A Clash of Beliefs in Riverside

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Times Staff Writer

A Christian group decrying Islam as oppressive to women drew scores of supporters to Riverside Community College on Thursday, along with dozens of boisterous Muslim student counterprotesters.

The tense, 90-minute gathering began as a lecture and degenerated into heated arguments and one-on-one theological debates, with campus police eventually stepping in to disperse the crowd.

Speaker Luis Zepeda, representing the Christian organization Truth Defenders, said Islam denied believers freedom of expression and freedom of religion.


“The God of Islam is not the God that is found in the Bible,” Zepeda, 33, of Westminster, said in his 40-minute talk, in which he quoted from the Koran and accused the prophet Muhammad of “atrocities.”

“I don’t understand why women would want to join a religion that promises women nothing in the afterlife,” Zepeda said.

Several Muslim students, some women wearing the traditional hijab, or head scarf, held signs with messages including “Islam=Peace” and “Stand Against Hatred.” Others yelled into a megaphone and denounced the group’s message as “hate speech.”

Islamic student groups from the college and UC Riverside organized a counterprotest nearby on campus to teach people about their religion.

“You’d think that in this day and age people would be above these kind of things,” said Nacera Bendelhoum, 18, a Muslim from Moreno Valley studying psychology at the community college.

The critics of Islam, many of them members of the evangelical Faith Defenders, an Irvine-based Christian organization that runs the unaccredited California Biblical University & Seminary, chanted “Remember 9/11” and sang “God Bless America” and “We Shall Overcome.”


A question-and-answer session quickly turned into a shouting match.

“There was probably more negative that was spouted on both sides