Apologetics ministry assaulted at Muslim festival, team members say

by Bonnie Pritchett, posted Monday, July 06, 2009 (5 years ago)

DEARBORN, Mich. (BP)--An apologetics witness certified by Southern Baptists was among a small group of evangelical Christians escorted by Dearborn, Mich., police from the grounds of the American Arab Festival after the team said they were assaulted by members of the event's security detail and several attendees.

Mary Jo Sharp of Friendswood, Texas, who is an apologetics instructor certified by the North American Mission Board, said the police report filed on the incident caricatured the witnessing team as shouting hell-fire warnings, while their evangelistic methods focus on sharing the Gospel with Muslims in a logical, well-reasoned dialogue.

The apologetics group was in Dearborn for a debate between Sharp and a Muslim apologist and decided to attend the festival as well. No one was reported injured in the June 21 encounter.

According to one account included in the police report, David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi of Acts 17 Apologetics Ministry were being quite vocal with the Muslims attending the event, even telling the people they "were going to hell" for believing Islam. The police report said the crowd became agitated at the aggressive dialogue. Security was called to the scene and, according to the report, Wood, Qureshi and Sharp were "escorted" to the security command center and then taken from the grounds by city police.

"We didn't ever say that. It's a lie," said Sharp, also a member of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's Women's Ministry Team and has a master's degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University. Early on June 22, the group filed their own report with the police department and produced raw video footage of their encounter with the festival security forces.

Qureshi became a Christian out of Islam and Wood is a former atheist. In their testimonies, both men attribute their salvation, in part, to reasoned debates.

The Acts 17 Apologetics Ministry established by Wood and Qureshi seeks to "present evidence for the existence and attributes of God, the inspiration and historical reliability of the Scriptures, and the death, resurrection, and deity of Jesus Christ," Qureshi said. "We also refute the arguments of those who oppose the true Gospel, most commonly the arguments of Muslims and atheists."

Sharp, Wood and Qureshi were in Dearborn as part of the "Great Debate Series: Michigan" facilitated by The Center for Religious Debate, a subsidiary of the Acts 17 Apologetics Ministry. While they were in Michigan, the group went to the American Arab Festival, trying to engage people there in discussions about Christianity and Islam.

Dearborn, Mich., has the highest concentration of Muslim immigrants in the United States. Their 30,000 Muslims account for one-third of the city's population.

Qureshi said he and Wood were trying to talk with an attendant at a booth where a banner read "Islam: Got questions? Get answers." The attendant initially did not want to answer Qureshi's questions as Sharp videotaped, but did eventually engage in the conversation. Security guards soon approached the booth and tried to stop the exchange. A female security guard slapped at the camera, closing the view-finder in an effort to stop taping.

Sharp said the three left the booth "to regroup." A nearby police officer assured them the video camera was legal because the festival was being held in a public place.

Qureshi decided he wanted to return to the booth and complete the interview so the video could be posted on the ministry's website. This time, however, a fourth person was with them and three video cameras were running. A different attendant was at the booth and he also hesitated before agreeing to dialogue. Soon another person grabbed at Wood's camera and demanded an end to the recording.

The team said they saw festival security personnel, who were not associated with Dearborn police, speaking with two teenage boys. One of the boys approached Qureshi and demanded to know why he was there. The second teen snatched a pamphlet from Qureshi's hand and gave it to a security guard, apparently thinking it was a Gospel tract, when it actually was an Islamic tract Qureshi had picked up.

Four security guards then approached the Christian group and told them they could not preach on the streets or hand out literature -- neither of which the group was doing, Sharp said. Sharp and Wood videotaped that confrontation and the security guards kept insisting the cameras be turned off and repeatedly hit the cameras.

After her camera was hit, Sharp said, "Hey, you can't touch my camera. This is America." The security guard replied, "I don't care," according to the group's account.

The apologetics team retreated backwards as the security guards and others followed, continuing to swipe at the cameras. One of the guards reportedly told the group, "Keep walking. Keep walking or I'll make you keep walking."

Qureshi said he and Wood were tripped and kicked as they retreated.

When the team finally came upon a Dearborn police officer, they tried to explain the situation but were shouted down by the crowd as "liars." Sharp said Wood and Qureshi eventually gave their accounts to the officer. The three were then driven by the officer to their vehicles off the festival grounds. Sharp said they had intended to walk to their cars but the officer insisted on taking them.

The American Arabic Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the festival, did not return phone calls requesting on comment on the actions of the security firm hired for the event.


Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.