unless they have a faith, you cannot provide them with a model necessarily. And I can try and I do try especially with my blogposts and things but I always tend to come back to my faith because that backs me up. But yes,I wonder if it isin part what is breaking families up?
Fariha: I think you have raised a really valid point because what happens is that over the years because as society has undermined that role and women have thought (29:50)that to be out there in the society working alongside men, be like men, or just focusing on their careers have ignored the voice of nature and then they become so focused on that, the time period where it’s the most easiest to have children, they don’t have them. And by the time when the career is all sorted and everything is sorted, then it becomes difficult. And I see that difficulty being a G.P. when women then have to undergo fertility treatments and quite a lot them are unsuccessful.I am not making any generalization and I am not showing any prejudice to anyone. But they themselves shared their anxiety at that point, that they have spent so many years focusing on their careers not listening to their biological clock or their inner desire to become mothers and have resulted in this.
Alena: Yes, I have a friend who is an expert nutritionist and she specializes in fertility and she sees this time and time and time again, women who have been so focused on their careers, and have already been fulfilled in thatbuy they essentially biologically have either left it too late or the stress that they are under because of their careers, it’s inadvertently affecting their fertility.
Fariha: Yes, absolutely.
Sarah:I mean being a mother is one part of this. But of course, not all women can be mothers. And I wonder if you had any thoughts on that, within a marriage where a woman cannot be a mother, or a father cannot be a father and does that make any difference in terms of how you see things withinthe TradWives concept?
Alena: No, and again I have women in the community who have never had children. And there will come a time as well in my life where my children will have flown the nest and we will be alone. Just the two of us. So, as much as you are nurturing your children, it is very important to nurture your marriage as well. Because even if you get married, there is no guarantee that you will be able to have children. So, I do not see a difference.
Sarah: I guess that leads me to my next question, which is how do you nurture yourself? Because I suppose I am thinking now about education. I am thinking about, certainly within in Islam there is a lot of emphasis on education that is equal for both, the pursuit of education being equal for both men and women. And I do not know Fariha if you want to say something about that? Because certainly within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community there is a lot of emphasis on girls getting an education.
Fariha: Yes, absolutely. I think, as you said, that Islam encourages education for both genders, both sexes. But within our community, we have the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, which was actually founded by the second Caliph of the community in 1922. So, we are coming up to its 100 years all over the world. And the main reason behind it was to empower women, so that they can get education, both religious and secular, so that they can play an important part in matters of faith. So, there is great history behind our Association and when it was established. It was established in pre-partition Indian sub-continent. From there it started and it is all over the world now. And within our Ahmadiyya Women’s Association, we actually encourage women to take an active role, actively take part in matters of faith, whether it is to do with teaching each other religious education and promoting secular education, organising things, career forums, and other advice, or educational advice for our younger generation. It includes moral training, each other’s moral training, promoting moral ethical religious values, plus also training our next generation. We have got a sub-branch of younger girls that we look after, we train them to become better Ahmadi Muslim women of the future and mothers of the future. We have within our Association; we encourage our ladies to do a lot of outreach work. To go out to other communities, to tell them about their faith, to lean about other people’s faith, as well. To visit people who are not in a good situation, or people who perhaps are lonely, for example, people in residential homes or nursing homes. Loads of charity work is being done by our ladies. They raise money for Royal British Legion, they raise money for other U.K. charities, Red Cross, they raise money for homeless people. We look after people within our community and outside our community as well. There are so many projects happening within our Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association all the time. So, it does not have a conflict with our roles as mothers and as housewives or some of us, like myself, who are out there having a profession as well. We just have to manage it in a very fine way, that we are able to fulfil all our roles and responsibilities because our faith encourages women to take an active role in matters of faith. And as I said, our matters of faith our mainly categorised in two main categories: service to God and service to humanity. And all of these different programs within our Association encompass all these roles.
Sarah: Thank you Fariha. I think this goes back to a concept which I think Alena shares as well, from her Christian background, which is that we are guided in the tasks that we do by our responsibilities to God. Alena, there is an allegation that is sometimes launched at the TradWife movement, and I am sure that you have heard this a number of times, but some would say that the TradWife movement is the more acceptable faith of some of the extremist groups that are out there where women are actually viewing themselves as almost needing to be dominated by men, even if this might include domestic violence, that actually, men are in control and men can do what they want. And there has been some research on this, they are the more extreme groups but it’s that notion of dominance and subservience that comes in. And I know you have said that this submission and subservience are not the same. But I wondered if you wanted to comment on that?
Alena: Well, I have never met one. And having, obviously the news story broke, I think it was early January or late January, so the story and the movement about me and the TradWife thing has gone global, it went viral. So, I have had a lot of people contact me, both those in favour, which has helped bring the community together and those who oppose it. They speak of these creatures but I have never actually come in to contact with, in terms of them reaching out to me and saying, a) You’re doing it wrong or are you like me? So, I know that there are definitely, I don’t know, there are so many labels branded around and I do not know whether it is right or Libertarians or something, I’m not sure or men going their own way. There are all these strange things out there that there is always going to be an extreme of everything isn’t there? There are interpretations of Islam. The only thing that I can do and I think the only thing that anyone can do that is under attack because of a minority group, is lead by example and be very vocal about the expectations, about what it means and what it does not mean.
Sarah: Thank you very much. That was very comprehensive. And you are right, there are versions of Islam out there that we would not all subscribe to. I really appreciate the time that you have both given us to do this interview. And I think it has been most enlightening to hear your views, Alena. And thank you very much Fariha for your contribution and explaining the Islamic concept of wives within a marriage. Thank you very much for today’s interview.
This program was brought to you by the Review of Religions Team. The producer was Farhat Mahmood and the Interviewer was Sarah Waseem.