DEARBORN, Mich — An apologist certified by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board was among a small group of evangelical Christians escorted by Dearborn, Mich., police from the grounds of the American Arab Festival after the group said they were accosted by members of the event’s security detail and several festival attendees.
The official incident report filed with the Dearborn Police Department and first-hand accounts from those involved conflict as to what occurred. Early on June 22, the group filed a formal report with the police department and produced raw video footage of their encounter with the festival security forces.
No one was reported injured in the June 21 encounter.
According to one account filed 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 Mary Jo Sharp of Friendswood, Texas and a NAMB-certified apologetics instructor, were “escorted” to the security command center and then taken from the grounds by city police.
Sharp told the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal the police report is laughable. The caricature of her contingent shouting hell-fire warnings is contrary to their evangelistic methods and antithetical to their goal of sharing the gospel with Muslims in a logical, well-reasoned dialogue, she said, adding she has video documenting the incident and refuting the security guard’s report to the police.
The group was in Dearborn for a debate between Sharp and a Muslim apologist at another site and attended the festival in addition to the scheduled debate.
“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. She is scheduled to speak in London in July onapologetics issues. Sharp has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.
The Acts 17 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. We also refute the arguments of those who oppose the True Gospel, most commonly the arguments of Muslims and atheists,” Qureshi stated.
Qureshi became a born-again Christian out of Islam and Wood is a former atheist. In their testimonies, both men attribute their salvation, in part, to the very means by which they seek to testify about the Gospel — by seeking to prove through reasoned debates the veracity of Scripture and its supporting documents.
Sharp was in Dearborn with Wood and Qureshi as part of the “Great Debate Series: Michigan” facilitated by The Center for Religious Debate, a subsidiary of the Acts 17 Ministry. Outside of the debates the group spent time at the American Arab Festival trying to engage the religious leaders in discussions of Christianity and Islam. Dearborn, Mich., has the highest concentration of Muslim immigrants in the United States.
Regarding the encounter as reported by festival security, Qureshi was also adamant in his denial of being confrontational.
“We said nothing of the sort,” he argued. Qureshi said he and Wood were trying to engage in conversation a Muslim booth attendant with the banner reading “Islam: Got questions? Get answers.” The attendant initially did not want to answer Qureshi’s questions as Sharp videotaped. But as Qureshi turned to leave, the Muslim acquiesced. Security guards soon approached the booth and tried to stop the exchange and told Sharp to turn off the camera. 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.” They contacted a police officer who assured them the video camera in a public place was legal. Qureshi said he wanted to return to the booth and complete the interview to be posted on the ministry’s website.
This time they had a fourth person with them and three video cameras. Sharp stood at a distance as Wood filmed at the booth next to Qureshi. A different attendant was at the booth and he too was hesitant before agreeing to dialogue. It was no long, Sharp said, before someone grabbed the front of Wood’s camera and pulled it down, demanding an end to the recording.
As the group left the tent, a confrontation with festival security personnel who were not associated with Dearborn police ensued, according to Sharp.
They said they witnessed security guards speaking with two teenage boys. One of the boys approached Qureshi and using abrasive language, began asking him why he was there. As the teen was speaking the second teen approached Qureshi and “snatched” a pamphlet from his hand and gave it to a security guard. The pamphlet was a pro-Islam brochure.
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 said they were doing.
Sharp said she believes security mistook her and her friends for representatives of the Arabic Christian Perspective (ACP), an organization based in California that seeks to reach American Muslims with the gospel.
Qureshi said there were 13 instances in which a camera or persons were struck by security.
Qureshi and Wood continued to tape the aggressive behavior of security guards. At one point, Qureshi is heard calling out loudly, “This is the United States of America!” To which someone in the crowd responded, “No way!”
Qureshi said he and Wood were tripped and kicked as they retreated.
The American Arabic Chamber of Commerce, which host the festival, did not return phone calls requesting comment on the actions of the security firm hired for the event by press time.