A virulent anti-Islamic speaker known for telling his listeners that Muslims are in the United States to behead Christians and Jews plans a four-night speaking stand in central Minnesota this week, an area where Somali-Americans have been targeted by anti-immigration groups.
The upcoming talks by Usama Dakdok, an Egyptian Coptic Christian who says he has translated his own version of the Qur'an, have generated concern among people who've monitored his speeches elsewhere in the country.
"We are encouraging people who are going to his talk to come have a talk with us," said Natalie Ringsmuth, a St. Cloud woman who started a group, #UniteCloud, to counter what she saw as hostile reactions to the city's Muslim community. Ringsmuth said a group of up to 50 people plan to stand outside Dakdok's speech on Friday at Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud to say that he doesn't represent their community.
Numerous groups consider Dakdok's presentations hate speech, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said he's likely the biggest Islamophobe among a host of anti-Muslim speakers traveling throughout Minnesota to give talks at churches, supper clubs and elsewhere in recent years.
Dakdok's speeches typically blend verses pulled from his translation of the Qur'an with his own insights on Islam, a religion practiced by some 3.3 million Americans — about 1 percent of the population.
His speeches have been defended by those who say he has the right to free speech, but they've also been derided by people who fear that he inspires hateful acts. In December, a few weeks after Dakdok spoke in Grand Forks, a Somali restaurant in the city was firebombed.
A Minnesota man was sentenced for the crime, but the incident was indicative, said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of CAIR.
"It's really sad to know that people are not only listening to him but consider him a credible voice," said Hussein.
Dakdok, who lives in Florida but travels extensively, said Monday that he preaches kindness to Muslims, and does not condone violence.
"We love the Muslim people because Jesus taught us to love our enemy," he said.
Dakdok plans speeches in Little Falls, Burtrum, Avon and St. Cloud this week. Asked about the protest planned for Friday, Dakdok said it's happened before.
"This always happens in liberal states where you see useful idiots standing for the Muslims," said Dakdok. He invited Ringsmuth and others to come to his talk, saying Muslims who attend with an open mind and open heart will leave as born-again Christians. "We don't do anything that is anti-Muslims," he said. "We are anti-Islam, not anti-Muslims. Muslims are victims of Islam. They are lost people who need the love of Jesus Christ," he said.
Dakdok and other speakers like him have toured rural Minnesota in recent years to talk about what they see as a creeping threat to the nation's security. Claiming to know things about the Muslim faith based on their own experience, Dakdok and some of the other speakers portray Muslims as duty-bound to destroy Christians. A common theme is that Muslim immigration should be suspended because more Muslims will precipitate an Islamic takeover of the nation.
Groups like Act for America, which has a Minnesota chapter, have gone so far as to push for an end to Muslim immigration. The Act chapter in Grand Rapids will sponsor Dakdok's speech there on June 2.