Almost two million people have inexplicably disappeared from the estimates of the U.S. Muslim population that President Barack Obama has given recently. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, he spoke about “nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today.” On Sunday, the Karachi daily Dawn published an interview with him where he said “we have five million Muslims.”
There was no explanation for the change, but his reason for citing the figure seemed to be the same. Shortly before his Cairo speech, Obama told the French television channel Canal Plus that “one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” He cited no figure there but mentioned seven million in Cairo three days later.
Many blogs, FaithWorld included, questioned that figure and noted that estimates of the U.S. Muslim population range from 1.8 to 7-8 million. The U.S. Census Bureau cannot ask about religion on a mandatory basis but refers on its website to a Pew Forum study pegging Muslims at 0.6% of the population. The CIA World Factbook uses the same percentage figure. It translates into about 1.8 million.
Speaking to Dawn, Obama lowered his estimate but made his original point again. He said: “We have Muslim Americans who are doing extraordinary things. In fact, their educational attainment and income is generally above the average here in the United States. We have Muslim members of Congress. And, in fact, we have 5 million Muslims, which would make us larger than many other countries that consider themselves Muslim countries.”
The downsizing puts the U.S. even lower on the this Wikipedia list of countries according to the size of their Muslim population, from 32nd place (after Kazakhstan and before the current #32 Tajikistan) to 38th (between Chad and Turkmenistan).
In the interview, Obama also spoke a bit about his visit to Pakistan as a student in 1981 that caused some confusion and speculation in the end phase of the 2008 campaign. Dawn’s Washington correspondent Anwar Iqbal asked Obama if he planned to visit Pakistan soon and the president responded:
‘I would love to visit. As you know, I had Pakistani roommates in college who were very close friends of mine. I went to visit them when I was still in college; was in Karachi and went to Hyderabad. Their mothers taught me to cook,’ said Mr Obama.
‘What can you cook?’
‘Oh, keema … daal … You name it, I can cook it. And so I have a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.’
‘You read Urdu poetry?’
‘Absolutely. So my hope is that I’m going to have an opportunity at some point to visit Pakistan,’ said Mr Obama.
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