Recalling 9-11: Former Muslim, Speaks Out Against "Oprahization"
Ergun Mehmet Caner declares it is blasphemy to say Jehovah and Allah are the same God.
by Rusty Roberson
WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AgapePress) - Ergun Mehmet Caner watched in horror as the dramatic and fateful events unfolded on the morning of September 11. Like most Americans, he was shocked at the apparent accidental collision of a jetliner into one of the massive, majestic towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. It was, he thought, a tragic, bizarre accident with a tragic loss of humanity.
Caner recalls that within minutes of that first collision, however, he knew that America was at war. "When the second plane hit, no one had to tell me," he says. Moreover, he knew exactly who America's enemy was, how they thought, and what they wanted, because he was raised as one of them.
Caner is a committed, born-again Christian, as well as a professor of theology and church history at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. But he was raised in a strict Muslim home in Ohio and was a devout worshiper of Allah until age 17, when he was led to Christ through the witness of one of his high school friends. Caner in turn led to Christ his own brother, Emir, who today is a professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
These days the Caner brothers are in demand as experts on Islam, both in Christian circles as well as with the secular media. Since the terrorist attacks, they have been interviewed in such varied venues as CNN, BBC, the 700 Club, Janet Parshall's America, and Decision Today radio. They have also authored an authoritative expose, titled Islam Unveiled, a frank presentation of Islam in its entirety - its practices, ethics, and beliefs. Perhaps of most use to Christians is the book's explanation of the stark differences between Christianity and Islam, and the counsel the Caner brothers offer Christians on how to engage Muslims in a dialogue about their legalistic religion and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Ergun Caner says that immediately following the terrorist attacks, the media's assumptions about the differences between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity compelled him to speak out with righteous indignation. He explains, "The central theme of the media was, 'I don't understand why the Muslims, Jews, and Christians are fighting so much, because they're all basically worshiping the same God.' He says that in the minds of most of the talking heads on the news shows, "Jehovah and Allah are the same God, like these are divine nicknames."
Caner's response to this fallacious assumption is emphatic. "As a Muslim, if I had heard someone say that Jehovah and Allah are the same God, I would have been offended," he declares. "As a Christian, I find it blasphemous." He notes, "I have never met one intelligent Muslim who ever said that Allah of the Koran and Jehovah of the Bible are the same God."
Caner recalls that as he appeared on such television programs as Fox News and Talkback Live, he was often asked by the hosts, "So you were a Muslim, and now you're a Christian. When did you switch?""I did not switch anything," explains Caner with emotion. "I got saved. I'm born again. It wasn't like I went from worshiping God with one name to the same God with another name. I went from a false idol to a true, living, sovereign God, the sovereign King of the universe."
Caner explains that in the American culture, there is a deep desire to find a common ground among religious faiths - what he refers to as the "Oprahization" of our culture. "We all want to have one big Oprah group hug."
But there is a wide chasm between the God of Islam and the God of the Bible, Caner explains. One is cold and impersonal with no desire for intimacy with man, while the other is defined by His active desire for intimacy with people. Caner notes that there are 99 names given for Allah in the Koran, many of which describe him as beneficent and merciful. But there is not one name for Allah that reflects a desire for intimacy.
By contrast, "When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was astonished to find that we have a God who not only calls us to pray, but one who hears us when we pray," says Caner. "It was an astonishing thing for me to realize that I am the temple of the Holy Spirit, that I am indwelled by God."
Caner says that there was a crucial message being offered by the media in the days following the terrorist attacks, a message that his 17 years as a devout Muslim caused him to immediately recognize as false.
He says that most Muslims who call America home were as shocked as the rest of the nation by the attacks on their country. To them, "jihad" - the struggle against "infidels" (non-Muslims) which inspired the men who flew themselves and the other passengers on the four jetliners to their deaths - is nothing more than a theoretical doctrine of Islam.
Almost exclusively, the Muslims who appeared on the major news shows to explain their religion insisted that Islam is a religion of peace and submission. They pointed out that the term "jihad" is not even found in the Koran. But Caner explains that the only peace that is found in Islam is found in submission to Allah, and all Muslims are called to conquer all non-Islam forces - even through martyrdom.
"For the first 17 years of my life, I assumed that I was to be at war" with Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims, Caner recalls. He adds that according to a conservative U.S. State Department estimate, there are currently 300,000 Muslims worldwide with that identical driving ideal - the doctrine of jihad.
Caner says that to devout Muslims, there is only one way to be sure that they will go to Paradise when they die - and that is through martyrdom through jihad.
"Muslims are taught that everything good or bad that you do - every motive, every thought, deed, and act that you do - is recorded," says Caner. "Islam is the ultimate works-centered religion." To a Muslim, when life is over, the good and bad are weighed, and so "you can be a good Muslim and still go to hellfire because of the scales. If you have been a great Muslim but still have more bad than good, you go to eternal hellfire. Only one thing erases the bad scales. Only one thing guarantees eternal security for a Muslim: Martyrdom after a declared war and jihad."
The Caner brothers note in Unveiling Islam that such a war was declared in February 1998 by a coalition of five radical Islamic factions, who issued the following order: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it...."
Caner asserts that the men who carried out the deadly attacks on America were not following some corrupted version of Islam, but embraced Orthodox Muslim doctrine. "Those 19 men believed that by flying those planes into the World Trade Center towers, and into the Pentagon, and wherever the other jet was supposed to hit, that somehow they would find forgiveness by shedding their blood," Caner says. "It is the only eternal security a Muslim has."
Caner tells Christians that the only hope they have for leading Muslims to Christ is to demonstrate the pure love of Jesus - which is how he was introduced to Christ.
"It wasn't through the eloquence of a preacher, or the beauty of a building that I came to Christ," Caner explains. "It was through the simple witness of a high school boy who did not care that I wore my [Muslim] robes, and looked different, and spoke different, and had poor English. He did not care that I hung out with other Muslims because everyone else was an open enemy according to my faith. All he knew was that Jesus Christ had died for him and had died for me, and he was saved and he wanted me to get saved, too."
That high school boy invited Caner to a four-day revival campaign at a local Baptist church in Columbus, Ohio, where Caner experienced the love of God for the first time. "That church loved me to the cross of Jesus Christ," Caner recalls. "They were nice to me in spite of my open hatred toward them as Christians."
For four days, Caner heard the good news that Jesus Christ was more than just a prophet of Allah as he had always been taught. He was God who came in the flesh to die for the sins of all people. By the fourth night, the 17-year-old devout Muslim was ready to become a new creature in Christ. Caner recalls that the pastor explained God's mercy and grace in the simplest possible terms.
"Please understand that this is not about conquering Muslims, but about seeing them find peace and hope in Jesus Christ," Caner says. "It's not about defeating them. It's about winning them and loving them, because it's easy to love the people who love you back, but it's hard to love the unlovable."
Says Caner, "That church loved me, the unlovable. They shared mercy and grace. That is how you reach a Muslim."