When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day, he put U.S. Muslims in a familiar and uncomfortable place: having to defend themselves and their faith against the actions of what they call a radical minority.
Most in Detroit's more than 200,000-strong Muslim community have taken a stand against the kind of Islamist extremism that apparently turned Abdulmutallab from a pious young man into someone charged with a terrorist act. But there's also a keen awareness that as a Nigerian, Abdulmutallab doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a terrorist. That's a huge concern for Michigan's 10,000-member Nigerian community, particularly the 20 percent of whom are Muslims. Many are anxious not to be perceived as the "new face" of terrorism.
Egerton Abulu, secretary of the Nigerian Foundation of Michigan, says religious extremism is anathema to Nigerian society.
"What that guy did was just an isolated case, very isolated," Abulu says. "Why he did it we don't know. But it is not our nature."
The All-African market on Detroit's west side is a small store selling West African food staples along with a selection of CDs and DVDs. On a recent evening, Ameeka Sarnati and Ezenua Uwazrike sat behind the counter watching a Nigerian TV show on a laptop computer.
Uwazrike, a teenager who was born and raised in the U.S., says his Nigerian family was horrified when they found out the alleged terrorist was a fellow countryman.
"Everybody just sat down in the living room ... watching the news because nobody would expect a Nigerian person to do that," Uwazrike says.
Sarnati grew up in Nigeria and says he has no sympathy for Abdulmutallab, calling him "a young man of privilege" who was ruining his country's name.
"He was in a better position as a young African man to help out his community," Sarnati says. "All that effort and passion that he had for extremism he could have channeled into other, better things."
It's almost unthinkable, says Sarnati, that a Nigerian could be seduced into religious extremism.
Sarnati's comments reflect sentiments expressed by many in the Nigerian community: that Abdulmutallab, the son of a wealthy and politically connected Nigerian banker, and who was educated abroad, is somehow fundamentally "un-Nigerian."
Many are quick to point to his reported isolation from his family, and they seem to view the Abdulmutallab family with a mixture of disdain and pity: disdain that they could have allowed their son to become an Islamic radical, and pity that the family — and its reputation — may never recover from his actions.