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Elshan Mirzazade and Fikri Rahmat, foreign exchange students staying in Perham, have made headlines after questioning a “Muslim turned Christian” speaker at a local church – and being asked to leave. Forum News Service/WDAY

Northwoods incident draws national attention

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The two Muslim exchange students who were recently asked to leave a program at Northwoods Assembly of God Church will be meeting with the pastor there later this week.

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The recent developments at Northwoods regarding guest speaker Walid Shoebat and the students has created a debate that is reaching the national scene, with accusations and criticism coming from all sides.

While Northwoods pastor Dirk Currier said he brought Shoebat in simply “as a testimony of a former Muslim turned Christian,” the students contend that the speaker was spreading mistruths and distortions about Islam.

In an interview with WDAY last week, the students, Elshan Mirzazade of Azerbaijan and Fikri Rahmat of Indonesia, said they were rudely asked to leave the church after questioning Shoebat.

The report caught the attention of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which promptly sent out a press release stating that CNN had previously exposed Shoebat as an anti-Islam fraud, and requesting a meeting with Northwoods officials.

The controversy incited others, as well. James Pawlak, of West Allis, Wis., for example, recently contacted the Perham Focus, WDAY and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly with his own take on the incident.

Currier stated he has received many messages from all around the country, both positive and negative, about what happened.

The Shoebat Foundation responded with a March 7 blog post at shoebat.com, taking WDAY’s Kevin Wallevand to task for his coverage of the incident, claiming there was a lack of due diligence in his reporting of it.

Wallevand had cited a report by CNN’s Drew Griffin, which stated that Shoebat has been debunked and is a fraud.

The foundation called Griffin a, “proven liar with a long history of sloppy reporting.”

The foundation’s blog post also cites an initial differing opinion on why the boys were asked to leave.

Fikri told WDAY that he suspected it was because Shoebat “got mad because maybe he was afraid of the truth.” The Shoebat Foundation, however, made the same claim that Currier has – that the students disrespected the forum of questions and answers and were removed when the conversation turned into a shouting match.

Mirzazade has stated that he did shout something as he was being led out of the church: “Good way of promoting peace; bravo, bravo.”

Mary Anderson, the host mother of the two students, said, “I thought I was sending my boys to a house of love, and I am disappointed that hate was being taught there.”

A letter to the editor sent to the Perham Focus from Sue Berg detailed, in length, her perspective of the incident from a short distance away in the church: “Kurt Rothwell came from the front of the church over to where the young man was standing. Rothwell looked the young man in the eye and firmly but politely told him that if he could not abide by the format that was in place then would he please leave.”

Currier feels the story was blown out of proportion as the controversy is decorum-based and not on-topic in terms of why Shoebat was in Perham.

“I brought (Shoebat) in as a testimony of a former Muslim turned Christian, of which there are many of those,” Currier said. “Most of our speakers, that’s their focus. How they came to Christ.”

Northwoods has a recent history of bringing in nationally and internationally-recognizable speakers to spread the same message.

“I have no doubt there are Muslims that are peaceful and just want to live their life,” Currier said.

Robert Williams, Perham Focus

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