WASHINGTON – The largest U.S. Islamic civil rights group was among the first to congratulate President-Elect Democrat Barack Obama, a man who some opponents tried to portray as a Muslim because of the childhood years he spent in Indonesia.

“President-elect Obama’s victory sends the unmistakable message that America is a nation that offers equal opportunity to people of all backgrounds,” the Council on American Islamic Relations said in a statement just minutes after Obama’s victory speech in Chicago.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the group, said they hoped to offer the Obama administration some support and advice.

“We look forward to having the opportunity to work with the Obama administration in protecting the civil rights of all Americans, projecting an accurate image of America in the Muslim world and playing a positive role in securing our nation,” Awad said.

Obama, who will be the first black U.S. president and whose middle name is Hussein, is a Christian. But throughout the campaign, false rumors circulated on the Internet that he was Muslim and therefore not a suitable candidate for the White House.