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Anti-Islam Christian speaker Usama Dakdok draws protests, crowds

Outside of the Empire Arts Center Tuesday, the sidewalk was filled with more than 150 people standing silently in the afternoon sun. They had marched north on North Fourth Street before turning left

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Members of the North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance, as well as counter demonstrators, take to the streets and sidewalks before the speech of Usama Dakdok at the Empire Arts Center on Tuesday, Mar 17, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)
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Outside of the Empire Arts Center Tuesday, the sidewalk was filled with more than 150 people standing silently in the afternoon sun.

They had marched north on North Fourth Street before turning left toward the theater and filling nearly an entire block.

As cars drove by, some people stood and smiled with their hands in their pockets.

Others stood holding cardboard signs promoting peace, love and coexistence with quotes from the likes of Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr.

Together, the members of North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance silently protested the upcoming speech of Christian Speaker Usama Dakdok of the Straight Way of Grace Ministry.

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Dakdok, who was raised a Christian in Egypt while studying Islam in public schools, travels the country preaching about the dangers of Islam, which he said he believes has made victims of Muslims who don't understand the faith, as well as the rest of the world.

"It's not radical Muslims, or moderate Muslims, it's Islam itself. Islam is a problem, not the Muslims," Dakdok said prior to the event. "My goal is for Muslims to know the truth about Islam and the truth about Christ as written in the Bible."

Those coming to hear Dakdok's speech outnumbered those lined up on the sidewalk. Nearly 200 people filed into the Empire Arts Center by 6:30 p.m. to hear more about Islam or to satisfy their curiosity about the controversy and protest surrounding Dakdok.

While Dakdok said he advocates education about the religion he has referred to as a "cult," and "disease," the North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance felt differently about his purposes.

Bailey Bubach, president of UND's Muslim Student Association and spokesperson for North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance, has referred to Dakdok's philosophy as hate speech, and the group's Facebook page also refers to it as such.

The group, which formed over the weekend and now has more than 220 members on Facebook, includes members from Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Ministry, North Dakota Dakotans Against Brutality, Free Thinkers of UND, B'Nai Israel Synagogue, Third Wave Feminist Group UND, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, build, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) Minnesota, the Grand Forks Islamic Center, and the Muslim Student Association, as well as others that joined.

Sarah Coen-Tuff, co-spokesperson for the group and a member of Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Ministry at UND, said she is living out her Christian faith through the protest's solidarity.

"I am a Christian," she said. "Jesus calls us to love all of our neighbors, and I'm living out that call by standing in solidarity with my Muslim neighbors."

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Dakdok's Doctrine

Phil Ehlke, general manager of the Christian radio station Q-FM, which organized the event, introduced Dakdok prior to his speech.

"We are here to learn tonight," Ehlke said.

Dakdok said a lack of knowledge is a major issue in America regarding Islam.

"Hosea 4:6 says, 'My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge,'" Dakdok said. "That's what we have in America since Sept. 11."

And the subject Dakdok was there to teach was, according to Dakdok's seminar title, "Revealing the Jihad and Terrorism of Islam."

"Allah said kill the Christians and Jews ... well is that love or hate?" Dakdok asked.

To reach his conclusions, Dakdok employs a controversial strategy that often leads to what Bubach has labeled hate speech.

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Dakdok pulls short passages from both the Bible and Quran and then puts them next to each other to draw his conclusions, one of which was "Allah is Satan" in the opening minutes of his speech.

He employs similar strategies in the Frequently Asked Questions section of his website, www.thestraightway.org , which he said he writes the answers to himself. One entry states "Allah desires to fill hell with humans."

He also said that President Barack Obama, as well as his entire family, is Muslim, citing a portion of the Quran that says Muslims can lie about their faith.

To his protesters, Dakdok said he only wished that they would come in and hear that what he says is the truth.

"I would love for them to come inside and bring cameras and record our teaching, to watch and investigate it," he said.

Denying Dakdok

Bubach said the various groups that now comprise North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance began meeting as soon as they heard about Dakdok's scheduled speech last Thursday.

After organizing the protest, the group applied for and received permits from the Grand Forks Police Department for the protest. Members identified themselves by green wristbands given out by the group's leadership and security.

After the march, the group stood from 5:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. as people filed into the Empire. Aside from Bubach and Coen-Tuff, members didn't speak to media or anyone who interacted with them, instead handing out small cards that identified their intentions to protest silently.

Former Grand Forks School Board Member C.T. Marhula, a member of the group's security team, instructed members of the protest to remain silent before supplying them with wristbands.

That way, he said, everyone aligned with the group would act in accordance with the silent protest and no issues or scuffles would result.

In Attendance

Of the nearly 200 people in attendance at the speech, reasons for attending were varied.

Dewey Morses, who circled the protesters with his own sign reading "We love our free speech, why don't you?" said he was interested in attending.

"I'm glad that we have the freedom of speech in this country," Morses said. "I'm looking forward to (the speech). We can listen. We don't have to like or dislike it."

Brad Woinarowicz also came to hear Dakdok, but he brought his own pamphlets entitled "Islam: Religion of Peace or War?" that pictured a man who looks to be of Arab descent who is wearing a keffiyeh scarf over his face and head and holding an assault rifle.

"I know enough already, but I want to know why so many people don't want to swallow their pride and learn the truth," he said of the protesters outside.
While Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber stood silently in the protest outside, Grand Forks City Council member Terry Bjerke sat inside the theater waiting for Dakdok's speech.

Bjerke said he was interested in hearing what Dakdok had to say because it was a topic he thought many people don't know much about.

"I want to see what he has to say," he said. "It's an interesting topic. I'm interested to hear his point of view, and the other side can always put forth opposition. That's what's great about America."

Community response

Bubach said North Dakotans for Interfaith Acceptance advised its members to not attend the event, but would not make a fuss if any of them chose to do so individually.

But the group has planned an alternative to Dakdok's speech.

Among the many cardboard signs held up during the protest, a few advertised a community response, "Meet with a Muslim Neighbor" at 7 p.m., April 7, at Sharon Lutheran Church.

"We're going to have people come and have an educational forum on Islam," Bubach said.

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