When four Christians were arrested at the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan, this June, many observers accused authorities of bowing to radical Islam by preventing evangelism. But some Dearborn Christians say the outside group, Acts 17 Apologetics, was asking for trouble.
The City of Dearborn called the arrests "a matter of public safety." Acts 17 said it defused hostile inquiries, posting YouTube videos to document its claims.
Some inquirers felt that Acts 17, which focuses on preventing conversions to Islam, had previously misrepresented Dearborn. Volunteers at 2009's festival ejected the group for filming interviews at a Muslim booth; Acts 17 protested the expulsion with YouTube clips titled "Sharia in the U.S."
Critics say other Christian groups ministered freely at the Arab festival. "I think [Acts 17] was fishing for somebody to come attack them," said Haytham Abi-Haydar, pastor of Dearborn's Arabic Fellowship Alliance Church.
"They do ministry with a camera, they're about as abrasive as they can be … and they're not reaching people," said former Dearborn resident Ali Elhajj, who runs the Bethlehem Christmas Project, a service-focused reconciliation ministry. "For people who are trying to do real ministry, [that] makes it much more difficult."
Acts 17 co-founder Nabeel Qureshi insists that most Muslim festival goers did not take offense at his group's approach. (A local Muslim attorney even hosted a rally in their defense.) He says critics who call Acts 17 confrontational lack knowledge of Arab culture.
"If you just go and talk to people in the Middle East, that's how they talk," said Qureshi. "You approach someone, and you say, 'Hey, what do you think about this?' …Here in the U.S., that might seem confrontational or aggressive. That's how things are done in the Middle East."
Acts 17's David Wood questions whether every Christian-Muslim conversation must be evangelistic.
"It's as if Christians think that the only important goal in the world is converting people to Christianity," he said. "There are other important tasks as well, such as educating people about Islam . …"
"Our goal in our work with Muslims should be to win them to Christ," said Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. "I don't think our only strategy is polemics. There are lots of ways to work with Muslims."
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Previous Christianity Today articles on Christian-Muslim relations include:
Evangelical Leaders Pan Qur'an Burn Plan | NAE issues public plea. Richard Land calls it "appalling, disgusting, and brainless." (July 30, 2010)
Out of Context | Debate over 'Camel method' probes limits of Muslim-focused evangelism. (March 23, 2010)
Unapologetic Apologist | Jay Smith confronts Muslim fundamentalists with fundamentalist fervor. (June 13, 2008)
Doors into Islam | September 11 has only intensified the dangers and rewards of Muslim evangelism. (September 9, 2002)
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