Speech by Ambassador Blake at the Institute for Quranic Studies, Jakarta

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to visit the Institute for Quranic Studies, one of Indonesia’s most respected institutions for advanced Quranic education.

The world faces today an unusually wide series of challenges, perhaps none more pressing than that posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is seeking to spread hate and violence in the Middle East and beyond.

As the world’s confronts the ISIS challenge, the US and Indonesia will each in our own way play important roles.  Although we speak different languages, have different cultures, traditions, and histories, and eat different foods, we also have many similarities.

  • We live in large, multi-ethnic multi-religious democracies;
  • We embrace pluralism, tolerance and multiculturalism; and
  • Religion is a very important part of our respective cultures.

It may come as a surprise to some that the vast majority of Americans are religious.  While the majority of 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.
  •  President Jefferson also purchased a two-volume English translation of the Quran for his personal library in 1765 – a collection that later formed the foundation of the modern Library of Congress. 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 scholars, academics, and ordinary people all have demonstrated their understanding and engagement with Islam throughout history.

  • One example I’ll share:  during the American Civil War, a general ordered his troops to destroy every building they encountered.  When the troops arrived at the University of Alabama, the director of the University Library begged them to spare his books.
  • Although the general refused, the officer in charge told the librarian he could spare one book.  The one book he chose from the entire library’s vast collection – one of the best in the entire American south – was a rare copy of the Koran.
  • American Muslims have served important roles throughout our history.  They have fought in our wars, from the Revolution onward.  They have been teachers, they have run businesses, they have been scientists,
  • and they have been politicians, such as Representatives Keith Ellison and Representative André Carson, two Muslim members of Congress currently serving in our House of Representatives, or Mohammed Hameeduddin, the mayor of Teaneck city in the state of New Jersey.

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.

  • 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 that the terrorists of ISIS so profoundly reject.  I want to congratulate the broad range of leaders from the government and civil society who have rejected the violent ideology of ISIL.

The international community is ready to take action.  At the NATO Summit in Wales yesterday, President Obama announced that a core coalition of countries stands ready to confront ISIL through military, intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic efforts.  The coalition will include the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey.

In conclusion, let me thank you again for this opportunity to address this prestigious Institute and let me wish all of you success in your future endeavors.