The largest public gathering of Arab-Americans in the U.S. turned violent this weekend in Dearborn, Mich., as members of a Christian missionary group protested the event, reportedly using a severed pig's head and condemning signs to convey their message.
"You're going to burn in hell," one Christian protester reportedly told an Arab-American group, while other protesters held up signs reading "Islam is a religion of blood and murder" and "Muhammad is a … liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert."
The annual Arab International Festival, which attracts much of Dearborn's Muslim population, took place over three days this past weekend, and things turned violent on Sunday when 10 people were arrested for disorderly conduct or assault charges, ABC News reported. Reports indicate that at least one Christian protester was arrested along with people participating in counter-protests allegedly threw bottles at the Christian group.
The Christians protesting the event were reportedly part of a group known as the "Bible Believers," composed of men and women from across the U.S. The protest's organizer, Ruben Israel, came from California specifically to protest the group's treatment during last year's protest, when some of its members were arrested.
Israel, who runs the website Official Street Preachers, warned that if the protesting Christians were not protected, or if they were arrested for protesting that there would be "a big lawsuit."
"We're here in Dearborn because they have issues with free speech," he told local news station WXYZ-TV. "When you arrest men for passing out literature, you're going to get guys like us."
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The Christian Post was unable to speak with Israel by press time. His describes the Official Street Preachers website as a place "to edify, train and exhort the body of Christ in the biblical method of public preaching."
Although the Bible Believers showed up to the 2012 Arab-American Festival without a permit, local police nonetheless had an area called a "free speech zone" cordoned off for such activity, according to WXYZ-TV.
Muslims and other Dearborn residents at the festival, reportedly angered by what they saw as a hateful protest, retaliated and threw bottles at the controversial Christian group. Some counter-protesters yelled "Allahu-Akbar," which means "God is the greatest." The Detroit Free Press reported that a Christian protester yelled back, "Jesus Akbar."
The Christian group, which attended the festival on Friday and Sunday, claimed it was protesting the Arab-American gathering peacefully and that Muslims attending the event ignited the violence.
It was also reported that the Bible Believers displayed a severed pig's head mounted on a pole in front of Arab-Americans and Muslims attending the festival. The Islamic faith teaches that pigs are unclean and prohibits the faithful from eating pork.
There were also less confrontational Christian groups at the Arab International Festival, according to local reports. Some of these missionaries, according to the Detroit Free Press, gave out fliers telling Muslims to accept Jesus as their savior. One person reportedly wore a T-shirt that read: "I (heart symbol) Muslims."
One local Muslim leader expressed disappointment at how the festival, which has been held annual for the past 17 years, might have been ruined for residents.
"I think that our community has done a good job in not reacting in the way that they wanted, outside of a few minor incidents," said Kaseeem Allie of the Islamic Center of America. "This festival is designed for people to have fun, to celebrate and enjoy their background and cultures. And for someone to come in and make something negative out of it is very unfortunate."
Forty-two percent of Dearborn's population is Arab-American and one-third Muslim, and the city has frequently seen confrontations between Christian and Muslim groups.