THEE Book Club describes itself as a small group of Christian patriots. It meets semi-regularly around Kandiyohi County, hosting guest speakers and discussing various texts. For the most part, they focus on a similar theme: the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
Not in a good way.
The recurring message is that Christians have a solemn duty to convert their Muslim neighbors. In November, the group will have a public event at a Willmar elementary school welcoming Pastor Usama Dakdok, who believes Islam is “destroying the entire Muslim world” and “quickly infiltrating the West.” Back in May, it hosted a screening of a film called Chrislam Exposed: The Seductive Lie of a Common God Between Christianity and Islam.
Last week, the group Facebook page posted a peppy message stating that “interfaith dialogue” without the “FULL Gospel of Jesus Christ” amounts to “loving thy neighbor to eternal damnation.” The author included a weeping emoji to punctuate.
And THEE’s not alone in this point of view. Last week, the group posted a petition from Pastor Shahram Hadian, which asks readers to “Say no” to “interfaith dialogue.” (The book club hyped a local Hadian event last year.)
As the document itself explains, that mostly amounts to looking at the many similarities between the two scriptures, inviting faith leaders to one another’s places of worship, and seeking “spiritual reconciliation” by understanding the beauty and nuance of each faith. This, it says, is “dangerous” for the followers of Jesus Christ.
“The scriptural teachings of Islam make it a clear candidate for an ‘anti-Christ’ spirit, a ‘cup of demons’ and a manifestation of ‘darkness,’” it says. It would be a “grave disservice” to be chill with your neighbor practicing Islam when that can potentially dissuade them from “coming to salvation in Christ Jesus” instead. (It does not say much about this being an issue with other faiths.)
Hadian's website published an initial list of 400 signatories, including pastors, elders, deacons, law enforcement, and a few elected officials. Only one of them is from Minnesota: Steve Ahmann, the Kandiyohi County Commissioner. Part of his district falls in the city limits of Willmar, which is, as Bluestem Prairie pointed out, home to a thriving Somali-American community. Ahmann happens to be a former member of its city council.
Ahmann didn’t respond to interview requests, so it’s impossible to confirm if he was correctly listed, or, if so, understands why. But THEE has already been at the heart of tense public debate. Back in September, a letter to the editor published in the St. Cloud Times derided the book club as “an anti-Islamic hate group.”
“My fear is that they will gain increased legitimacy and that people on the fringe will turn to violence,” the writer said.
THEE didn’t respond to interview requests either, but this opinion was met with vehement protest, both in the paper and on the Facebook page.
“I couldn’t figure out who [the letter writer] was talking about because I’ve never seen anything resembling ‘hate’ in this group,” one user posted on the page.
“Yesterday we saw a video of Shahram Hadian’s ‘The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue,’” another user posted back in March. “It was not hateful or phobic by any means.”
Willmar has gotten its own share of press, including a feature in the New York Times, for its overwhelming ability to be welcoming and adaptable as more East African immigrants and refugees moved their careers and families there.