Former Muslims Testify About Islam/Program 1

By: Dr. Ergun Caner, Dr. Emir Caner; ©2003
What caused the Caners, devout Muslims, to turn away from Allah and place their faith in Jesus Christ as God.



What evidence could cause devout Muslims today to leave Islam and embrace Christianity? Today on The John Ankerberg Show, two former Muslims tell why they turned away from Allah and placed their faith in Jesus Christ as God, knowing that their decision would cost them the love and acceptance of their family?

Dr. Emir Caner: And so I told my father, necessarily, Allah and Jehovah are not the same gods. I worship Jesus Christ now. And he told us to make a decision between our religion and him, or better said, between our Heavenly Father and our earthly father. So I got up and I left. He disowned us.

These two brothers went on to get their Ph.D.’s, and now Dr. Ergun Caner is Associate Professor of Theology and Church History at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, and Dr. Emir Caner is Assistant Professor of Church History at Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. In countries outside of America, if a Muslim leaves Islam and embraces Christianity, what consequences does he or she face?

Emir: In many of the countries, what happens is, on a Friday day, the Jumaa prayer, they will take you to the city square, they will bury you up to your waist in your burial cloth….The indictment is read that you have converted to Christianity, and then everyone picks up the stones and you are stoned to death in the city square–for the sole indictment of being a believer in Jesus Christ.

Everyone in the world should understand what the religion of Islam teaches 1.6 billion Muslims of what they must do to have any hope of going to Heaven; of how they are to treat Christians, Jews, and other unbelievers in Islamic countries; how women are to be treated; the role of Islamic leaders in government, and when Jihad, or Holy War, is justifiable.

Dr. Ergun Caner: If the numbers hold up right – and 16 percent of the Muslims worldwide believe that the bombing of the World Trade Towers was morally justifiable – if those numbers continue out, we’re talking about somewhere in the vicinity of 100 million Muslims who believe that jihadic acts are morally justified. And so you see that there is this divergence of opinion about jihad, but what we hear here in America, we have never heard anywhere else in the world. We’ve never heard certainly in our background that you would say jihad was only an internal struggle.

Today, we invite you to join us to hear two former Muslims talk about Islamic belief and practice on this edition of the John Ankerberg Show.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome! We have an exciting program for you today. We have two former Muslims who were very devout in their beliefs and practices, and they came to know Christ; their family disowned them; they went on in their education to get their Ph.D.’s, their doctorates, and now they are professors in Christian seminaries.
I’m sure you know the events that happened after 9/11 – the attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, DC; and the question was raised, “Who are these people who want to kill us?” And, “Why are they quoting the Qur’an?” And, “What’s the relationship of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and other Muslims around the world to the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an?” Who speaks for Islam today?
In fact, there was an article in U.S. News & World Report that said, “Unholy Wars,” and on the inside it says, “Who speaks for Islam today?” And that’s what we want to find out.
Along the way, through the grapevine, some of my friends who are in the academic world, they started talking about two former Muslims that had become Christians. And goodness sakes – they were Christian professors! And I got their books, I read them, and I want you to hear what these fellows have to say.
I think we’re talking about the question of our day: What do 1.4 or 1.5 billion Muslims in the world believe?
And Ergun, Emir, we’re glad that you’re here. Ergun, start us off today. Let’s go back. I want to hear the personal side of your life, first, before we get into the academic stuff. Tell me, you guys were raised in a Muslim home. You went to the mosque every week. You sincerely, devoutly believed in Islam; you practiced it. Tell me what it was like.
Ergun Caner: Well, I’m the oldest of three sons. Our father was Acar, and I was born overseas in Stockholm, Sweden, but we are Turkish. We came to America and came here because our father was an architect, and our father helped build mosques. When you say “a devout Muslim,” this is sort of a redundancy to us, worldwide, because if you’re a Muslim, you are devout in your actions.
And so in every way that you could possibly imagine, devotion to Islam – attendance in the mosque; jumiat, to prayer; we would read the Qur’an, you know, and kiss it, place it to our foreheads, and put it on the highest shelf in the home. We would do our prayers, our rakats, in the home. We fasted at Ramadan and such. So, yes, our whole background. You have to understand, Islam is not just a system of beliefs or an academic abstract. It’s a way of life. Everything, down to the foods you eat.
Ankerberg: You guys were Sunni Muslims, right?
Ergun: Yes.
Ankerberg: What is a Sunni Muslim versus a Shi’ite?
Emir Caner: The Sunni Muslim is one who follows the election of a leader instead of a Shi’ite, which believes their leader must be a direct descendent of Muhammad. And so we were Sunnis. The majority, 80 percent or more of Muslims today are Sunni Muslims. And the Turks are Sunni Muslims, and so we follow what is the most traditional aspect of Islam. And our mosque was a Sunni mosque there, the Islamic Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Ankerberg: When you guys came to America, what was it like? Did you feel like you were entering a Christian culture? Tell me.
Ergun: This was difficult. This was an interesting thing, because you have to understand, around the world, when we as immigrants come to America, this is a shock. Everything we’d ever heard about Christianity was by rumor, speculation, even teaching that we got from our imam, from the pastor of the mosque. And then we come to a culture, America, which is Christianized in that Christian discussions, imagery, allegory, everything is on the front pages. And so we were saturated in a Christian culture – not that we say America is Christian, but the culture. Celebrations of Christmas and Easter, which we had never seen. We celebrate Ramadan and Bairum, and then to come here and every show, every radio, everything around that period of time, you couldn’t turn it on, any kind of media, without running into the Christian message.
Ankerberg: But I want to know now, what were some of the things that you believed, because, as a Christian I’m not familiar with that; a lot of our audience, they’re not familiar with that. Start in talking about, I mean, Muslims believe that you’re going to go to Heaven, you’re hoping to go to Heaven. How did you plan to get there?
Ergun: Well, let me give a brief summary, if that’s okay. When we speak of the Qur’an, we will say the word Surah, which means “chapter.” Ayat means “verse.” A Muslim bases his life on the Qur’an and on the Hadith. Now, the Qur’an is, supposedly, the words, allegedly the words of Allah. But the Hadith is different. It’s a multi-volume set. The most approved one, the one that is used the most is called al Bukhari’s Hadith. And Bukhari’s Hadith is actually a collection of nine volumes. It looks like an encyclopedia. And it’s not the words of Allah, it’s the words and teachings and sayings of Muhammad. And so, a Muslim lives by the five pillars of Islam, but you live by these laws, these protocols. Any country in the world that calls itself an Islamic republic lives by Hadithic law.
Most Americans are aware now of the five pillars of Islam, but in a nutshell, Surah 23:101 and 102, which says you live by the scales: if your scales are heavy, you attain salvation; if the scales are light, you go to hell-fire. Every word, every deed, every desire, every motivation, every act, every prayer, everything you do, the food you eat – halal and haram, forbidden or allowable –either goes on the good scales or on the bad scales, so that at the end of your life, you have to be 51 percent, or 50.1 percent righteous.
Ankerberg: Okay. So you actually could “see” these scales and the balances, and every day you lived with the fact of, “Am I doing 51 percent good?” And, how did that make you feel? I mean, did you feel like you were accomplishing it?
Ergun: Angst. Angst, if you can imagine at the end of the day, trying to do this mental accounting. You know, we didn’t convert to Christ until we were almost entering college. We were high school students.
Ankerberg: Did you talk about this every day, of how the balances were going?
Emir: Well, our father would talk about it to us. The problem is, you know, Surah 17 says that it’s “fixed” around our neck. You have to speak about it! And you always worry that the scales do not outweigh to the bad instead of the good, but you’ll never know. Even Muhammad didn’t know when he, in the Hadith, volume 5, verse 266, said, “What Allah will do with me, I do not know.” And so, when you spoke about it, it was always with fear and trepidation. And if you ever said, “I think I’m going to Heaven,” well, then, you were arrogant. And the Qur’an would then say that Allah does not love those who are vainglorious or those who are arrogant. So you could not ever say, “I know I’m going to Paradise.” In fact, you would never dare say that because it’s also based on Allah’s will, that is, Allah leads astray whomever he pleases.
Ankerberg: Did you ever think that if Muhammad didn’t know, how were you guys supposed to know?
Emir: Well, you’re not supposed to, and that was the key when we became Christians that, “These things are written that you may know that you have eternal life” [1 John 5:13]. That the Holy Spirit is our “down payment,” our guarantee, the earnest [cf. 2 Cor. 5:5]. And so, what a refreshing aspect to that. Only in Christianity, evangelical Christianity, can you know for sure that you’re going to Heaven. And we would never assume, and we would never assume upon Allah, that you could know you were going to Heaven.
Ankerberg: What were some of the sins that you couldn’t commit and yet you knew you did?
Emir: Well, there are so many, from small to great. I mean, the greatest of which is, you cannot reject your faith. You must over and over again say the Sha’hada, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah.” If you ever rejected it, then you were accursed.
Ankerberg: That meant you could never come back.
Emir: That is the assumption. Yes. And not only that, but then you have small sins that can outweigh even large sins. You know, the Hadith speaks about it, and when it says if you have urine on your clothes, then you are going to hell-fire. Or any of these haram or halal.
Ankerberg: Let’s stop right there. That one always caught my attention. The fact is, you could do all of the other things, but if somehow you had soiled yourself, the thing is, you aren’t going to make it to heaven.
Emir: This ablution, this cleansing, is physical as much as it is spiritual. And indeed, when you look at heaven, heaven (Paradise to the Muslim) is as much physical as it ever is spiritual.
Ergun: You can imagine if everything that you do, every protocol that you follow, before you enter into the prayer time, you have to do wudu, the cleansing, the ablution. You wash your hands, you cleanse out your nostrils. You are constantly living in fear of shirk, high sin. You’re constantly living in fear and hope of some sort of cleansing. And here’s the issue. A woman gives birth. She is given temporary forgiveness. But she goes back to the scales. There are times through your life that you could do something that gives you temporary cleansing – making hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. But we discovered in Islam, there is only one eternal assurance, and that is, if you die as a martyr, in an act of jihad.
Ankerberg: Yeah, that one really grabbed me. The fact is, if you want to have the guarantee of eternal security, in other words, if you want to get past this 51 percent stuff, the mathematical equation, if you wanted to be guaranteed that you are going to Paradise, become a martyr.
Ergun: And here’s the salient point for us as Christians. The idea is, the one eternal absolute you have, if you die in a declared fatwa, if you die in an act of jihad you are promised not only Paradise, but the highest degree, the hundredth degree of Paradise. So, do you see the irony and the tragedy of September 11? Those 19 men, Mohammed Atta and the rest, believed that by shedding their blood, they would somehow find the one thing that had eluded them their entire lives, and that was absolute confidence that eternity was theirs.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break, and when we come back, I want to talk about what your thoughts were about Allah, and I want you to tell us about when you started to think about Jesus differently. We’re going to talk about it when we come back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking with two former Muslims who have become Christians. And Ergun and Emir, we’re glad that you’re here. Tell me, you were devout Muslims. You’ve grown up in a Muslim home. You go to the mosque every week. What happened that you started thinking about Jesus differently?
Ergun: Well, in my case, it was a young man who just wouldn’t leave me alone, a high school friend who kept inviting me to all these things.
Ankerberg: What did you think about this guy that kept bugging you?
Ergun: Well, you have to understand, Surah 5 teaches that “take no friends from among the Jews and the Christians.” Now, there are many Muslims who don’t live by this, but we certainly did. And so I didn’t want anything to do with him, but he kept inviting me and inviting me to these church events. And so finally, I decided I would go. In defiance, I would go to show them. And I walked into a church where, quite frankly, they loved me to the cross. They loved me to Jesus. My pastor was absolutely clear. The preacher who was preaching his own revival, Clarence, was very clear that you cannot modify the Jesus of the Bible and have the One who is Savior and Lord.
Ankerberg: Yeah. You said, academically, in your mind, if Jesus was a prophet, you said that when you studied the evidence, He had to be a different kind of prophet than the Qur’an said. And He was More Than a Prophet, which is the title of your other book. What does that mean?
Ergun: Well, we walked into the mosque and we would study about Jesus. Isa we called Him. When I walked into the church, I thought it would be the same Isa. And so the pastor asked me, “Well, what do you think about Jesus?” I said, “Oh, we respect Him. We respect Him. He’s a prophet.” Long line of prophets. We even have an entire chapter of the Qur’an – Surah 19, Maryam, named after His mother, Mary. The Qur’an is very clear as to who Jesus is in Islam: that He was born of a virgin, they have no problem with that; that He is the Word, they have no problem with halima because, you know, He is communication. They even have no problem with the term “messiah,” because it means “the Anointed One,” and so He was anointed for that task. But the Qur’an is very clear: “Say not trinity…desist from it.” “Hath Allah begotten a son,” Surah 19:88 is one of the ones I have open on my lap. My pastor then, the preacher, said, “You can’t do this.”
And I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Well, you don’t believe Jesus was crucified?”
“No. We do not.”
He said, “Alright, forget the crucifixion for a minute. Why was He indicted?”
“Well, He was indicted for two reasons: sedition among the Romans, but blasphemy by the Jews.”
He said, “What was the blasphemy?” He claimed to be God. And he said, “So let’s just forget for a second that He was crucified.” He said, “If Jesus claimed to be God, could that Jesus be a prophet in Islam?”
I said, “No. He would be a fraud. He would be a liar. You know, because you are not allowed to claim any adherence to being God.”
And he said, “So if Jesus said He was God, you cannot simply respect Him. You must either revere Him as the One whom He actually said He was, or reject Him as a fraud. But He could not be in the line of prophets.” Now, this hit me between the eyes.
Emir: Then it was a year later after my brother was saved that I was invited to a revival. The two things that struck me most was, one, as Muslims, we understood Allah loves those who do righteous deeds. And all of a sudden we hear that, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” [Rom. 5:8]. And right between the eyes, Christ became what He always was – personal. He loved us intimately and unconditionally and wanted to have a relationship with us. And it wasn’t about “scales,” it was about a Savior. And that really did what was necessary; that is, to introduce the true Jesus to us.
Ankerberg: Emir, what was it like when it first dawned on you that in Islam, you had not been told the truth about Jesus? What was that transition like?
Emir: Well, you know, when you have to look at that, you also have to say, “Well, where does the origin of the false prophecy come from but from Muhammad?” And so my people say, “You can’t speak harshly about a prophet where one of five believe him and revere him as a prophet.” That’s exactly what we had to do. We had to come to an end of the “excellent example”, as chapter 33 of the Qur’an says. Instead, he is not our excellent example or exemplar, he is someone that cannot be trusted because he had false prophecy, that is, false revelation, a false message, a false hope, and a false god. We came to an end of our religion.
Ankerberg: In other words, there was no blending, there was no syncretism here. It was a clear-cut cutting off.
Ergun: No. There’s no such thing as a Muslim Christian. It’s not like we were religious.
Ankerberg: Because Muhammad actually rejected Christ and who He said and claimed to be.
Ergun: All of Islam is a complete repudiation, a redaction of Christianity. Everything, every doctrine of Islam is an inversion of a Christian teaching. What really struck for us was this: the finished work of the cross. Because if, in fact, Jesus said He is God, could the crucifixion then be possible for Him? Okay, it was. And we learn from the Bible that He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended. And this is the key for us. This is what got my heart, that when He ascended on high and presented His blood in heaven’s temple, He sat down at the right hand of the Father. And He didn’t sit down because He was tired, or dizzy, or weary. He sat down because He was done, and so atonement was finished. The finished work of Christ on the cross, His shed blood, insured that we would never have to. Our shed blood would be insufficient. Our shed blood would be unnecessary. Because if Jesus is anything, He has to be everything. And if He is not just the Great God, not just the Second Person of the Trinity, but the Propitiation, the Forgiveness, the Atoner for our sins – that was it. My blood is unnecessary.
Ankerberg: Okay. You guys accepted Christ as your Savior. You’re living in a Muslim family. How did you break the news?
Ergun: We told our father.
Emir: We told our father just a few months… he told our father before I did, obviously. I was saved afterwards.
Ankerberg: What was that like?
Emir: I went over to his house one evening and we sat down for dinner and he said, “Let’s pray.” At that point, even though only a teenager, I knew I could not bow my knee to another god. I could not commit idolatry. And so I told my father, “Necessarily, Allah and Jehovah are not the same gods. I worship Jesus Christ now.” And he told us to make a decision between our religion and him, or better said, between our Heavenly Father and our earthly father. So I got up and I left, and he disowned us.
Ankerberg: What did you guys do? Where did you go?
Emir: Well, we went back to our mother. The divorce had already happened. But we remind ourselves of that night, people say in psychological terms, “Where is the bitterness and the anger?” There is no bitterness or anger. That was the greatest witness I could ever have given my father. At that point, Jesus became crystal clear to him through his son. So there is no regret. It is the reminder to us that even when my father died of prostate cancer in 1999, he knew who Jesus was because we were able to give that testimony through our lives.
Ergun: We were disowned. All three boys. All three boys saved. All three of my father’s sons accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Our mother accepted Christ in 1991, our grandmother in 1995. Well, everybody hears the story and being America, what we call the Oprah-ization of our culture, they think, “Oh! That must be horrible.” Our father didn’t disown us out of hatred. Our father disowned us with a broken heart because around the world, where your show is broadcast, disowning is not an option. Around the world they live and die by Hadith 9:57, and I quote, Muhammad says, “If anyone changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”
Ankerberg: Yeah, people think that you’re not telling the truth. There’s an article in Christianity Today just recently where the man said that he wasn’t going to name names, but he had a person that had come to Christ right here in America, and the fact is, there were threats against him right here in our country.
Ergun: Of course.
Ankerberg: But if you guys had done this overseas, what would you have faced?
Emir: Well, if we were, say for example, born and raised in Pakistan, since 1986 they passed a blasphemy law. If you spoke out against Islam or Muhammad or anything to do with the religion or its prophet, you were put to death, executed. And that is directly from the Qur’an, chapter 5 and verse 33, that if you speak ill of Islam that you should be executed or exiled; your hands will be cut off; you’ll be crucified is one of the options. So we really had a merciful father. We had a father who was unwilling to do what the Qur’an and Muhammad had called him to do.
Ergun: And others would call him a bad Muslim because we had dishonored Allah and dishonored him as our father. We bring this point up because America, we’re so isolated here, we’re so insulated here. How could such a thing happen? But around the world, the blood of Christians flows on streets and in basements and on cobblestone paths. We write about this in Unveiling Islam, that around the world our brothers and sisters in Christ daily….
Ankerberg: Give me a few examples of what’s going on in different parts of the world right now.
Emir: Probably the worst example is the Sudan where Christians have really been negligent to watch over others of the flock around the world. Three million Sudanese, conservative estimates, three million Sudanese have been either exterminated or exiled just for being Christians. Over and over again we see this, that this is really the holocaust of our day. And most of the persecution around the world, outside of China, happens in the Islamic world. And we, to honor those who have given their lives, must give the truth.
Ankerberg: You’ve talked about certain people in different Islamic countries that just for passing out a tract were put in prison.
Ergun: Yes.
Ankerberg: For sharing their testimony were put in prison.
Ergun: Yeah.
Ankerberg: There’s all kinds of rules that they cannot propagate the faith.
Ergun: Whenever we go into debates or do a university debate or something, and they will say, “Well, you know, your threats, you’re living with threats.” We live with nothing. The threats we receive are nothing. Compare this to what is happening to our brothers and sisters around the world. This is unbelievable. In many of the countries, what happens is, on the Friday day, the Jumaa prayer, they will take you to the city square, they will bury you up to your waist in your burial cloth. You know, in our culture you bury within 24 hours and you do not embalm. You are wrapped in a cloth, not a coffin. The indictment is read that you have converted to Christianity, and then everyone picks up the stones and you are stoned to death in the city square – for the sole indictment of being a believer in Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Yeah, it’s just so hard for us to comprehend that. It just is unbelievable, and you’re saying that this comes right out of the Qur’an.
Ergun: Well, not just the Qur’an. It’s sharia law! The Pact of Umar. Any country that’s called an Islamic republic cannot allow religious freedom. It allows for religious toleration, which means we’ll allow Christians to live in our country. You must pay a jizyat. You must pay a tax. But religious freedom is defined this way. Religious freedom means, here in America I would fight for a Muslim’s right to worship in a mosque because they have the pluralistic right. But they would not afford us the right to share the Great Commission, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in their countries. It means that I have a right to stand in front of that mosque and tell them, “Jesus Christ is more than just a messenger. He’s Messiah.”
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to try to unravel how Muslims think around the world. We’re going to cover all the different kinds of Muslim groups in the programs ahead. But the over-arching question that we’re going to be asking is, “What is the relationship of these folks in jihad to the Qur’an and what kind of jihad are we talking about?”
And take us through. We’re going to look at Muhammad, two programs on Muhammad, his life. Is he the example that we should follow? Then we’re going to look into the thousand years after Muhammad. Then we’re going to look at the Tradition, the Hadith, and the Qur’an, and we’re actually going to get down to the verses there. Can you take these in any other meaning than this is physical warfare? Maybe you want to comment on that. What are we doing next week?
Emir: Next week, we’ll deal with jihad, and explicitly, as we’ll see in Muhammad’s life, he was a brutal warrior. A genius of a man, but a brute. After his life, the history, the first thousand years of Islam after Muhammad died in 632 A.D., was an aggressive, violent faith that wanted to conquer the world with Islam and almost got its way until Charles the Hammer in 732. But even after that, they swept east toward the Mongols and others. And so we’ll deal with the jihad is not primarily internal struggle. That jihad primarily says you must go to war for Muhammad’s sake, for Islam’s sake, and for the sake of Allah.
Ergun: In the weeks that follow, we will ask the question, “How do you win our people to Christ?” Romans 9: “We would wish that we could be accursed so that our kinsmen according to the flesh could be saved.” We’ve spent 17 years telling people about our countries, about our people, about our culture. Four planes fly, and for the first time in our lives, people are listening.
Ankerberg: You’re not going to want to miss this information, and it’s the question of our day. So I hope you’ll join us next week.

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