US President Barack Obama knocked Republican presidential candidates for anti-Muslim rhetoric on 12 January and accused critics of playing into the hands of Islamic State (Isis).

Obama, delivering his last State of the Union speech to Congress before leaving office next year, said it was fiction to declare the United States was in economic decline or getting weaker on the international stage. In a direct dig at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, Obama said insulting Muslims hurt the United States and "betrayed" its identity.

"That's why we need to reject any politics, any politics that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this: this is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.

"His Holiness Pope Francis told this body from the very spot I am standing on tonight that 'to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place'. When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid is called names, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling what -, telling like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."