Barack Obama 'will not visit Golden Temple over Muslim photo fears'
Published 20/10/2010 | 10:20
Barack Obama has reportedly abandoned plans to visit Amritsar's Golden Temple during his visit next month to India over fears photographs of him with his head covered would revive false claims that he is a Muslim.
Members of Mr Obama's White House team reportedly visited India last month and told Indian officials they were concerned that if the president wore the traditional headscarf during a visit to the Golden Temple, the photographs might be used to portray him as a Muslim, according to the New Delhi-based Indian Express.
Mr Obama, whose father was a non-observant Muslim, has been dogged by rumours regarding his faith since his battle for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2008. He has highlighted the fact that his middle name is Hussein at times to boost his credibility abroad since becoming president.
In August, a poll conducted by Time magazine found that almost one in four Americans thought he was a follower of Islam. The results came days after he waded into the dispute over controversial plans to build a mosque near the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Temple sources said on Tuesday three teams of officials from the US embassy in New Delhi had visited them in the last six weeks but they were unaware there was any concern over wearing a headscarf.
According to the Express, one American official had told his Indian counterparts that Mr Obama had to remind the United States "each day that he should not be mistaken for Muslim just because his middle name is Hussein."
A compromise was reportedly explored in which the president might wear a "modified baseball cap" but it is unclear whether this would have been acceptable to Sikh traditionalists.
The temple's head priest Giani Gurbachan Singh was quoted saying a baseball cap would not be allowed, but Dalmir Singh, secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee, the Sikh governing body, said the president could wear anything to cover his head.
"Whatever he wishes to wear, he can. Our concern is to make sure he does. We don't have problem even if he wears a baseball cap or Muslim skull cap. We are all set to welcome him. It will a great honour. If the visit is cancelled just because of American politics, its will be disheartening," he said.
But according to Indian officials, plans to visit Amritsar have been abandoned because of "logistical" problems.
A spokesman for the American Embassy in New Delhi said no plans to visit Amritsar had ever been announced and there would be no comment on whether wearing a headscarf had been a consideration. "We are not in a position to say whether there was a discussion about it," she said.
Mr Obama last month spoke at length about his faith during a visit to New Mexico when he was asked why he was a Christian. The president said he had chosen Christianity as an adult because "the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me," Mr Obama said, adding that his public service is "part of that effort to express my Christian faith."