Book Review: A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power


Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him — Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (Al Quran 33:36)

President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter

By President Jimmy Carter

Published: April 2014 by Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Book review and synopsis by Dr. Naseer Tahir, Rochester, NY

The theme of this book is set by the opening sentence by the author:

All the elements in this book concerning prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls.

Jimmy Carter has done a scholarly documentation of the wrongs perpetrated to the female gender of all societies at different times of the history and present times. According to him, almost all nations and people of all ages are involved in this.

This results from a prevalent but wrong presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them and thus unqualified to serve God on equal terms.

The author recounts his own experiences, while growing up in the south and among the slave workers, and saw differential treatments in practice himself.

He thinks this practice is justified by some selected scriptures as interpreted, almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths.

And then the author challenges his readership to take up the challenge:

I called on believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal, to study these violations of our basic moral values and to take corrective action.

While growing up in Plains, Georgia, a rural country, the author remembers his own lack of sensitivity to deferential treatment of the slave workers. His childhood friends were the African American, who later treated him as his master. Once, he went to watch a movie with one of his black friends and rode in separate cars on the train, and sat in different part of the theater. He confessed to be complicit in these kinds of activities. Early in his life he learned that Bible was often interpreted to suit the prevalent customs and cultural practices, including racial inequality. Most people devoutly considered the Bible to be the ultimate authority, inerrant while some verses directly contradict others. The segregation laws were observed, and the author wonders why no one raised any serious objection.

I have collected following facts from his book, which I think, are interesting to note. The author has written about different but useful aspects of the topic.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948 by a vote of 48 to 0. There were 8 abstentions, including Saudi Arabia, opposing the provision guaranteeing equality within marriage. Majority of other Muslim countries signed the Declaration.

The author recommends that devout believers abandon the premise that their faith mandates sexual discrimination. Islamic scholars rightfully, assured him that there were no justification for this discrimination in the Koran. There are specific verses in the Holy Bible that can be interpreted on either side of the issue, and some ascendant male leaders in all faiths take advantage of the interpretation most beneficial to them.  The author is disturbed by the fact that many leaders of their faiths take undue advantage and impose their own interpretations of their scriptures as needed to their advantage. Rosalynn and he decide to leave their Southern Baptist church, which they and their parent had attended for years, when the Church decided Southern Baptist women would no longer be serving as deacons, pastors, or chaplains.

According to the author, Jesus Christ was the greatest liberator of women in a society where they had been considered inferior. He details the treatment of women by Jesus Christ and quotes passages from the Bible to support his claims.

In 1970s, only one in a thousand Americans was in prison, and when the author was the president of the USA, five times as many inmates are in prisons. The number of incarcerated black women has gone up by 800 percent. And all that came with a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, while the overall crime rates have gone down in the USA.

Mentioning about the annual governors’ conference in 1995, Carter mentions, one of the governors shared his success proudly, “We built enough prisons cells to reach from the state capital to my home town.”

It is estimated that one in five female students is sexually assaulted in American universities. According to U.S. Justice department 95 percent of them remain silent. They fear the humility caused by the event becoming common knowledge, they are considered guilty until proven innocent. Most on-campus rapes are perpetrated by serial rapists, as they are emboldened because their crimes are not reported. The females are at loss due to lack of the enforcement of the laws by the institutions.

The author acknowledges:

I came to understand more clearly how, in all major faiths, there is the essence of justice, peace, and compassion but that biased interpreters can twist their meaning.

The social status of the women varies widely within the Islamic world.

The Carter Center has monitored elections in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Indonesia, Palestine, and Sudan, and Bangladesh. In all these countries, as well as in Algeria, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Mauritania, and Yemen and a number of other countries, men and women have equal rights to vote.

Saudi Arabia is an exception. Women there have no right to vote. They are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle, and cannot travel unescorted. Because of being the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia plays a leadership role in the Islamic world.

One of the chapters is exclusively about the wonderful work done by the Carter center throughout the world. Their workers have gone to the remote villages in Africa, helping with water supply and disease eradication efforts. The author notices that when poverty or disease befalls in any area, the women preferentially suffer more. Carter Center workers are currently in Sudan, South Sudan, Togo, Benin, Uganda, Ghana, Chad, Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and many other areas.

According to the author, the human rights activists have increasingly emphasized that the example set by the United States is having enormous influence on the behavior of other countries. United States is currently violating at least ten of the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, giving excuses to countries like Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria to usurp the rights of the people in the name of war on terrorism.

2011 was the year of fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Dr. Mohammad Morsi was elected to be the president. The author remembered meeting him earlier, and they discussed many issues. On rights of women in Egypt, Morsi assured Carter that he was working with a panel established by the Imam of Al-Azhar. Carter found the Imam to be a moderate but marginally effective when it came to issues going against the culture.

According to Dr. Riham Bahi of Cairo University:

While Egyptian women are ready to seek change in society, the culture is still not ready to view them as equals. We must change this by challenging students and religious leaders to re-think and re-read the Koran for gender justice.

Mentioning about Jewish traditions the author wrote:

As with Christians and Muslims, Jews have come to realize that the basic rights of women are strongly affected by how men choose to interpret and apply the meaning of Holy Scripture. When our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are considered both different and inferior in the eyes of the God we worship, this belief tends to permeate society and everyone suffers.

Lack of equality among genders is also an issue among Catholics. In 2103, NY times and CBS survey concluded that 70% of Catholic thought that women should be priests.

The book has a chapter on The Genocide of Girls, a bye-product of family planning. In China and India, due to infanticide, more boys are being born than girls. There are only 650 girls for every 1000 boys. The available sonograms can ascertain the sex of the fetus as early as twelve weeks, and if it is a girl, option of abortion is practiced. According to an Indian author, this has resulted in 160 million females missing, killed before their births.

Low birth rate of girls, and more boys than girls, results in lack of suitable brides as well as prostitution. There is a thriving market and the price of brides range from $88 to $660. In South Korea, 12% of the brides are imported from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Philippines at these prices.

In 2006, there were 191,610 cases of rape or sexual assault in the United States, and only 16% of the cases were reported to police. Of these cases on-campus, only 5% are reported. It is not much different in the rest of the world. Radha Kumar from India reports that rape in India is one the most common crimes against women.

In a period of about three and a half centuries, 12.5 million slaves were taken from Africa to the Americas. Author calls it a terrible and unforgivable abuse of people. One might think the slavery has ended with time, but 29.8 million people remain enslaved today. Under a broader definition of slavery, these slaves are those living in bondage, married against their wishes, or thrown into prostitution forcefully.

This modern slavery generated $32 billion in profits. The Global Slavery Index listed the United States as having sixty thousand in bondage, and 1.1 percent of India’s population lives in bondage, a total of 13,956,010, the highest in the world.

Those who own and operate brothels can acquire a slave prostitute from Asia for $2000, and $8000 in western countries. The net profit of such a slave owner is $29000 per year, attractive business indeed.

U.S. State department estimates that about 800,00 people are traded across international borders each year, 80% of them women and girls.

The Carter center reported that about two to three hundred children are sold in Atlanta each month.

As reported in July 2013 New York Times, the social media on Internet has resulted in “The New Prostitutes” in America. Housewives can now advertise and sell themselves for sex and without any intermediary (Pimp) on the available erotic websites. Another report cited 1,690 such sex workers ads daily on those sites.

Poverty has made India as the major hub in the international sex trade; no one knows the exact numbers.

The World Health Organization reported in 2013 that more than a third of all women are victims of physical or sexual violence and that the vast majority are attacked or abused by their husbands or boyfriends.  About a third of countries do not have any laws against domestic violence and many wives consider it mandatory and proper to submit themselves to their husbands for punishment.  A recent UNICEF survey among women ages fifteen to forty-nine revealed that 90 percent of wives in Afghanistan and Jordan, 87 percent in Mali, 86 percent in Guinea and Timor-Leste, 81 percent in Laos, and 80 percent in Central African Republic believe that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.

At some time in their lives, one-fourth of all American women are victims of domestic violence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that while 3,200 servicemen were killed in battle between 2000 and 2006, there were 10,600 domestic homicides in the United States; 85 percent of these victims were women.

“Honor” killing is widely condemned, it has a justification in the ancient Holy Scriptures of Jews and Christians.  For example, Deuteronomy 22:13-14, where honor killing is justified if the wife is not found to be virgin.

In 2010, 2823 honor attacks were reported in UK.

Female circumcision is in practice in different parts of the planet.  It involves cutting part of female genitals.

UNICEF estimates that 91 percent of women in Egypt, 98 percent in Somalia, 96 percent in Guinea, 93 percent in Djibouti, 89 percent in Eritrea, 89 percent in Mali, 88 percent in Sierra Leone, and 88 percent in Sudan have undergone some form of genital cutting, and more than 50 percent of the women in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Kenya have also been cut.

President Jimmy Carter has done an excellent documentation of the atrocities and inferior treatment given to women all over the world, particularly in Islamic world. Reading this book is useful for those among us who believe that being Ahmadies, it is our duty to spread justice and help female gender gain their proper status in all societies and cultures.

Additional Reading

Gender Equality in the Holy Qur’an – In the Beginning Man and Woman Were Equal

4 replies

  1. Jimmy Carter is an amazing person. He is an excellent leader, an outstanding social worker and a great benefactor of humanity. He works in the most disadvantaged parts of the world and yet is able to get results. He has improved life of millions of people. He is one of the greatest human beings of our age.
    I am glad he has written this book to highlight the problems facing women. I hope we Muslims can learn from it. (As we are learning the rest of Islam from the West!!)
    This book should be a required reading for all religious and political leaders.

  2. Jimmy Carter:
    “Jimmy Carter has done a scholarly documentation of the wrongs perpetrated to the female gender of all societies at different times of the history and present times. According to him, almost all nations and people of all ages are involved in this.”
    The above words about Jimmy Carter Sahib are true. He has done good service to the cause of the ladies. It was much needed. Ladies have been oppressed and kept in a disadvantages state in many religions for a very long time. Not so in Islam. Islam gave very good rights to the ladies. But the Muslim men took away those good rights from the ladies.
    May Allah bless Jimmy Carter sahib with more knowledge and Mercy. Wassalam.

  3. Please do not delete my respond to this Topic. even you do not like my respond, Love and respect the different idea, thought and interpretation. This is the core of Islamic teaching. May Allah bless us all, Ameen.
    Quote; Female circumcision is in practice in different parts of the planet. It involves cutting part of female genitals.unquote.
    Again, most Muslim scholars from Arab countriest have been decieved by their idols through the book of Hadits Muslim, Bukhari, etc.
    Female genitals is not Islamic teaching from God, but from human (idol).
    Those who follow idols will be put in Hell as well as their teachers.
    May God guide extremist Muslim to the true Islamic teaching,amen
    With all my love

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