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In the days leading up to his trip to Cairo to give a long-awaited speech before a large Muslim audience, President Barack Obama gave several radio and television interviews, including one in which he claimed that the United States has so many Muslim residents that it would qualify as one of the largest populations in the world.
"If you actually took the number of Muslims Americans (sic), we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world," he told French television station Canal Plus.
Obama's comment was meant to emphasize the religious diversity of the United States and the importance of understanding between the Western world and followers of Islam, a key point in the speech he gave in Cairo on June 4, 2009.
"What I want to do is to create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States but also how the West thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy," he told Canal Plus. "Now, the flip side is I think that the United States and the West generally, we have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam."
Some PolitiFact readers heard Obama's claim and asked us to check it. We should note that estimates of the number of Muslims living in America varies greatly. For example, the Islamic Information Center, a group that educates people in the United States about Islam, says there are upwards of 8 million. And NationMaster.com, a Web site that allows users to compare different countries based on demographics, pegs the number at 6 million.
We are using numbers from the CIA Online World Factbook, a highly regarded government source for global statistics. It's updated twice a month, and we're relying on the latest version. By the World Factbook's count, Muslims in the United States make up about 0.6 percent of the population. That's around 1.8 million.
Using the CIA's data, we made a list of the 60 countries with the most Muslim residents. Coming in first is Indonesia, More than 240 million people live there, and 86.1 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. That means that about 206 million Indonesians are of the Islamic faith.
No. 2 on the list is Pakistan, where 95 percent of the roughly 176 million people identify as Muslim. That means about 167 million residents are of the Islamic faith. India, Bangladesh and Turkey come in next at 156 million, 129 million and 76 million, respectively.
Moving down the list, Morocco takes 10th place with 34 million Muslim residents, and Syria comes in at number 20, with about 18 million Muslims. The No. 60 slot goes to Serbia, home to 236,138 Muslims.
According to our calculations, you have to scroll down to the very bottom to see where the United States fits in amid all these statistics. Again, the CIA Factbook says that less than 1 percent — 0.6 percent to be precise — of the 307 million residents identify as Muslim. That means the United States has only 1.8 million Muslims.
So, of the 60 most populous Muslim states, the United States ranks 58th.
If we rely instead on NationMaster.com, which pegs the Muslim population at 6 million, the United States is 37th out of 60. And if we go with 8 million, as the Islamic Information Center estimates, the United States comes in at 29 on the list.
The exact number of how many Muslims are living in the United States is fuzzy at best. But one thing is for certain: No matter who you slice it, America ranks low, whether it's 1.8 million or 8 million.
So Obama is trying to make a point that the United States is in touch with the Muslim world because it has a substantial Muslim population. But he dramatically overreaches by saying the United States would be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. Ranking 58 out of the world's 60 most populous Muslim nations does not a large Muslim country make. Indeed, by even the most generous estimate we found of 8 million, the United States still ranks 29 out of 60. As a result, we give Obama a Pants on Fire.
White House, Interview with Canal Plus , accessed June 4, 2009
U.S. Census Bureau, California's population , accessed June 4, 2009
CIA Online World Factbook , accessed June 4, 2009
NationMaster, number and percentage of Muslims living in the United States , accessed June 4, 2009
National Public Radio, U.S. Is One of 'Largest Muslim Countries'? Not Really, Mr. President , by Mark Memmott, June 3, 2009
Islamic Information Center, estimate of Muslims living in the United States , accessed June 4, 2009
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