Where I come from in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, we have a concept known as “Utani”. This Kiswahili term means teasing or critiquing with affection.
Now, I am a Muslim and I love America. I have written about why right here at Quartz, in fact. But it is time to put my Utani hat on because over the past 48 hours, the two Americas that represent the best and worst of the country are fighting for supremacy once again.
There is one America that views diversity as one of the country’s great strengths and there is the other that has, shall we say, struggle with the idea of Muslims and Islam as part of the US of A.
On Sunday (Dec. 6), president Obama in his address to the nation in response to the massacre of 14 men and women in San Bernadino, California, offered one view.
He made clear that the majority of Muslims abhor the actions of a small minority who murder innocent human beings in the name of Islam. He argued that Muslims in America, and elsewhere around the world, are very much part of the fight to root out the violent extremism currently afflicting the world. In fact, he seemed to suggest that Muslims need to be the ones leading that fight. He issued this challenge: ”An extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities,” he said. “It’s a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.”
For people like Trump and his supporters, that is not enough. They demand more from Muslims, that they prove their humanity after every tragic attack.
But what of Obama’s statement, that Muslims bear special responsibility to confront ISIL and those sympathetic to its ideology?
It is inescapable that there are, out there, people who call themselves Muslims that have massacred innocent civilians in Paris, Garrisa, Bamako, Nairobi, Mogadishu, San Bernadino, Baghdad, Kano and countless other cities, towns, and villages around the world.
Their murderous mission does not discriminate when picking victims–those murdered have included many faiths, races and socioeconomic statuses. It nevertheless claims to represent the aspirations of the global Muslim Ummah, or community.
Whenever such horrific incidents are perpetrated, Muslims in America, and elsewhere, condemn them in no uncertain terms. Not in our name, they’ve said—again, and again, and again. Muslims are not responsible for the madness of a few people in our midst, they add.
Muslims absolutely do have a special role in this fight. And not because they need to prove anything to people like Donald Trump and his supporters. But because this fight is about protecting their communities and the preservation of Islam from those who seek to corrupt it.
It is an inescapable truth that there are some in our midst who believe that Islam justifies the killings of innocent men, women and children. These few believe there is a jihad underway, a holy war, and that they are at the forefront.
And it is simply not enough to just say, you ain’t no Muslim, bruv. Nah, bruv. Syed Rizwan Farook was a Muslim, prayed and kept halal. Yet, he took up .223-caliber assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns and began shooting at his co-workers at a California holiday party.
These actions are of course utterly and completely against every principle of Islam. The Quran is clear on this: “If anyone slew a person be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”
Prophet Muhammad was also very clear on this: “I command you to do ten things: you must not kill a woman or a child, or an elderly person…and you will pass by people who have devoted themselves to monastery life: leave them alone with their devotions.”
Yet, somewhere along the line, these so-called Muslims have forgotten this teaching and have come to believe that murdering innocent people is doing the Prophet’s work. This thinking, in whatever fashion it manifests itself, needs to be confronted in Muslims communities—spiritually and intellectually.
Around the globe, Muslims are aware of this and pushing back against the corruption of their faith by ISIS and those that share their beliefs. “We have allowed the slow growth of a death cult that has consumed far too many of our youth,” Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder and senior faculty member at Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts school in California, wrote after the attack in San Bernadino. “We must destroy it.”
Recently, in India, 1,000 sheikhs ratified a fatwa, a legal ruling, calling the actions of ISIL “un-Islamic.” The fatwa is now being circulated to 50 other countries for endorsements. Also, in California, a prominent US Muslim scholar Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, also a co-founder of Zaytuna and an advisor to Stanford University’s program in Islamic Studies, has openly condemned ISIL in public.
“This is madness. Complete insanity,” he said during a speech last year. “These people have nothing to do with Islam.”
But in Trump’s America, Muslims are very much part of the problem. Obama, however, says otherwise.
“If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate,” he said.
One might even say this question of which America prevails is the great moral question of our time. And I say this in the spirit of utani, America, because I got nothing but love for ya!