Controversial Anti-Islam speaker prompts plan for prayer vigil Thursday evening in Willmar
A Thee Book Club-sponsored anti-Islam speaker visiting Willmar has led an interfaith coalition to plan a prayer vigil for unity. It’s all going to happen Thursday evening at Kennedy Elementary School.
WILLMAR — A local group, called THEE Book Club , that portrays itself as “a small group of Christian patriots” has rented space in Kennedy Elementary School to hear a controversial anti-Islam speaker.
When Usama Dakdok of The Straight Way of Grace Ministry of Missouri arrives Nov. 7, he’s likely to be greeted outside the building by a prayer vigil made up of those who strongly disagree with him. The event hosting Dakdok is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Heidi Jo Ahmann, a member of THEE Book Club, which invited Dakdok, said the group is “just trying to find out more about the similarities and differences in people and culture.”
Ahmann said the group wants to “learn more about how we can share the gospel.” She referred other questions to information on the group’s Facebook page.
The vigil, called Prayers for Unity, is planned for 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the public sidewalks outside Kennedy. Speakers of different faiths will share their views.
“We feel we need to publicly renounce the things the speaker has said in other venues,” said Christina Nelson, central Minnesota coordinator for Isaiah , a coalition of diverse faith communities seeking racial and economic justice in Minnesota.
In May 2016, the St. Cloud Times quoted Dakdok as saying he doesn’t hate Muslims but hates Islam, a religion he said goes to war with those who don’t believe in Allah. A large protest was held outside the Baptist church where Dakdok spoke.
“We believe that all people and all faiths matter and make us stronger,” Nelson said.
Along with Isaiah, the Willmar Interfaith Network and other groups have worked to organize the vigil. They are in contact using a Facebook page, Keep Hate out of Kennedy Elementary . The page had more than 300 members by Friday afternoon.
The faith groups do not want to see confrontations that evening, Nelson said. They want people attending either event to be able to do so safely and peacefully, she said.
“I would say we believe this is the start of a new path for Willmar that really reinforces who we are as a welcoming community, and we’re ready for that path,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the faith groups are not protesting the school district, which is following its policies for allowing other organizations to rent the district’s public facilities.
Superintendent Jeff Holm said he was aware of some concerns about the Book Club event, but “people have a right to free speech.”
The district has rented to THEE Book Club in the past, and the group has abided by the district’s policies, he said.
The building wouldn’t be rented if a school function was planned, and wouldn’t let outside groups meet during a school day, Holm said. However, outside groups use school buildings for many purposes when students are not there.
According to information on THEE Book Club's Facebook page, Dakdok was born in Egypt and raised in a Christian home. He learned about Islam at school, where it was a mandatory subject. He also studied Islamic law in college.
He moved to the United States in 1992. He has a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s degree in missiology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written his own translation of the Quran from Arabic to English and publishes books via Usama Dakdok Publishing .
“Usama will be educating and equipping attendees on sharing of the full gospel with those who are lost and in bondage to satan’s lies and deceptions,” the Book Club's Facebook description concludes.