On Wednesday December 5th, 2018, the Carter Center in Atlanta hosted an interfaith discussion entitled “Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights” featuring the leader of the center the namesake of the center itself, former president Jimmy Carter, the director of T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Rabbi Jill Jacobs and the director of Yaqeen institute, Shaikh Omar Suleiman.
The moderator of the discussion was Karin Ryan, the Carter Center’s Senior advisor on Human Rights. From the beginning, the moderator asked the panel about how their personal faiths played into their Human Rights work.
The first to respond to the question was President Carter himself when he explained that he viewed Jesus as the prince of peace and his religious faith entailed him doing his utmost to achieve that goal.
As for Jacobs, she said that she saw Judaism as promoting human rights because of the fact that the Bible says humans are created in the image of God, meaning violating the rights of humans entails a crime against God as well.
When it came time for Suleiman to answer, he stated that qur’anic conception of humanity entails that devotion to one’s religion means being more beneficial to humanity as well. After this, the Moderator asked about how the panelists inspire fellow members of their faith to devote themselves to the wellbeing of humanity. From there, president Carter said people espouse certain principles which people were inspired to reaffirm following WWII which unfortunately many have strayed from.
After this Jacobs said religion is a more powerful tool than politics since it is rooted in something that is not bound to the short-term cynical calculations that politics is marred by. Suleiman said that being loyal to religious principles would entail choosing not to be polarized by the political winds and gave the examples of Malcolm X and Martin Luther Link as people who achieved great good by rooting themselves in faith. As the discussion continued, the moderator asked specifically about how women could become more empowered in religion.
Jimmy Carter said that he saw the repression of women as the largest human rights question because it pertains to half the population and he saw the Bible as promoting women’s rights. After this Jacobs said that excluding half of the population from religion devalues the richness which religion could bring. Suleiman referred to a paper published by the Yaqeen Institute entitled “Gender Equity & the Advent of Islam and stated that women and men both had an opportunity for learning pointing to the precedent started by the prophet’s wives.
He even went as far to say that his title of “Imam” was fairly insignificant in that it did not denote membership of a privileged and protected class analogous to the other Abrahamic faiths and spoke about how humans are created from both a male and a female according to the Qur’an. After hearing this, president Carter actually slightly deviated from the format and related stories about how Muslim leaders in West Africa have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of women’s rights in his experiences.
The event ended with all three panelists offering prayers from their religious traditions for the wellbeing of humanity.