Two Southern Baptist scholars have teamed up to offer a comprehensive analysis of the world's second-largest religion. Their presentation of the practices, ethics, and beliefs of Islam is more than an academic recitation of the differences between Christianity and Islam. It's the story of two brothers' conversion from the religion of their childhood to a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
Unveiling Islam is a new release from Kregel Publications intended to educate readers about Islam and provide a practical strategy Christians can use to open a productive dialogue with Muslims. Ergun M. Caner, assistant professor of theology and church history at Criswell College in Dallas, and Emir F. Caner, assistant professor of church history and Anabaptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., admit that the work was far from "a labor of love."
Raised in a strict Muslim home, the Caner boys admired their Turkish father even after their parents divorced after moving to Ohio. They participated in daily prayers, celebrated Ramadan, and read from the Koran regularly. Hoping their good deeds would outweigh any bad deeds, the Caners' devotion was not an act of love, but rather fear, they write in Unveiling Islam.
Thus, the writing of the book was "an arduous and sometimes painful exercise of remembering unspoken mental pictures that are never far from view," the Caners note in their book. "We were taught that Christianity and Islam were antithetical, stemming from a centuries-old conflict dating back to the Crusades, when Muslims were slaughtered by the thousands."
Ultimately, it was a friend's invitation to attend a revival service at a Baptist church that provided Ergun Caner an opportunity to hear the gospel and receive God's gift of salvation in Jesus. His other brother, Erdem, received Christ soon after, and Emir was saved a year later. Those decisions prompted their father to disown his sons.
Since 1982, Emir and Ergun Caner have preached and taught about Islam, sharing a desire for salvation among the 1.2 billion Muslim people who need Jesus. "Usually, churches and pastors would allow us to preach, graciously pat us on our heads, and tell us how fascinating this world religion seems," the Caners stated in their book.
That reaction changed Sept. 11. "After thousands of people were incinerated in the World Trade Center bombing, people began to listen."
The heightened interest in Islam has drawn each of the Caner brothers into additional debate settings at mosques and universities, speaking in English, French, and Arabic with Muslim scholars. And they have been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, Moody Broadcasting Network, Salem Radio Network, and USA Radio. Talk show invitations have come from Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Marlon Maddux, and Zola Levitt.
Nearly every interviewer asks one of the Caners to comment on the proposition that Islam, like Christianity, is just another path to God. "The media question belies a mistaken assumption that all religions are the same," the Caners write. They respond to the notion that "getting to whatever God there may be is like getting to Chicago. You can get there by plane, train, or automobile. It doesn't matter what path you take or religion you follow, as long as you get there."
They further write, "It must be understood that orthodox, biblical Christianity assumes the existence of truth. Truth implies the existence of error, and mutually exclusive claims of truth cannot both be correct. Such is the case of Islam. Either Islam is correct in the assumption that 'there is only One God, Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet,' or Christianity is correct when Jesus says, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by me' (John 14:6). They cannot both be correct."
The Caners provide a history of Islam and assessment of Muhammad as a militant messenger, explain the "five pillars" of Islamic belief, and examine the holy days observed by Muslims, with citations from the Koran as well as other key writings in Islam, the Sunnah, and Hadith. They offer details of inherent inferiority of women in Islamic teaching and the inevitable clash of cultures between Christians and Muslims. Salvation for the Muslim is described by the Caners as a mathematical formula.
"Each person is literally accountable for each act performed. Consequently, the scales become more important as one approaches the end of life, especially for those who are on the edge. They have to work harder, live better, and give more. Then, they can hope, the scales will tip in their favor."
By moving through the elements of Islamic teaching, the Caners critique its claims and respond with the testimony of the Bible regarding the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
When Islam is described as a peaceful religion misrepresented by the zealots of the Taliban, Ergun Caner is quick to respond. "Islam at its core is a religion of warfare. Muhammad was a warrior. [Muslims] are taught to conquer … to fight. If anyone says in the media that Islam is a religion of peace, they either don't know their faith, don't know the Koran, or they are lying."
When their father died from cancer in 1999, the Caners realized, "The stark reality of religious systems and our relationship with Jesus Christ as our Savior came into sharp focus." Through the investigation into Islam, its teachings and its adherents, the Caners want readers to see "the human side of religion — where faith often means the total rejection of culture, ethnicity, family, and friends."
To find "heaven's glory in Jesus Christ," they lost their father, their earthly hero, just as have millions of others worldwide, they acknowledge.
Muslims will not gain a better perception of Christianity through Muslim-Christian dialogues seeking to find commonalities between the two faiths, the Caners argue. "Ecumenism has offered little solace; it has ignored substantive disagreements and refused honest engagement. This approach might bring a stagnant calm, but never healing of the bitterness. True understanding can come only as honest perceptions are confronted truthfully and answered frankly."