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Obama's Muslim comment sparks row

Last updated on: June 04, 2009 14:19 IST

United States President Barack Obama has sparked a row with his assertion that the US is one of the world's biggest Muslim countries.

"If you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we would be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world," Obama told French television station Canal Plus on Monday, as he prepared for his landmark five-day trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in an effort to bridge the chasm between America and the Islamic world.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the US think tank American Enterprise Institute, said the statement is incorrect and using such language is a 'dangerous gambit'.

"All politicians pander. Obama is raising it to a global level," he said.

"First of all, it's false: Even if you take the inflated numbers that Islamic advocacy organisations claim, Muslims are a tiny, tiny minority in the United States," he underlined.

"Obama should also not fall into the extremist's trap of using Muslim as a unitary adjective. There is no more a Muslim world than a Christian world," he was quoted as saying by the Washington Times newspaper today.

Though there is no US census on the basis of religion, several unofficial estimates put the Muslim-American population at roughly five million, which would rank the country at about 35th among 150 countries with Muslim populations, the report said.

Steve Grand, a Brookings fellow and director of its 'Project on US Relations with the Islamic World', acknowledged that the population number is hard to pin down. He said the estimate of two to six million Muslims in the US is close to the number of Muslims in Jordan.

"I think the statement was really an effort to hold up the Muslin-American nation in which Islam and Democracy are not incompatible, Islam and prosperity are not incompatible," Grand said.

Jim Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said he was surprised by Obama's comment because the US only has between three to five million Muslims.

"And that is far from the largest Muslim country -- Indonesia," he said, "It reminds me of his campaign statement that he had been to 57 states. I think that he needs to cut back on his work schedule and get some rest," Phillips, a research fellow at the Foundation was quoted as saying.

His comments have also re-ignited the debate about his Muslim roots. Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, is a Christian whose childhood included spending time in Indonesia and whose stepfather and Kenyan father were Muslims.

Rubin said the problem with Obama's statement is that he not only declines to put American values at the forefront of US foreign policy, but refuses to even identify them. "Rather than talk about the United States as a Muslim country, perhaps he should talk about the United States as a country which has thrived because of a separation of church and state and an adherence to a constitution," he argued.

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