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Dearborn situation becomes divisive

By June 24, 2010

USA (MNN) —  For
the past few days, Mission Network News has been following the story of four
believers who were arrested in Dearborn, Michigan, allegedly for sharing their
faith at the Arab International Festival. Many onlookers are outraged at what appears
to be injustice, while others claim that the arrests were deserved.

The four Christians were from the ministry Acts 17
Apologetics
, a group comprised of former atheist David Wood and former Muslim Dr.
Nabeel Qureshi. Wood and Qureshi were two of those arrested.

Wood says
they are being represented by the Thomas Moore Law Center. Legal counsel agreed that Dearborn police
violated the civil and first amendment rights of the quartet. "We were
unlawfully imprisoned; our property, our cameras were unlawfully seized. All of
this was a violation of our rights. The guards there were obviously targeting
Christians."

Wood, Qureshi, and the two others (Paul Rezkalla and Nageen, a young woman) were arrested on Friday, June 18, under charges of "disorderly
conduct." 

Wood claims the police had it in for them from the
start. "A pastor said that he was
standing talking to one of the police officers earlier in the day, and when we
arrived, he heard over the policeman's walkie-talkie, ‘Hey, those guys are here
again. Get them out.'"

Acts 17 is no stranger to conflict at the Festival.
Last year, Wood contends that festival security
framed them by sending a young Muslim to snatch a pamphlet out of Qureshi's hands and reported that Qureshi had given it to
him. The distribution of pamphlets is banned.

Even as the story of the arrests went public,
reaction has been mixed. While many are
astounded at what happened, many others said
the arrests occurred because Acts 17 was being confrontational. Wood disagrees. He says he and his group were simply engaging in
conversation.

"Nabeel and I aren't just talking to Muslims to
preach the Gospel. Whether a Muslim converts to Christianity or not, we also
believe it's important to address Muslim beliefs. So whether a Muslim converts
to Christianity or not, it's still important that that Muslim believe in teachings of the Qur'an such as Surah 9:29
which commands him to subjugate unbelievers. So many Christians will just go
there and preach the Gospel."

Sometimes, the manner in which the conversation
begins is confrontational. Wood explains,
"If we're in a discussion with a Muslim, we might say, ‘What do you believe
about Surah 9:29 which commands you to fight and subjugate and oppress up? Do
you believe that, or have you reinterpreted that verse?'"  

The group had three people filming Acts 17's
activity this year since they have run into hostility in the past when posing such questions. In the event that a confrontation turned into
trouble, Acts 17 wanted to be able to prove their innocence. However, police confiscated the groups' cameras and
haven't returned them. Still,
eyewitnesses caught the situation on video and posted some footage of the
arrests on the ministry's blog.

Wood says the whole scenario changes things for
their ministry. "As of right now, this poses massive problems, because if we
were to show up in an area and try to talk to Muslims, they're going to see us
as people who are trouble-makers."

So will Acts 17 discontinue their ministriy? Wood
says, "No. If anything, we're even more determined not to submit to threats and
intimidation."

His stalwart approach has earned criticism from
others representing Christ in the same venue. Wood says, "The main problem, as far as other Christians who have
complained about us is concerned, is that they don't know what happened."

However, a Dearborn
pastor says that's not the case.

Pastor Haytham Abi-Haydar has been attending the Arab
International Festival since 1999, even having been allowed to have a booth at the
event. "The community has been very good to us. They never denied us a
request. From my perspective, we've never had any incidents."

According to Abi-Haydar, Act 17 challenged Muslims in
the crowd. Those challenges seemed to
invite a crowd. Abi-Haydar says,
"If he thinks that's how to reach out to people and that's how to dialogue
with people, I think they are endangering their own lives for no reason."

Wood and his organization were asked by many evangelical
groups to change their tactics. Abi-Haydar says, "Why can't he go around
with no cameras, no intimidating people and ask questions and build
relationships with the community and sharing Christ? Why is that
difficult?"

Abi-Haydar says when Wood was arrested, he was
challenging a young Muslim man. The young man was screaming at him. Police
asked Woods and his group to disburse. But Abi-Haydar says they didn't.
"I know for one fact: if I was the police, I am responsible for the
security of the community there and for the security [of Acts 17 Apologetics].  For their
own security, I would have forced them to leave the area. And if they would
have rejected it, I would have arrested them myself."

It's not about large groups forming, says Abi-Haydar. "It's
about too many people yelling at each other. Is that [a good] witness?"

Some believe this kind of confrontation is just making the
nominal Muslims more radical. Abi-Haydar says a loving approach to outreach and
evangelism is needed in order to reach them with the Gospel.

Despite the controversy surrounding this event, Abi-Haydar
says God is working in the Muslim community of Dearborn. "We have people
from Muslim backgrounds. Every year we have new faces. A lot of people are
coming to Christ. So, God is at work."

In the meantime, Abi-Haydar is asking Christians to pray for their
work in Dearborn and pray that through their witness, many more people would come to know
Christ.

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