Smelting pot

"Smelting pot" Continued...

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Other Christians, including those who traveled to Dearborn as part of Ministry to Muslims Network, said they participated in discussions with Muslims about their beliefs without incident. One, a Pakistani Christian who asked not to be named because she is a recent immigrant and has family in Pakistan, said Muslims at the festival repeatedly asked her to convert to Islam.

But tactical issues-how best to interact Muslims and assist the local church community-are separate from legal issues over how the four ended up in the city jail. They stayed overnight and were released Saturday morning (June 19) after friends posted bail. Ten days later, police had not returned the video cameras with footage confiscated during the arrests. And they had not provided a police report detailing charges, Wood said.

Robert Muise, attorney for the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which is representing the group, told me he submitted a written request through the prosecutor's office to Dearborn police Chief Ronald Haddad for return of the cameras. They contain evidence he said is needed to prepare his clients' defense. I placed phone calls to Haddad's office, leaving messages and voicemail for comment, but they were not returned. Haddad's handling of the case is receiving scrutiny in part because of his recent appointment to the Homeland Security Advisory Council-set up by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a Northwest flight landing at nearby Detroit Metro Airport.

On Sunday, June 20, Wood and two other men not involved in the arrests returned to the streets outside the festival. They handed out pamphlets they said contained the Gospel of John, but soon were told to stop. A videotape of the episode, later posted on YouTube, shows the three men surrounded by seven Dearborn police officers, who told them they could not hand out literature within a five-block radius of the event.

"We have something called the First Amendment in this country, which prohibits police from restricting lawful freedom of speech and movement," Muise said. The arrested are scheduled to appear in court in Dearborn on July 12, and plan to enter pleas of not guilty. Muise said they also plan to file a civil suit against the police department.

Theirs is not the only legal action surrounding this year's Arab festival. George Saieg (whom Muise and the Thomas More Law Center also represent), sued the city over its policy against distributing literature during the festival. In recent years it has restricted groups from handing out material except from sanctioned booths inside festival tents for what it called safety reasons. On June 7 a district court judge in Dearborn ruled in favor of that policy, but on June 18-just as the festival opened-a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, granting an emergency motion allowing Saieg, a pastor from California and former Sudanese Muslim, to hand out literature outside the festival tents.

Wood recognizes that his group may have sparked a sharp debate about how Christians interact with Muslims over their beliefs. That's how he and Qureshi began. Wood was an atheist who had become a Christian when he met Qureshi, a U.S.-born Muslim whose parents were from Pakistan. Both were students at Virginia's Old Dominion University and became best friends. Wood said both tried to convert the other.

"Lots of people think that in order to be friends with someone of another faith, you have to avoid the touchy subjects," Wood said. "We argued all the time and stayed up whole nights talking about theology. We loved it." Qureshi eventually became a Christian. The two started Acts 17 Apologetics, Wood said, because "we were annoyed that we had talked to Christians who could not give us a reason to believe in Christianity. We have focused on making sure that people are aware of the facts about Christianity and about Islam so they can make informed decisions about what they believe."

Dearborn may continue to be a hotbed for such discussions. The Detroit metro area remains an in-demand refugee resettlement center, mostly for Arabs. One in five Iraqi refugees arrive in Detroit, and Arabs make up 30 percent of the Dearborn population. Twenty years ago a majority were Lebanese, and many of them Christians. But Muslims-­particularly from Iraq and Yemen-have added significantly to Dearborn's Muslim makeup.
(Editor's Note: This article has been edited to reflect that Josh McDowell has handed out over 3,000 autographed books at this year's Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Mich.)


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