When anti-Islam speaker Usama Dakdok, whose ministry is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, came to town his presentation sparked a protest in Solid Rock Ministries, the church hosting his event. Since then, the pastor of the church said the public response toward his ministry persists.
“I get phone calls,” said Tony Manis, the pastor of Solid Rock Ministries. “I got a phone call that said, ‘You better watch your back.’ So this guy is a hate guy. You’re telling me on the phone, ‘How dare you bring this hate guy?’ But I better watch my back? What are you doing? You’re hating on me, and you don’t even know me.”
Dakdok’s two-night ministry at Solid Rock received statewide news coverage after a group of protesters with signs made a demonstration during the second night of the presentation, which largely focused on Dakdok preaching about what he perceived to be the dangers of Islam. During an interview with the Kokomo Perspective, Manis took issue with protester accounts of the night, the protest itself, and even Dakdok’s classification as a hate group by the SPLC.
In particular, he noted that law enforcement officers said the church could pursue charges against the protesters should he choose, but he elected not to. Manis said that he’s a supporter of the right to protest, and the protesters could have done so but not within the church. The pastor also said that the demonstration, in his opinion, came about for political purposes.
“I think all this happened is by a political movement,” said Manis. “It’s like, ‘OK, we’re not going to bring hate to Kokomo. That’s going to get my name out there.’ I think that’s what Natalie (Guest) did.”
Guest, who was among the protesters and ran for the Indiana House District 30 seat last year as a Democrat, said the group’s agenda was to “promote human dignity” and “stand against hate.”
“At the root of hatred is fear, and I think if the parishioners would get to know the members of our local Muslim community, they would see that they aren’t a threat,” said Guest. “They are, in fact, kind and loving people. We’ve reached out to meet with the pastor of Solid Rock church, but have not heard any reply.”
Dakdok’s presentation and the following events come at a tumultuous time for minorities, particularly Muslims.
The American Muslim civil liberty group the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report this year recording more than 2,200 anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2016. That finding represented a 57-percent increase from 2015. Among those 2,200 incidents, 260 were labeled as hate crimes against Muslims. The number of hate crimes rose 44 percent from 2015 and 584 percent from 2014.
Even locally, similar events have been recorded, although Indiana does not possess laws designating events as hate crimes. Last year, for example, an unknown individual fired a gun into the Kokomo Islamic Center.
Similarly, the SPLC released a report indicating that the number of organizations the center designates as hate groups has increased in recent years. According to the SPLC’s report, 34 groups existed in 2015, whereas this year 101 were registered.
Manis took issue with Dakdok’s inclusion on such a list. He said his purpose in having the speaker come to Kokomo was for educational purposes, as he’s had various speakers attend over the years to cover a variety of topics, ranging from opioids and abortion to sex trafficking.
“How do we classify someone if I have a disagreement with you?” said Manis. “Never once did he say he hates Muslim people. He’s witnessed a lot of Muslim people. He wants people to be enlightened to what the Quran teaches. There’s a lot of great Muslim people out there that don’t actually practice Sharia.”
On the other hand, the SPLC stood by its inclusion of Dakdok’s ministry as a hate group.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Straight Way and More as an anti-Muslim hate group because of its leader Usama Dakdok’s extreme and extensively bigoted rhetoric,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “Dakdok portrays Muslims as irrational, intolerant, and violent and describes Islam as a violent cult rather than a religion. He also peddles the false narrative that the religion sanctions pedophilia.”
The following quote attributed to Dakdok was provided by the center to back up its designation:
“It’s a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America.”
During a previous interview with Dakdok, he made similar claims.
“It is illegal for Muslims to practice Islam if you understand the Quran, to breathe air in America. They should not breathe air in America. You know what you’re going to write in your paper tomorrow? ‘Mr. Dakdok said it is illegal for Muslims to breathe air in America.’ That’s what you’re going to write, but you’re not going to tell people why I said that. Why I said that? Because they are here to reproduce, to make babies, and to kill your babies,” said Dakdok. “If that’s OK, then it’s OK for them to live in America.”
The director of the nonprofit Islamic Networks Group (ING), which works around the country to counter “all forms of bigotry through education and interfaith engagement,” said messages such as Dakdok’s are often, and sometimes intentionally, one-sided.
“They were duped, as many Americans are duped, by the very one-dimensional, negative coverage of Islam and Muslims. So, you know, we come across this all the time … There is a huge difference between someone being critical of Islam or religion all together and being an Islamophobe,” said Maha Elgenaidi, the director of ING. “An Islamophobe is a promoter of hatred against Islam and Muslims. It’s a huge difference. There’s a difference between saying Islam is harsh on women or patriarchal and someone who claims Islam is not a religion at all or a political movement. Or Islam is the religion of the devil. The latter ... is totally far-fetched. That spokesperson is not interested at all in having a conversation. They’re there to promote certain vile views about a religion or an entire people.”
Dakdok’s methodology, as was demonstrated during his first presentation at Solid Rock Ministries, is to quote from his own translation of the Quran. Multiple times throughout his sermon, he’d quote verses from the book where extreme views are present, with particular emphasis placed on verses discussing violence.
Elgenaidi likened this approach to that of the same organization’s Dakdok touts as dangerous, such as ISIS.
“He’s no different than the way I see ISIS, quite frankly,” said Elgenaidi. “He is the mirror image of an extremist group who cherry picks verses of the Quran and interprets them in a way that meets their political agenda. In his case he wants to sell his books, so it sort of meets his needs for selling his books. He’s probably paid by someone to do this.”
To justify this belief, Elgenaidi cited a project by the Center for American Progress, dubbed Fear Incorporated, where it was discovered that an industry comprised of donors and “careers of hate” against Islam and Muslims had grown to include funding of $200 million since 9/11.
The difficulty faced by Muslim Americans, and a mission of ING to counteract, is to educate the American populace about the differences between extremism and typical Muslims, said Elgenaidi.
To do this Elgenaidi believes it’s important to speak with practitioners of Islam as opposed to those providing outside viewpoints. Elgenaidi noted her nonprofit will help those who are interested, around the country, to schedule webinars, panels, and talks with Muslims in order to bolster a public understanding of Islam.
“It’s for them to see that Islam is just one of many religions that is practiced in this country,” said Elgenaidi. “The vast majority of Muslims are just ordinary, normal Americans. They are no different than Christians or Jews.”
Furthermore, for those who are interested, the ING director encouraged individuals to visit ing.org/all-faqs to see an extensive list of questions frequently asked about Islam and Muslims. The questions range from the topic of extremism to dietary habits that coincide with the religion.