The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Mich., is the largest mosque in the country.
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DEARBORN, Mich. -- A controversial Florida pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, is planning to protest "jihad, sharia law, and the radicalization of Islam" Friday in front of America's largest mosque in a city with one of the largest concentrations of Arab Muslims outside the Middle East.
Mr. Jones will hold the protest from 5 to 8 p.m. on public property near the Islamic Center of America, 19500 Ford Rd., Dearborn, regardless of legal efforts to move the gathering to a designated "free-speech zone," said Wayne Sapp, a pastor at Mr. Jones' Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.
"We feel they would be violating our constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech" if government officials try to force a relocation, Mr. Sapp told The Blade.
He said the group picked Dearborn for the Stand Up America Now protest because the Detroit suburb has the largest mosque in the United States and because nearly one-third of its 98,000 residents are of Arabic descent.
Organizers said in requesting a permit that they expect "two" people to attend the demonstration.
That would be fine with Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini, spiritual leader of the 10,000-member Islamic Center of America.
The imam said Wednesday that Mr. Jones has the right to speak out "even if he is misinformed," but he urges Muslims and others to steer clear of the protest.
The Rev. Terry Jones is taking his message to the nation's largest mosque in Dearborn.
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"We are asking people not to attend, not to confront. The man can say what he wants, do what he wants, but we are not interested in a confrontation," Imam Al-Qazwini said.
He said Mr. Jones "apparently is trying to provoke the Muslim community" by coming to Dearborn and "defying them in their own stronghold."
Instead, the imam said, he urges people of all faiths to attend gatherings at the Islamic Center of America at 4 p.m. Thursday and the Dearborn Civic Center at 4 p.m. Friday.
"The plan is to fight hatred with love, to show the world that there are two ways to communicate -- one is hatred and bigotry, which Pastor Jones has been following, and the other is by having dialogue and showing the world our unity and our commonalities, and this is what we are planning," Imam Al-Qazwini said.
He said he has invited Mr. Jones to come to the mosque and sit down and talk with him and other Muslims.
Mr. Sapp said he and Mr. Jones will be in Dearborn Thursday for a court hearing on a complaint by the Wayne Country Prosecutor's Office seeking to keep demonstrators away from the Islamic Center.
In the 72-page complaint filed in Michigan's 19th District Court, the prosecutor's office said Mr. Jones' appearance threatens to "breach the peace" and incite a riot.
Mr. Sapp disputed that assessment, saying "we feel that it is all propaganda."
"We have never promoted violence. We have never tried to spark violence," he said. "We've done rallies in Los Angeles in front of the Egyptian consulate and there was no violence. Police were there, but kept a distance and never got involved. We have held protests in Gainesville and there was never any violence, no altercations."
The prosecutor's complaint said that as of April 13, 20 people have died in violence in Afghanistan resulting from Mr. Sapp's burning of a Qur'an during a live Internet event broadcast March 20. The group does not plan to burn a Qur'an in Dearborn, a church spokesman said Wednesday.
Mr. Sapp said he has no regrets about setting fire to the Qur'an last month because the holy book was "found responsible in a mock trial of leading people to terrorism, acts of violence, women abuse," along with other allegations, and that a guilty verdict "requires punishment."
Mr. Jones served as judge for the mock trial, organized by Dove World Outreach on what the nondenominational church called "International Judge the Qur'an Day."
After Mr. Sapp burned the Qur'an, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba -- the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai massacres -- announced a $2.4 million reward for the assassination of Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp.
"Well, it's a little bit of an attention-getter," Mr. Sapp said of the bounty on his head. "But we made a clear, sober decision a long time ago … that when you make a commitment like this in our hearts and to God, when you see these kinds of threats being made it does not cause you to waver in your convictions. You still have to do it, no matter what the threat."
The Wayne County prosecutor's court filing included copies of dozens of death threats made against Mr. Jones by e-mail.
Mr. Sapp said he and Mr. Jones are often asked by the media if they fear for their lives.
"If we had been speaking out against any other religion in the world, that question would probably never come to us. But because it is Islam, everyone knows there is a dangerous element to that religion," he said.
Mr. Sapp, 42, said he has been a pastor at Dove World Outreach for five years and a member for 17 years. He said the church professes that "Islam is of the devil" -- proclaiming it on signs and selling T-shirts and coffee mugs with that slogan -- because its teachings run counter to Christianity.
"As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the only way," Mr. Sapp said. "In Islam, they have Jesus, but it's not the same Jesus. He did not die on the cross. He was not resurrected. He's just a prophet. If there's no Son of God, no crucifixion, no sacrifice, no resurrection, then there's no path to heaven. So what we believe is the people following the Islamic religion are believing a lie, and the Bible says the devil is the father of all lies."
A number of Toledo-area Muslims Wednesday denounced the anti-Islam efforts of Mr. Jones, which gained attention when he threatened to burn Qur'ans on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He's so marginal. He doesn't represent Christianity," said Najwa Badawi. "It's all about Terry Jones. It has nothing to do with Christianity, nothing to do with Islam. It's Terry Jones getting his 15 minutes of fame."
Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan said "the governing daily law is the law of the United States and its Constitution, not Sharia law. How we settle matters within our community is based on Sharia law [religious law of Islam], but everything else is based on U.S. law and the Constitution, which allows everyone to practice their religion unrestricted."
Yehia "John" Shousher said the Qur'an teaches Muslims to "respect all people's faith no matter who they are or what they are or how they feel about it. Terry Jones doesn't understand Sharia law, he doesn't understand the Qur'an. He must have burned it before he read it."
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.