GULFPORT -- The debate between Muslims and Christians just about hit the boiling point after about two-and-a-half hours of recriminations and inflammatory language at a Gulfport church.
Then moderator Bryan Kennedy of WXXV-TV decided it was over.
The debate, conducted with "no guns allowed" and with security screening at the door, evolved from a sign posted by the Rev. Chris Ashley, Cowan Road Baptist Church pastor, late in November that said, "Allah is Satan; Jesus is God."
Muslims said they were offended and a Muslim activist from Atlanta challenged Ashley to a debate. Ashley accepted. Then the activist backed out, citing the Christmas season, and a Muslim from Gautier, Dawud Salaam, agreed to take his place. Salaam showed up with Yahya Shabazz of the Quittman Islamic Center and Abdul Jamal, who said he was there for Mohammed and concern for all.
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Ashley brought a secret weapon of sorts, too -- Usama Dakdok, an Egyptian-born Muslim evangelist specialist speaker.
Dakdok said the three Muslims who had appeared weren't true Muslims and had been reading "the sugar-coated Quran."
He then cited several places in the Quran that proved Allah was Satan.
"Allah is the proud, therefore Allah is Satan," was one example cited.
"If we continue down that road, nothing will be accomplished," Shabazz said in rebuttal. "You will leave here just like you came here, probably disliking someone even more. That's not the purpose of religion; the purpose of religion is to unite."
But Ashley and Dakdok argued that was not what Islam was about. Muslims, they said, are told to convert people or kill them.
"We're not here to relive the Crusades," Shabazz said. "We've got to get beyond that, people. We've got to live together."
Dakdok pointed to passages in the Quran that refer to Muslims who "refuse to contribute to or perform jihad." He said the Quran said those people are bound for hell.
But Shabazz said jihad refers to the battle that goes on inside people who are trying to choose between the path of good and evil.
He accused Dakdok and Ashley of lying about what the Quran said. And both sides argued over who knew the best Arabic translation.
Dakdok said he was born in Egypt and was student of historic and scholars of the Quran. He said Americans are being deceived by a sanitized version of the book.
The 100 or so in the church were invited to submit questions but only three of the questions had been asked when Ashley had one of his own.
"Why is it one of you three explain to me why those who were raised in the Middle East, and or speak Arabic as their native tongue, why do they have a different understanding of the Quran than you three?" Ashley said.
"Sad to say and that many people in the Middle East whose native tongue is Arabic, they have not been brought up to understand the religion," Shabazz said. "Their understanding has not evolved."
But Dakdok suggested it was the three men in Gulfport, all of them black, who had been duped by America's Nation of Islam.
And that was the beginning of the end, with one young man shouting from the audience until he was approached by the church's security team.