What Do Muslims Believe?/Program 2

By: Dr. Ergun Caner, Dr. Emir Caner; ©2003
What are the five pillars of Islam that are the basis of all Islamic law and belief? And what are Muslims taught about women, love and marriage?



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.


Ankerberg: Welcome! We’ve got an exciting program for you today. We have two former Muslims who are our guests. These fellows became Christians. Their family disowned them. They went on in their education to get their doctorates. They’re now professors in Christian seminaries. They’ve written two best-selling books, and just loaded with information. What we want to talk about is, what is Islamic belief about Allah? What is the difference between the God of Islam and the God of the Bible?
And guys, in starting this, I am fascinated with the story of John Walker, the kid that grew up in California, seemed like an all-American kid. He ends up fighting with the Taliban against our Forces. Now, the President, George Bush, said this guy was misled. What misled him? What was going on? What was the lure of Islam for a kid growing up in California?
Emir: Well, he had liberal parents, if you will, or pluralistic parents, at the least, where they said, “You pick. It’s a Wal-Mart of religions. They’re all equal. You’re just picking a God that is all really the unknown God or God as we put Him in a universal scheme.” And so he reads the autobiography of Malcolm X and he becomes a Muslim because he’s looking for meaning, and he’s looking for structure, none of which he got from his parents who didn’t give him anything in terms of an eternal meaning to his life. And he heads on over to the Madrassah of Pakistan, fights for the Afghans, ends up being caught. And everybody goes, “I can’t believe there’s an American Taliban.”
Well, each and every one of us is looking for meaning in our life. Islam has many people come to it, 34,000 here in America in and of itself, because it is natural. We want to work our way to God. We think somehow, some way we can earn it, and there is no more works-based religion in the world than Islam and its Five Pillars.
Ankerberg: What do you mean? Explain that one.
Ergun: The Five Pillars?
Ankerberg: Yes.
Ergun: Islam is based on the desire for the straight path, the straight way, the straight life, and so to get more good deeds than bad deeds in your life, you must follow the paths of righteousness. The paths of righteousness are defined by the six foundations or the five pillars.
Ankerberg: We’re going to cover those in-depth next week, but just what are they right now?
Ergun: Abinedab, salat, zakat, sawn, and hajj. Abinedab is the Sha’hada, the confession. Salat, zakat, sawn, that’s prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And hajj is the pilgrimage you are to make once in your lifetime to Mecca.
Ankerberg: Okay. And the fact is, why is that attractive? Just because it gives you order and stability?
Emir: And it gives you a way in which you can somehow work your way to heaven. It really doesn’t give you hope. You can’t say it gives you hope, it just gives you purpose. You still live in angst, Surah 17, with those dreadful scales that are there. But somehow it gives you a box, parameters, and what John Walker was looking for was that box. “Someone tell me where authority lies, this epistemology, what do you know? How do you know what you know? Where really is it?” And he finds it in the personal story of Malcolm X.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let’s pick up on that and during 9/11, all kinds of people gathered in Yankee Stadium. Christians, Jews, Muslims. And they were all praying, okay? And the commentators would say: Well, they’re all speaking to the same God who just happens to have different divine nicknames.
Ergun: Sure. And that’s actually what they said on television. It was September 23.
Ankerberg: My question to you is, is the God of the Bible the same as the God in Islam?
Ergun: If you would have said to us when we were Muslims that Allah and Jehovah are the same God, we would have been offended. As Christians, we find it blasphemous. No one who has read the Qur’an, no one who has read the Bible would ever say that it’s the same God. As a matter of fact, this is, interestingly enough, this is one of those things about which we can agree or with which we can agree with most Muslims. We have never, we have never met a Muslim ulema who would say that the Jehovah described in the Bible is the same God as the Allah of the Qur’an. The message seems to come from our culture instead. The message comes from our syncretistic, post-modern “group hug” kind of culture that wants us all to be talking about the same God. But nothing can be further from the truth.
Ankerberg: Yeah, when you were in Islam, the fact is, Islam completely rejected Christian belief and the Christian God.
Ergun: Yes. There’s the idea that we’ve heard this taught even among missiologists that Islam was an attempt to fulfill Christianity. Absolutely not! Islam was a complete and total rejection, a repudiation, a revision of Christianity. It wasn’t any fulfillment – like it was some sort of a messianic “fixing” of Christianity. They believed that the Jews had the truth and it was corrupted. The Christians had the truth and it was corrupted. The only truth is Muhammad and Allah, and this is the final revelation, this is the truth, this is the corrected text.
Ankerberg: Now, you’ve also, since becoming Christians, come to realize that there are some Christians that are saying you could use Allah, the word for God in Arabic, and you could still be talking about the God of the Bible. You guys vehemently disagree with that one. Why?
Emir: Missiologists want to use and say, “Well, it’s a linguistic argument. Allah just means deity.” Really a large, significant problem involved there. For example, in the Old Testament, when you set up the gods of Baal – Baal was a generalized term for “gods” in which you can pluralistically pick – which is so familiar to us today. Baal in the Canaanite Semitic language meant “lord.” Can you just imagine Isaiah saying, “I want to speak to you about Baal.” There is no way he would have translated that that way. And then they say, “But Acts 17 in the New Testament, here they have the ‘unknown god’ and this is our missiological strategy.” But it doesn’t parallel. If they are going to use Acts 17 as a missiological strategy, they couldn’t compare the Jehovah Jesus Christ of the Bible with, the way they do with Acts 17. They would have to compare Allah with Zeus. Zeus has characteristics. Allah has characteristics.
Ankerberg: Let’s slow that down. Some Christians say in Acts 17 this is what’s going on: Paul is actually showing the Athenian philosophers they were ignorantly worshiping the true God of Christianity. Second, he was using their false gods to preach the true God to them; and third, thus on the mission field we can speak of Allah as God because Muslims do not know His nature. It’s just okay to use the word.
Ergun: He didn’t point to one of their idols and say, “Look, let me tell you his real name.” What he did was, he took the one that they hadn’t named, but they had tried to make him into their image, they shaped him by their hands, gave him a name, put him in a temple, you know, “to the unknown god.” But Paul said, “No, no. Let me show the One that you don’t know.” This is the issue. The missiologists will say this is a linguistic issue, this is an etymological issue. We say, “This is not etymological. It’s theological. There’s only one name under heaven by which man can be saved, and that’s the name of Jesus Christ” [cf. Acts 4:12]. It’s the name, the authority, the exousias of Jesus Christ that empowers us unto salvation, and that’s the issue. This is the central fundamental thing.
We are not religious. The desire to sort of amalgamate religious peoples into one big “seeking a divine inner spark” or something, what we call the “Oprah-ization” of culture, we vehemently stand against. This is not our culture.
Ankerberg: Take also this fact that in our culture we are saying, “You know, it doesn’t really matter which God you believe in, they’re all kind of good. As long as you believe in one, that’s fine. And they’re all equally good in terms of what they do for you. That’s not true either, especially in Islam. Why?
Ergun: Well, because you have 99 names of Allah in the Qur’an. There are the names of terror and the names of glory. Not one – and I cannot emphasize this enough – not one was intimate, personal. There is no such thing as a Muslim having a personal relationship with Allah.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I think we’ve got to say that again. I mean, when I read that in your book, that just struck me. Say that again.
Ergun: Not one name of the 99.
Emir: That is, love in Islam is a condition. Allah loves those who do righteous deeds. “Allah loves not the transgressors. Allah….. fill in the blank.” In Islam it’s a condition. In Christianity, love is a characteristic of God. It’s not just merely an action. It is not primarily an action. It is first His character; then it’s brought about… And we have to remember, Surah 19:88, they say that this Trinity, this picture is “most blasphemous! Most monstrous!” And we have to remember as Christians, if Muslims reject part of the Trinity, they reject all of the Trinity. The Father sent the Son; the Father and Son thereby sent the Spirit, and if you reject Jesus Christ who was crucified and resurrected, you reject the Father who sent Him, and the Spirit who follows Him, and thereby you cannot in any way be worshiping the same God.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Let me see if this hits your own personal experience. What I hear you saying is that, you know, Christians have this intimate relationship with the Lord where the Lord actually comes and lives inside of us. And we talk with Him and we experience Him, and He leads us moment by moment. In Islam, you didn’t expect to have that. You were told not to expect to have that. What did you have?
Ergun: You had Allah who is creator and who is judge. He is transcendent, to use theological terms, but he is not immanent. And you fear, not revere, you fear Allah. And then we were saved and we found out we were temples of the Holy Spirit. That we could “come boldly before the throne of God to obtain mercy in the time of need” [Heb. 4:16]. We found out that we were indwelt, that He cared about our deepest need. That He loved us intimately, that He was Abba, Father. This was beyond anything we had ever imagined because we had always seen Allah as judge. But we found the true and living Jehovah God who is loving Father.
Ankerberg: We’re going to take a break and when we come back, I want to talk about the other differences that you have discovered between the God of the Bible and Allah. Stick with us. We’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: We’re back. We’re talking with two former Muslims who have become Christians. Their family disowned them. They went on in their education to get their Ph.D.s, and they’re professors in Christian seminaries.
We’re talking about, what do Muslims believe about Allah? And what did they find in Christianity, how was the God of the Bible different from Allah? And guys, in listening and kind of playing back that first segment, you’re probably going to have a lot of critics who are going to say, “Listen, you have no right to speak about that.” And they’ll probably give you three reasons why: “Hey, you’re not an expert on Islam! You’ve not read the Qur’an enough. Or you’re just straight lying to us.” What would you say to those things?
Ergun: Well, first off, my brother could probably handle the issue of that you don’t read the Qur’an in Arabic. We hear this often in our debate formats but “reading it enough” is silly because you have to understand, everything is works-based. We read the Qur’an daily. You would take it from the highest shelf in your home, you read your Qur’an, close it, kiss it, place it to your forehead and put it on the highest shelf in your home as well. You revered it because it is supposed to be the written word of Allah. Because it was written the way it was written, it points to one of the differences between Jehovah God of the Bible and Allah of the Qur’an. When we talk about the translation of the Qur’an, you have Allah speaking to Jibrael (the angel Gabriel). Jibrael gives it to Muhammad. Allah is transcendent. He has nothing to do with man as far as in intimacy. And so even in the transmission of the Qur’an, he speaks to an angel, the angel speaks to man. It was one of the clear, defining moments in my life was to realize that I could have a personal relationship with God.
Ankerberg: Alright, you have read the Qur’an every day. You guys have more of the Qur’an memorized than most people that I know. What about the fact that you’re not an expert on Islam? Is anybody an expert on Islam?
Emir: Well, the expertise they say comes…you must study the Qur’an in Arabic. Now, if that’s the case, then 75 percent of Muslims are not Muslims: they cannot be because they do not speak Arabic. And if they don’t speak Arabic, then they’re not a true Muslim. That’s what we hear. “Oh! You’re a Turk! You grew up in a country that does not speak Arabic as its first language. You cannot know what you’re talking about.” If that’s the case, then 60 million Turks, neither do they know what they are talking about. And so it really is an illegitimate argument. It’s actually a medieval argument, this very fact that only the clergy somehow could understand really demonstrates why so many people followed blindly the clerics in their countries and listen to what they say and the clerics run because the people truly only repeat the Qur’an, they never understand the Qur’an or they’re unwilling to understand it. And it gives Allah a very frail characteristic as if he is not able to transmit the text in any other language besides Arabic.
Ankerberg: Yeah, if that would be the case, 90 percent of the people that are listening to you right now could never make it either because they don’t know Arabic.
Ergun: Of course, of course. But you asked a great question that was sort of tangential to that and that is, does anybody speak for Islam? Nobody speaks for Islam! No one! It’s not a monolithic religion. You understand, the fall of the caliphate, at the end of World War I, you had the Ottoman Empire which was on the wrong side. Once again, Turkey is always on the wrong side. We were on the wrong side and we fall. The caliphate falls. From that moment until now, there has not been one singular voice, even in the Sunni world, much less Sunni versus Shiite. The distinctions between the major sects – Sufis’ rejection of jihad, the Shiite use of the muttah, the temporary marriage, the belief in the twelfth imam, such as Ayatollah Khomeini’s belief. Then the Sunnis over here. Even within the Sunni you have Wahhabi, you have mainline Sunni. Wahhabi who believe in an absolute literal jihad and the rejection of all other types of denominational beliefs, schism beliefs of Islam. You have this huge conglomeration of warfare and so, I guess, to no one’s satisfaction anyone will ever be an expert in this. Not any more than anyone is an expert in Christianity.
Ankerberg: Wahhabis come underneath the Shiites?
Ergun: Come under the Sunnis.
Ankerberg: Sunnis.
Ergun: Come under the Sunnis.
Ankerberg: How many Sunnis versus Shiites in the world?
Emir: Eighty percent to 15 percent or even a little bit more than that.
Ankerberg: Eighty percent are Sunni?
Emir: Yes. The vast majority are Sunnis, as you can see, even with Osama bin Laden – Sunni; Saddam Hussein – Sunni; in Iran and much of Iraq, the Shiites. The Ayatollahs, so to speak. Those who were used to having terrorism actually today are the lesser of the terrorists because of the Wahhabi sub-sect in the Sunni which was started in the eighteenth century with Wahhab, the prophet.
Ankerberg: Alright, quickly roll through the different groups simply because people do make…. Let’s argue the other way, they’re saying that Islam does speak as a whole, but that’s not true either. Talk about the different groups. You don’t have to name all of them, but just give me a few of them.
Ergun: How about the major ones. Obviously, the Sunni, the Shiite, the Sufi, which we really haven’t discussed that much, the Wahhabi, the Alawite out of Syria; you have the Druze, another classic group; and then, of course, the Nation of Islam which is a purely American group.
Ankerberg: And some of those violently disagree with each other.
Ergun: Oh, absolutely. They constantly declare one another a cult.
Ankerberg: Give me a couple of examples.
Ergun: The Sunni believe that the Shiites misread eschatological passages. The Shiites look for a twelfth imam. The idea of the twelfth imam is someone who has never died in the Shiite faith and they wait for him to join with Jesus – Isa, who returns, and they will fight al Dajjal, they will fight the Antichrist.
Ankerberg: And that’s particular to them.
Ergun: Yes. So they have Jesus as one of the two revelation witnesses in that way.
Emir: And there’s a key, though, because so many times a Muslim will come up to a Christian and say, “I cannot become a Christian. Look at all your denominations.” And the Christian will say, “You’re right. Unlike Islam, where it’s unified, we have to give you that point.” Absolutely not! If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved anything, it’s that the fractions within Islam, even though they’re sub-sects instead of major denominations, many times are as fierce as they are in Christianity. And the commonalities between Christians are very clear: if you do not believe there is only one way to heaven and His name is Jesus Christ, if you do not believe in the Trinity, if you do not believe the fundamentals of the faith, you cannot legitimately call yourself a Christian by way of New Testament standards.
Ankerberg: Great. Give me Sufis, Druze, Sikhs….
Ergun: Yeah, these are some of my favorites. Sufis are the mystics. And the reason I say they’re my favorites is, in all of this discussion, post-9/11/01, we will have on occasion a phone caller who will say, “I am a Muslim and I completely abhor violence. I have turned my back on violence. I do not believe in violence.” And we will always ask, “Okay, fine. Where is Mohammed Atta now, according to the Qur’an and according to the Hadith?” Of course, the answer they will give is, if they say he’s in hell-fire, then they weren’t good Muslims which history doesn’t really stand behind them. If they say he’s in heaven, well then, politics stands against them. But when we get the phone caller who says, “Oh, they’re in hell-fire. Allah did not call us to jihad,” I will often say, “You’re a Sufi, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I’m a Sufi.” Not all Sufis have disavowed jihad but a vast majority have. They are mystics. They believe in their mind coming into union with Allah, the whirling dervish, the use of sometimes mind-altering substances to help them come to union with Allah.
The Druze are the secret Muslims, the secret sect, and for generation upon generation, passed on by whispers.
Alawites used to be the ruling party of Syria and they are coming into prominence again in certain areas.
You have these sub-sects of Islam. Among the Shiites, the Shiites alone are splintered into almost 40 different groups.
Ankerberg: Okay. So I think your point of the fact is, they do not speak as a whole, they don’t even believe the same thing is a great point to make. Let’s come back to this thing of, let’s continue to talk about Allah because we only have a few minutes left in this program. What were the differences that you found between Allah and the God of the Bible personally?
Emir: The one word in which no Muslim understands correctly until they come to salvation is grace. Undeserving merit. The very fact that God loves you in spite of your sin, instead of an encouragement to your righteousness. That all of our righteousness, [Isaiah] says, “is like filthy rags.” [Isa. 64:6]. The idea that original sin, Islam has no such idea. There is no original sin. You are born with two angels: one on the right side which is good; one on the other side which is bad. And then all of sudden, you somehow get this works-based salvation so imbedded in your mind that Allah can only be judge. But if grace is the primary tenet to which to be saved, then God, Jesus Christ, is love, and that is the understanding, that I have to come as I am. I must come in my filth and then Jesus Christ not just covers me with His blood, that He removes all the sin, all the guilt, and wipes it as far as East is from the West [Psa. 103:12] and I’m as white as snow. [Isa. 1:18] I never, never could understand grace until I came to the cross.
Ankerberg: What did you expect? What were you believing in, then?
Emir: Another religion. I expected when I went to the church to see another faith that was based on works. When we see Christianity, you have to remember, chapter 5, verse 116, when they talk about the Trinity, they say it is God the Father, Jesus Christ and Mary. Many Muslims picture Christians as Catholic. And you walk in and see their rituals, you see Mary as the center of the Catholic Church holding baby Jesus sometimes. And that’s what we pictured. It was only the ritualism of the Catholic Church. The evangelical movement, as large as it is with so many millions, is still foreign to many Muslims.
Ankerberg: So you had a wrong view of what Christians even hold and meantime, as a Muslim yourself, you were holding to a works system that had no guarantee of heaven.
Ergun: We assumed you didn’t either.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Talk about how that felt.
Ergun: The idea that…
Ankerberg: No guarantee.
Ergun: Yeah. At the close of each evening that if I was to die, I wouldn’t know. That is an astonishing… you know, the difference between fear and angst – angst is unfocused. You would have this trembling and dread that if I was to die, I’m out of luck. I don’t think my accounting was done well. I don’t think I was good enough today, nice enough today, sweet enough today, well thought today. You cannot possibly find words to describe the ultimate works-centered religion.
Emir: That’s why we say we didn’t switch religions. If we did it, it’s our own power. If God did it, it’s by His power. If it’s humanistic, if our anthropology, our doctrine on what we are based is us, you know, I look inside myself and I see depravity. When I look outside of myself, I see Jesus Christ and I see perfection, and in that perfection thereby I see that there is only one way to Heaven and His name is Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Ergun, talk to the Muslim that’s listening. Maybe secretly he’s listening right now. What do you advise him to do? If this might sound too good to be true, what would you advise him to do next so that he would come into a relationship with Christ?
Ergun: I would, please, please, please focus them on one central fact. We were raised believing that Isa was a prophet; raised believing that Isa spoke of Muhammad who was to come. But if Jesus actually claimed to be God, then He was saying He was more than just a prophet. He was saying more than He was just one pointing us to the way. He Himself is the way. That Jesus Christ died on the cross, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and presented His blood for me, for you, for the full forgiveness of sin – not just the outweighing of bad, but the forgiving, cleansing, purging of all evil, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior and God.
Ankerberg: Alright, I think that’s terrific. That’s a terrific word. Next week we’re going to turn our attention to the works system. I found it absolutely fascinating, your chapter on the Five Pillars of Islam, what you guys were expecting to do to earn heaven. And what you actually went through day after day after day. And folks, I hope that you’ll join us next week as we look at the five fundamentals, the five pillars of Islam and let these fellows explain. Join us then.

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