What I find shocking is that some Christians employ similar tactics, even against fellow Christians. We've seen this numerous times after our trips to Dearborn. While I suspect that most Christians who attack us do so because they've gotten some false information about us, a few Christians are so consistent in actively spreading falsehood about us that something more seems to be at work. Though we usually ignore Christians in the latter group, a few are worthy of note. In this post, I will address the claims of Pastor Haytham Abi-Haydar.
If you're wondering who Haytham is, he's the man who appears at the beginning of Josh McDowell's video here:
If you followed the news concerning last year's Arab Festival, you might remember Haytham as the Christian leader who consistently attacked both George Saieg's ministry and ours, and did so in the secular media (long before bringing any of his concerns to Nabeel and me directly).
In an interview with Fox News, we read:
[S]ome local Christian leaders have taken issue with Saieg's brand of evangelizing.
"They littered this place with their literature," the Rev. Haytham Abi Haydar, who heads the Arabic Christian Alliance Church, told FOXNews.com.
Yes, you read that correctly. Haytham just condemned George's ministry for distributing too many free DVDs, New Testaments, tracts, etc. Haytham goes on to say that George's ideas aren't welcome in Dearborn.
"Just look at the conclusion of these guys -- that Muslims are trying to create Shariah Law in the U.S., [which creates] fear with Christians. But Muslims are not here to radicalize or evangelize the U.S. ... [Saieg's] philosophy and his ideas are not welcome here."
Muslims aren't here to radicalize or evangelize? Well then, let's drop our guard! Pastor Haytham assures us that Muslims aren't trying to spread Islam, and that they're not willing to use violence to do it. Perhaps next Haytham will try to convince us that the September 11th terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the U.S. government!
Not surprisingly, Haytham blames us for the assaults by security last year. The Detroit Free Press reported:
The Rev. Haytham Abi Haydar, a Christian evangelical convert from Islam with Arabic Alliance Church in Dearborn, said that a Christian group called Acts 17 Apologetics caused the problems at this year's Arab festival.
"They put cameras in their faces and were very antagonistic," Abi Haydar said of the group that produced the controversial video that has drawn almost 1.4 million views on YouTube.
Let's review the facts from last year.
(1) Security was harassing and entrapping Christians at the festival. (Once police gave security the authority to stop people from distributing literature, security would walk up to Christians and ask for something. They would say something like, "Hey, can I see that Bible?" As soon as the Christian would hand over the Bible, security would take the Christian to police for breaking the rules. They even tried to do this to me. Thus, instead of merely stopping Christians from handing out literature, security actively stopped Christians who were merely witnessing at the festival.)
(2) While security was violating the Constitutional rights of Christians, Muslims were free to walk around the festival distributing materials.
(3) A Muslim booth that was distributing anti-Christian materials was also distributing pamphlets claiming that Islam is a religion of peace.
(4) The booth invited critics to ask questions.
(5) Nabeel approached the booth to ask a question about Surah 9:29 of the Qur'an, which commands Muslims to subjugate non-Muslims (as was happening at the festival).
(6) The Muslims at the booth gave us permission to record the conversation.
(7) Despite the fact that we were allowed to record the conversation, a Muslim security guard illegally grabbed Mary Jo's camera. (Note: We tend to get angry when someone puts their hands on our Christian sister.)
(8) After verifying with a non-Dearborn off-duty police officer that we were indeed allowed to record, and that security had no right to stop us, we returned to the booth.
(9) When we left the booth, I saw the guard that had assaulted Mary Jo.
(10) I recorded the woman so that we could report her actions.
(11) Security then sent a teenager to snatch something from Nabeel's hand, so that they could accuse us of distributing pamphlets. (Note: It was a pamphlet that had been given to us by Muslims at the booth.)
(12) Security then spent the next several minutes slapping us around and kicking Nabeel's legs. Mary Jo was assaulted several times.
(13) We made a video about what happened, so that people would be aware of what was happening in Dearborn.
After this, Haytham started talking to the media. It didn't bother him that Christians were being harassed and entrapped. It didn't bother him that his sister in Christ had been physically assaulted by security. Instead of condemning the injustice in Dearborn, Haytham condemned us in the media. Mayor John O'Reilly held a meeting about us and asked the local Christian groups to condemn us, and Haytham and others agreed and put together a letter condemning us. They contacted us briefly after composing the letter (it was shocking to finally hear directly from those who were publicly attacking us!) and demanded we apologize. Wasn't happening.
Since Haytham was so vocal in his condemnation of us (and in his support for Muslims who persecute Christians) last year, it should come as no surprise that Haytham wasted no time in condemning us (and defending persecutors) this year as well.
Haytham talked to Christianity Today:
"I think [Acts 17] was fishing for somebody to come attack them," said Haytham Abi-Haydar, pastor of Dearborn's Arabic Fellowship Alliance Church."
I don't know how to break this to Haytham, but if I'm in the middle of 30,000 Muslims, I know how to get them to attack me. I know exactly what to say about Muhammad to get Muslims to assault me. If I wanted Muslims to beat me into the ground, I would rip up a Qur'an, or pull out a Sharpie and start drawing offensive pictures of Muhammad, or start yelling, "Muhammad was a pedophile!" If Nabeel and I were to walk into the middle of a crowd of Muslims and start doing such things, one could fairly accuse us of trying to get Muslims to attack us. But we don't do those things. We have peaceful conversations with Muslims who approach us. The video footage proves this. So why does Haytham keep saying otherwise?
In an article from Mission Network News, we read:
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."
I wonder why they're so good to Haytham. Could it be that Haytham is the one who cleans up their messes, allowing them to continue harassing Christians? Think about it. Muslim security guards physically assault three Christians, including a woman. Haytham defends the Muslims and attacks the Christians. The next year, police falsely arrest four Christians, including an 18-year-old female convert. Haytham defends the police and attacks the Christians. Yes, Dearborn needs Haytham. I'm sure they'll give him a booth every year, so long as he continues helping them in their persecution.
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."
When did we challenge anyone? After falsely accusing us, Haytham goes on to ask why we can't do things a different way. But considering we weren't challenging Muslims, I'm not sure how to answer him. Notice, however, that Haytham lets the cat out of the bag when he says, "I think they are endangering their lives for no reason." Is Haytham suggesting that Dearborn Muslims are so violent, one's life is at risk at the Arab festival when having discussions with Muslims? Such Islamophobia should be reported to Dearborn Police.
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?"
I don't recall "many evangelical groups" asking us to change our tactics. Perhaps Haytham can list them for us. But on to a more important question. Why can't we go around in Dearborn with no cameras? We can't go to Dearborn without cameras because people like Haytham are there--people who will invent all kinds of things about us, with no concern for accuracy, honesty, or integrity. Watch this next paragraph:
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?"
There you have it. The police were just trying to protect us. That's why they threw us in jail and lied about us numerous times in the police report. That's why we're going to court. It's for our protection, you see.
Notice how many false claims we have here. Haytham says that, when I was arrested, I was challenging a young Muslim man. Actually, I never challenged anyone, and when I was arrested, I was quietly recording a peaceful conversation. Haytham says a young man was screaming at me. Actually, no one was even paying attention to me. They were focusing on Nabeel, who was having a peaceful dialogue with Muslims who were asking him questions about the Gospel. Haytham says that police asked us to disburse. Actually, I asked police if we should move, and they said that we were fine where we were. Haytham says that we refused to disburse. Since we weren't asked to disburse, I have no clue how we refused anything. Haytham says that the problem was "too many people yelling at each other." But even a cursory examination of our video footage shows that no one was yelling at anyone. One Muslim had raised his voice during an earlier discussion, but Nabeel quickly diffused the situation, and they shook hands before the Muslim left. I should also point out that Haytham says that he agrees with what police did, and that he would have done the same. I wonder, Haytham, does that include lying about us in the police report?
But Haytham isn't finished. World Magazine reports:
Haytham Abi Haydar, a Lebanese-born pastor who has had a ministry in Dearborn since 1999, told me the presence of "four or five video cameras" is "intimidating" in the crowded streets. Haydar has run a booth next to McDowell: "We have not had any problem with the authorities, and we find the organizers hospitable and most attendees polite."
Haydar said Arab Christians who live in Dearborn don't appreciate the disruption brought by outsiders with no ongoing ministry in the city: "They come here once a year and create a problem we have to deal with the rest of the year. It is a waste and leaves the image of Dearborn distorted."
Four or five video cameras? Quite an exaggeration. Last year, when we approached the Muslim booth, we had a single video camera. After security assaulted Mary Jo, a non-Dearborn off-duty police officer said we should bring along a second camera, so that if one camera operator were to be assaulted, the other would be able to record. When security later assaulted all three of us, we had two cameras, but we didn't catch security kicking Nabeel's legs. Numerous people (after watching our video) suggested a third camera from a distance, and we went with this plan for this year. When we recorded dialogues at the festival, we would have either one or two cameras recording near the discussion, and another far off for security purposes. That's quite different from four or five cameras pointed directly into a person's face. But Haytham doesn't seem to be concerned with actual facts.
Finally, let's look at Haytham's comments in Charisma Magazine, a publication that interviewed several of our critics, but apparently wasn't interested in input from us.
"It really discredits us as a Christian when we make claim that Shariah law is being implemented in Dearborn," said pastor Haytham Abi-Haydar of Arabic Fellowship Alliance Church, who has ministered in Dearborn for more than a decade. "Any guy above 50 percent IQ score would know that that's not true. So our credibility in the community is being compromised. Second, we are being perceived as hostile. We evangelical Christians are coming across as [if] we are out to get [Muslims]." . . .
Abi-Haydar, who has evangelized at the festival for more than a decade, said Wood and Qureshi provoked the crowd. He said Wood challenged a young Muslim man, who began to scream at him.
"He started yelling at them, shouting against them," Abi-Haydar said. "The police was concerned because the circle was growing. He told them to break it up. ... If I was the police, for their own safety I would have told them to break that circle and move on."
Thomas More Law Center senior trial counsel Robert Muise, attorney for the Acts 17 missionaries, said his clients were exercising their free-speech rights. "Preaching the gospel on a city street that Muslims may find offensive so Muslims are shouting threats and profanities at the Christians so that's the basis for the police to arrest the Christians? I think not," he said. "The fact that people who are listening to the message that they may object to the message ... doesn't mean you silence the peaceful speaker. Is it provocative for a Muslim to hear message of the gospel? Well maybe it is, but it's protected by the First Amendment."
Abi-Haydar takes issue with those claims, arguing that the First Amendment does not give Christians the freedom to insult others.
"Nabeel and David are not interested in reaching out to the Muslim community, they are interested in exposing Islam," said Abi-Haydar, a Lebanon-born convert from Islam. "I don't have a problem with exposing Islam, but there is a wrong way to do it. ... If a Muslim guy came to our church and started attacking our faith, guess what we're going to do to him? We're going to kick him out. And that's what they were doing to David and Nabeel."
I have no recollection of "insulting others," unless Haytham thinks that peacefully answering questions is an insult to Muslims. Notice that Haytham, like so many others, compares (1) peacefully answering the questions of Muslims who approach us at a public festival with (2) a Muslim entering a church and attacking Christianity. Notice also his admission that, in such a situation, he would kick the Muslim out, and that he therefore agrees with Muslims kicking us out of the festival.
So there you have it. Haytham contends that we were kicked out of the festival for upsetting Muslims, and he completely agrees with kicking us out. Like the police and mayor, Haytham is willing to make things up when he attacks us, and is even willing to deceive the media. Strangely, despite the fact that Haytham's false reports are easily refuted by the video footage, reporters continue to interview him.
Haytham Abi-Haydar is Dearborn's first line of defense when Christians are mistreated. When we were attacked last year, the response was, "But other Christians weren't attacked, so you weren't either." This year, we were falsely arrested, and the response was, "But Christians like Haytham are quite welcome in Dearborn, so how can you say that you were targeted?" Of course Haytham is welcome in Dearborn. The city needs him. The police department needs him. The mayor needs him. Muslims need him. Haytham is a Christian who's willing to defend people who physically attack Christians (even women), falsely arrest Christians, and spread lies about Christians. Haytham even goes the extra mile and spreads lies about Christians who upset the local Muslims.
Why does Haytham do this? Is he seeking the approval of Muslims? Does he think that he's in competition with other ministries, and does he therefore attack them in order to strengthen his own position? We can't really know. But one thing is certain. Haytham's approach, if unchecked, will lead to further persecution of Christians, further assaults, and further arrests. I wonder if there's any point at which Haytham would draw a line. If Muslims had killed us, would Haytham speak out, or would he say we deserved it? If Muslims start raping Christian girls in Dearborn, as they are doing regularly in Egypt and Pakistan, will Haytham say something, or will he continue defending Muslims?
Hopefully, we will never see the answers to these questions. If those who are bravely standing for freedom are successful in Dearborn, Sharia will never be established, and those who assault and falsely arrest Christians will face justice.
***UPDATE*** It seems that Pastor Haytham may be testifying against us in court! It should be interesting, since our video footage refutes his claims. Haytham even went to police in an attempt to strengthen their crumbling case against us. The latest edition of the police report adds:
Haytham stated he is the pastor and founder of the Arabic Fellowship Alliance Church in Dearborn and also had information that he felt the police should be made aware of. Haytham stated that he also has heard and seen on the internet several negative comments made by David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi regarding the City of Dearborn, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police, that he didn't believe were true. Haytham stated that he witnessed the arrest of the four subjects at the Arab Fest. Haytham was in a booth no more than 20 to 30 feet from where the arrest occurred. He also stated he witnessed Nabeel Qureshi having a volatile conversation with one of the young arab male patrons at the festival. According to Haytham, he believed the arrests were justified by the police.