CAIRO - Fears of harassment and attacks by Christian missionaries have forced the cancellation of the biggest outdoor festival of Arab Americans in the United States.
It's unfortunate there are groups who are seeking to create problems and incite people in a community where people are trying to build bridges of diversity, Suehaila Amen, 34, of Dearborn, told Detroit Free Press.
Arab-Americans were planning to hold the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn on June 15-17.
|Missionaries Antagonize Dearborn Muslims|
But organizers decided to cancel this year's festival over worries of new tension with Christian missionaries.
"The one year hiatus will allow organizers to explore all opportunities for the upcoming year," reads a statement on the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce's website.
Featuring live music and performances, carnival rides, henna designs, crafts and jewelry, the outdoor festival aims to promote Arab-American culture and local business.
But the 18-year event saw tension in recent years after attacks by Christian missionaries, forcing city officials to move the festival to open space to a public park to restrict access.
In 2009, a group of missionaries yelled at visitors to the festival that they were going to hell because they were Muslims.
Some missionaries also posted videos of the encounters, sparking complaints about the Muslim community in Dearborn.
Tension escalated the following year, resulting in the arrest of a number of missionaries, who hit back by filing lawsuits against the city on claims of restricting missionaries' freedom of expression at the festival.
Some have said that treatment at the festival proves that Dearborn is under Islamic Shari`ah, a claim the mayor has repeatedly dismissed as ludicrous.
The situation worsened last year after a group of missionaries brought a pig's head mounted on a pole along with signs that denigrated Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
Angry with the behavior, some Muslim attendees hurled objects at the missionaries, including water bottles.
Muslims lamented the success of missionaries in aborting their festival.
This festival was about creating a family atmosphere during Father's Day weekend, Amen said.
And yet, there are those who do not wish to see people enjoy their life.
Dearborn resident Majed Moughni said the re-location of the festival and the high costs would make it impossible to hold the event.
It's not worth the cost, he said.
Fay Baydoun, director of the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce, shares a similar view.
With the move to a new location, Ford Woods Park, we needed more time to ensure we provide a quality event that the community has come to expect from us.
Baydoun voiced hope that next year's festival will come back better and stronger.
Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the US, many of them Muslim, making it a magnet for some Christian missionaries.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between seven to eight million.
Since 9/11, US Muslims have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.The United States is the world's largest source of Christian missionaries with a reported 46,000 proselytizers worldwide followed by South Korea.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net