Rector Prof. Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat,
Vice Rector Dr. Jamhari Makruh, and
Director of International Office Dr. Yeni Ratna Yuningsih,
I am honored to have this opportunity to visit the University of Sharif Hidayatullah, one of Indonesia’s most respected institutions of learning. I appreciated your invitation to visit UIN, a university committed to advanced learning and community service. I know UIN has been a strong and successful advocate of promoting tolerance, pluralism, and good governance in Indonesia.
Let me begin by offering my hearty congratulations on the 10th anniversary of UIN hosting our American Corner. UIN was the first university to host an American Corner in Indonesia. Working with the Embassy, American Corner UIN has hosted hundreds of programs on education, English language, and professional development. We look forward to many more.
Today I would like to talk about “Islam in the United States.” Like Indonesia, the United States is a large, multi-ethnic multi-religious democracy. Like Indonesia, we embrace pluralism, tolerance, and multiculturalism. Like Indonesia, religion is a very important part of American life.
It may come as a surprise to some that the vast majority of Americans are religious. While most Americans are Christian, in 20 of our 50 states (including Texas, Virginia, and Florida), Islam is the largest non-Christian faith community.
Indeed, the United States has a long relationship with Islam. Our second President, John Adams, described the Prophet Mohammad as a “sober inquirer after truth” in one of his books on government.
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, hosted the first Muslim ambassador to the United States (from Tunisia) for an iftar at the White House on December 9, 1805, more than 200 years ago.
In 1765, President Thomas Jefferson also purchased a two-volume English translation of the Koran for his library – a collection that later formed the Library of Congress. More recently, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota used this Koran for his swearing-in ceremony, becoming the first Congressperson to use a Koran for an oath of office for Congress.
American Muslims have also served important roles throughout our history. They have fought in our wars, helping American gain its independence from the British. American Muslims have been teachers, scientists, diplomats, merchants, entertainers, heavyweight boxing champions of the world, and technology startup pioneers. The history of American Muslims is very much a living history.
America is home to one of the most diverse Muslim populations in the world, including people of almost every ethnicity, country, and aliran who live side-by-side with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others—just like in Indonesia. A recent Pew survey found that American Muslims trace their roots to 77 different Muslim countries and are well assimilated into American society.
Just like Indonesia, America sometimes struggles with keeping its commitment to tolerance and diversity. In Indonesia today there are concerns about intolerance towards religious minorities—not only Christians, but Shia and Ahmadi—being promoted by those who do not respect Indonesia’s long tradition of peace, tolerance, and pluralism. So our two countries embody the democratic values of democracy, tolerance, and freedom.
These values have never been more important to espouse as the world confronts an unusually wide series of challenges that could roll back progress on democracy and tolerance. Perhaps none more pressing than that posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, which is seeking to spread hate and violence in the Middle East and beyond.
As President Obama said at the United Nations last week, “Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death.”
The United States is working with the international community to protect our people and our way of life. We are joined by our friends and partners in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with them on behalf of our common security.
But a wide range of other countries are making important contributions. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.
As the world confronts ISIL, the United States and Indonesia will each in our own way play important roles. Although we speak different languages, have different cultures, traditions, and eat different foods, we also have many similarities. I want to congratulate the many Indonesian leaders from the government and civil society who have rejected ISIL’s violent ideology.
So many other Indonesians have expressed to me their grave concern about ISIL. When we have these conversations, I know there is a shared concern for protecting universal human rights: rights based on democracy; rights based on pluralism; rights based on faith.
As Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the United Nations, once said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”
Indeed, as President Obama said last week at the United Nations, “Around the world, young people are moving forward hungry for a better world. Around the world, in small places, they’re overcoming hatred and bigotry and sectarianism. And they’re learning to respect each other, despite differences.”
It is the responsibility of every one of us here today to promote peace and tolerance – values that are embraced by all of our religions – in our daily lives. In this way, we can ensure that our democracies live up to the promises contained in the phrases: “E Pluribus Unum,” “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.”
Thank you again for this honor to speak to you at UIN and let me wish all of you success in your future.