Christian Evangelists Target Dearborn's Large Islamic Population
Ibrahim Abdallah, left, of Livonia, a Muslim, looks at pro-Christian information given to him at the Arab festival in Dearborn. Abdallah said of the Christian group, You believe what you believe in, and I do the same.(ERIC SEALS/Detroi
Standing amid a crowd of Muslims at June’s 2009 Arab International Festival in Dearborn, the Rev. George Saieg declared: “I’ve been commanded as a Christian to reach out to these people.”
The California man is part of an ongoing effort by at least eight Christian groups across the United States to spread the gospel in Dearborn — a city known for its sizeable Islamic population. The groups have visited Arab festivals, schools and mosques to talk about Christ. They’ve handed out thousands of pamphlets, books and DVDs. Others have held debates.
But the push has caused tensions at times, resulting in lawsuits, accusations of assault and a fierce debate about how Islam can coexist with Christianity in the West. Some of the activity, local residents said, has provoked and insulted instead of engaging people in a civil debate about religion.
“They know nothing about Dearborn,” Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said of one Christian group that drew criticism for its actions at the festival. “We have such a wonderful interfaith community.… Dearborn is a community of faith, but it’s a community of every faith.”
Pushing of Christianity causing tensions
The Christian missionaries came to Dearborn this summer from across the United States to win over souls for Jesus.
The evangelists handed out literature, held religious debates and met with residents in a city they sought out because of its large numbers of Muslims. It's part of an increasing effort by some Christians, mostly evangelicals, to convert the Muslims of metro Detroit -- in schools, at festivals and on street corners.
To Eric Haven, executive pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Troy, the growth of Islam in the United States gives churches a chance to convert closer to home.
"For years, Christians have sent missionaries around the world to proclaim the gospel of Christ," Haven said. "In this day and age, the world is coming to America. ... So, it's a great opportunity."
The efforts have stepped up in recent years as more Christians have become aware of the Islamic presence in Dearborn, where about one-third of the city's 98,000 residents are of Arab descent, many of them Muslim and some Christian.
Some say the conversion activity has gotten more confrontational: They point to a controversial video produced by a Christian group about a religious dispute in Dearborn this summer that has already drawn almost 1.4 million views, making it one of the most watched videos on Islam.
There is money behind the push. One group spent at least $67,000 on materials, airfare and lodging for Christian activists to visit Dearborn this summer.
Angry vs. friendly evangelism
The manner in which the evangelists operate in Dearborn varies. Some are aggressive, telling Muslim women they are going to hell for wearing Islamic headscarves. Others are more friendly, with some making appointments with Arab-American leaders and city officials to declare their intentions.
The efforts have some residents worried that adults are manipulating their children. A wrestling coach at Dearborn's Fordson High School was let go in May 2008 after complaints from parents that he allowed an assistant to convert Muslim students. One student was baptized at a camp the assistant helped supervise in 2005.
Other parents complained to Dearborn school officials when a Christian entertainment group was allowed to perform in schools in March; the group did not openly talk about Christianity during its school performances, but did tell students about evening shows at a local church.
Accusations of harassment
Some residents said the efforts in recent months have crossed over into harassment and bigotry.
During the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn in June, for instance, some Christian evangelists were accused of openly insulting Islam's prophet. And others yelled at passersby "that they were going to hell because they were Muslim," according to a Dearborn police report.
The provocative language and in-your-face approach have troubled both local Muslims and Christians, who said that metro Detroit's Muslim population is being unfairly stereotyped and slandered by outsiders who have little knowledge of Islam's long history in Michigan.
"They accuse Dearborn of being intolerant; they're the ones being intolerant," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News.
The evangelists said they're the ones who are being harassed, claiming that some were unfairly kicked out of the festival for expressing Christian views.
"We're not against these people," said Pat Rojas, a Christian from Evangelical Free Church in California who attended the June festival. "We're only there to help. They have a choice: They can accept Jesus or they can reject Jesus."
Rojas and other Christian evangelists were ejected by security from the festival after accusations that they were harassing and insulting Muslims, police reports said. The evangelists deny they were fomenting trouble.
The Rev. Haytham Abi Haydar, a Christian evangelical convert from Islam with Arabic Alliance Church in Dearborn, said that a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics caused the problems at this year's Arab festival.
"They put cameras in their faces and were very antagonistic," Abi Haydar said of the group that produced the controversial video that has drawn almost 1.4 million views on YouTube.
The efforts of Christian groups are often coordinated. Pastor George Saieg of Arabic Christian Perspective, an evangelical group in California, handed out literature at the festival for the past five years. He asked other Christian groups, including Acts 17, to visit metro Detroit this summer.
For six months, Saieg and his group invested time and money preparing for the Arab festival, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the group contending they were banned from distributing Christian literature on the sidewalks.
'Tidal wave of Islam'
The week of the festival, Christian evangelist Josh McDowell proclaimed at Woodside Bible Church in Troy that "the tidal wave of Islam is coming fast and furious, and now is the time to become involved," according to an article in the church newsletter.
The response of Muslims to the missionary efforts varies, Christians said. Many have an open ear.
That includes Ahmad Hammoud, a security guard at the Arab festival. He said he has no problems with an open dialogue about religion, pointing out that Muslims revere Jesus and consider him a prophet.
But, "why do you have to stand there and put down our religion?" Hammoud said, referring to one preacher at the festival. Why not instead "stand on the corner and say, Jesus is a peaceful person. We know he's a peaceful man."
Detroit Free Press
Followers of Jesus are on a mission
Christian groups, mostly evangelical, are flocking to Dearborn in an effort to convert its Muslim population. Here's a look at some of the more active groups:
Arabic Christian Perspective: Based in Anaheim, Calif., and started in 2001, the group does outreach at mosques and Arab festivals. Also known as Ministry to Muslims, it's headed by George Saieg, a pastor. It filed a free-speech lawsuit against the City of Dearborn in June, alleging the city trampled on its right to hand out literature on sidewalks at the Arab International Festival that month.
Acts 17 Apologetics: Features ministry work of David Wood, an evangelical from New York, and Nabeel Qureshi, a convert from Islam who lives in Virginia. Visited metro Detroit at the request of Saieg. Produced a controversial video on a dispute at the Arab festival in Dearborn.
Confident Christianity: Based in Houston and headed by Mary Jo Sharp, who helped film the controversial video of the Arab festival. Works with Saieg and Arabic Christian Perspective on debating Muslims.
Josh McDowell Ministries: A native of Michigan, McDowell is a popular Christian evangelist who warned of the "tidal wave of Islam" during a June visit to Michigan. Attended the Arab festival, where he and his assistants handed an Arabic novel to passersby that promoted Christianity.
Arabic Alliance Church: Based in Dearborn, established in 2002. Has run a booth for several years at Arab festival. Headed by the Rev. Haytham Abi Haydar, who criticizes groups such as Acts 17 Apologetics for tactics he says are too confrontational.
Sources: Free Press research
|Posted by Rev. Michael Hakeem on Thursday, March 18, 2010|
Marhaba; Iam a pentecotal minister of Lebanese and Syrian descent. I was raised with my maternal Grandparents as well as my own parents, and picked up on the arabic language, foods, and customs. I love Arabic muslims and have a real concern and burden for them. I would love to develop and outeach ministry to arab muslims, and especially since many churches are not involved or simply have a very wrong misconception about arabic muslims, therfore I say Her am I lord send me.
|Posted by Mouhamad A. Naboulsi on Tuesday, September 15, 2009|
I do not know why would some one travel across the country bypassing thousands if not millions of lost souls in California and Vegas just to come to Michigan and preach to people that already know what he is talking about? Vegas is much closer to LA and is a house of Sin. If these lowlives were not bigots and truly wanted to help people go back to God they would have drove to Vegas, Not flew to Detroit.