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 ...