Ex-Muslim Seminary Dean on Afghan Convert, Islam

In the midst of the whirlwind of protests by Afghan clerics and their followers demanding the death of a Christian convert and the opposing Western calls for religious freedom, a former Muslim turned seminary dean spoke up on the case that has caused a storm of criticism around the world.

Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., a converted Sunni Muslim and the son of a Muslim scholar, spoke to The Christian Post on Friday on the difficulties faced by Muslim converts and what Christians should understand when speaking to an Islam follower.

CP: Growing up in a country where religious freedom is considered a basic right granted to every human being, American readers might find it difficult to understand why Afghans are threatening to kill Abdul Rahman for being a Christian. Could you explain the mindset or beliefs that Muslims have that would evoke this kind of reaction?

Caner: Islam never ever embraces religious freedom – ever. That is fundamental for understanding especially with all the arguments on Iraq. If Iraq succeeds – which I pray it does; it is a grand experiment – it will be the first time in 1,300 years of history that Muslims have allowed for freedom of conscience, for freedom of beliefs. This has never been embraced so it is vital to understand this.

Secondly, in 30 countries around the globe, every Friday, Jumiat – the murder of converts – takes place. They are called apostates, but nonetheless they are converts from Islam to anything else – Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and any other religion.

What catches my attention is not that Abdul Rahman was being sentenced to death, but that this has caught people’s attention. I don’t know why this would catch anyone’s attention. In our world, a convert from Islam to Christianity is a reality of life; the average Muslim who converts to Christ [however] does not live very long.

CP: Rahman, as well as yourself, converted from Islam to Christianity through close contact with Christians. What message of Christianity was attractive to you? What aspect of Christianity do you think made Rahman decide to convert?

Caner: Rahman is more brave than I would ever be. He is more than just a convert. He was saved 16 years ago, left the country and then came back. It is astonishing.

Christianity is an amazing thing for him as it is for me as for all of us. It was grace that got our attention, grace and unconditional love. There is no such thing in Islam. There is no such thing as love without initiation. Koran teaches that Allah loves those who convert, loves those who repent, loves those who do good things. But Allah does not love you unconditionally.

CP: Do you think that it is difficult for a Muslim to convert to Christianity? If yes, why?

Caner: The mission groups are telling us that it takes an average of seven years for a Muslim who has heard once of the Gospel to come to faith in Jesus Christ. It is because for Muslims you are not only talking about losing what you do on Sunday. In the American system when you become a believer in Christ it is more like “Well now my Sunday is gone.” In Islam you lose your family, your home, your love ones, your food, your background, your heritage, your culture, you lose everything as well as your life. And so this is a major decision. I compare it to the Anti-Baptists of the Reformation period because they lived 18 months after they accepted Jesus. It is the same thing in our world.

CP: What should Christians know about people of the Islamic faith that would help to facilitate discussion about Christianity and invitation to church services?

Caner: Most important thing to understand when you are sharing the Gospel with a Muslim is that he uses your words but he does not understand the concept. For instance, one of the name for Allah is Gracious Beneficence, but they don’t know what that means. I never knew. We have no idea what vicarious death means. Muslims believe in atonement because we believe that our blood forgives us, but we don’t understand why someone else would die for us.

CP: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Caner: The Muhammad cartoons – the thing that upsets me the most is not that it was an outrage to the Muslims. First off it was not profane, it was provocative, but it wasn’t profane. What caught my attention the most was CNN’s report that there are bookstores that will not carry anything that has to do with the cartoons. They believe that is offensive. Well, that cracks me up because they are willing to run cartoons for Da Vinci Code – that doesn’t offend anybody. But all of the sudden Muslims burn something and all of the sudden everybody goes insane. We don’t burn anything. We protest and tell them that this is offensive to us but they don’t care.

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