Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Unveiling Islam:
An Insider’s
Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs,
By Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner,
Kregel Publications,
2002, 256 pp,

June, 2005

The clash of cultures between Christianity and Islam dates back to Muhammad…. The clash is not just a matter of dissimilar cultures. Many Muslims and Christians do not know what they themselves believe. Consequently, their reactions are improper since their information is inaccurate. Confusion through politically correct ecumenism and relativism has prolonged ignorance. (p.202)

A few days after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that dreadful September day nearly four years ago, thousands gathered to mourn and pray. At one such event in New York City, a Christian minister began the invocation: “We pray in the name of our God – the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam….” Oprah Winfrey assured the crowd that Islam is a peaceful and loving religion.  

The authors of Unveiling Islam ask whether it is true that the people gathered at this stadium, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, are indeed serving the same God. Similarly, they ask whether the kind of  Oprah-style spirituality,” according to which every person has an “’inner light,’ which equalizes every faith system, since each person’s journey of discovery is a search for the ‘inner light of meaning and purpose.’” 

Ergun and Emir Caner are well qualified to struggle with these questions at the heart of the Muslim faith (about truth and the issue of war and peace). They were born and raised in a Muslim family living first in Sweden, then in the United States.  Their father Acar Mehmet Caner was a devout Muslim, active in establishing the Islamic Foundation Center in Columbus, Ohio. The family did their daily prayers, celebrated Ramadan, and faithfully read the Koran and Hadith. 

When the Caner brothers embraced the Christian faith, their father was horrified and disowned them. This was a terrible hardship for the sons who admired and deeply loved their father. They were reconciled to their father seventeen years later and only four days before he died unchanged in his commitment to the Muslim faith. They explain: 

As you begin this investigation into Islam, its teachings, and its adherents, we want you 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, we Caner brothers lost our father - our earthly hero - as have millions of others worldwide.                  

Unveiling Islam’ s sixteen chapters range over all the major tenets of Islam as well as other highlights of this religion. In clear language the authors deal with the history of Islam, its battles, holy books, internal divisions, the life and teachings of Muhammad, his marriage to eleven wives (including the then six year-old Aishah), the place of women, religious liberty, jihad, and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. It includes two indices of topics, a summary of Christian versus Muslim beliefs, and a glossary of Arabic/Islamic terms. 

In the following I want to touch on three major tenets/practices of Islam highlighted in this book: the IsIamic holy books, God or Allah, and the meaning of jihad. 

The Holy Books

The story of the Koran’s origin is complex, leaving skeptics with plenty of questions. However, to the Muslim believer, the Koran is the revelation directly from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Tradition and the Koran have it that he received these revelations while undergoing seizures, or via dreams, visions, angels, and from Allah directly who spoke from behind a veil. 

These revelations were said to have been written on whatever was handy during the unpredictable occurrences to Muhammad, such as leg or thigh bones of dead animals, palm leaves, skins, mats, stones, and bark, or through memorization by Muhammad’s disciples. These scattered recollections were not compiled till the years 646 – 650 under the direction of the third caliph Uthman. He oversaw the selection from a large pool of sayings that existed at that time. It is this Arabic version that is held to be God’s final revelation that existed eternally in heaven. 

The Koran is seen as a correction of the corrupted Bible, especially the epistles of the apostle Paul. It contains a number of stories that are adapted from the Bible in a way that makes them unrecognizable, especially at they pertain to Jesus, his mother Mary, and to the Trinity. 

In addition, there are the writings in the Hadith and the Sunnah, which mostly consist of stories about the life and teachings of Muhammad. The South African Council of Muslim Theologians has explained that the Koran without the Hadith or Sunnah is unintelligible in places. They state that therefore the Holy Koran has in several verses  ordered Muslims to follow the Prophet in all his deeds and sayings. Therefore, if one believes in the Holy Qur’an, there is no other alternative but to uphold the Hadith of the Prophet.” 

Jehovah God or Allah

There is a widespread impression, even among some Christians, that the God of the Bible and Allah as presented in the Koran, are really the same divine being.  But the authors of Unveiling Islam make it crystal clear that this is not true. 

For one thing, the first pillar of Islam is the absolute monotheistic nature of Allah, by which is meant a total rejection of the triune nature of God as revealed in the Bible. When Muslims confess that there is no God but Allah they mean to say that the biblical revelation about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is a falsehood. They are taught that to believe that Jesus is God who took upon himself the human nature, is blasphemy, for it would mean that God is divided, which would make him less than fully divine. 

Further, the God of the Koran is distant from creation, who rules all things and controls all things so that there is no space for human freedom. One of the most often used phrase by Muslims is “Allah wills it.” Though the names of Allah include such terms as Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Compassionate, there is no sense of tenderness and a loving relationship with Allah. Instead, Muslims are required to follow very carefully a rigid regime of the so-called five pillars of Islam.   

In contrast, the Bible reveals a God who loves the world and desires that all come to life in Christ.  A Christian is described in the Bible as a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and we are invited to address God with the intimate term of “our Father” who forgives and heals those who turn to him in repentance and faith. 

The God of Islam weighs his followers on a scale in which the good and bad are measured by a stern judge. As the authors of Unveiling Islam put it: 

Even the most faithful and devout Muslim refers to Allah only as servant to master; Allah is a distant sovereign. Some titles for Allah connote mercy, but it is a redefined mercy: Allah is merciful because he did not kill me or leave me in peril. Yahweh [God of the Bible] is a caring, loving, and intimately involved Father. 

Jihad (Holy Warfare)

The controversy about the real meaning of this term continues. Most Muslim spokespersons in the western democracies insist that the Koran’s meaning of jihad has nothing to do with the murder and mayhem inflicted by Islamic extremists. They say that jihad refers to the internal struggles of individual Muslims to do good and to work for the betterment of the world. 

However, they cannot deny that those who killed some 3000 people on 9/11 were convinced that their horrible deeds met with the approval of Allah – and in fact were celebrated by jubilant crowds of Muslims. The perpetrators of this destruction of innocent lives were convinced that their deed was a heroic act of martyrdom that would assure them a specially privileged place in heaven. 

On February 23, 1998 five Islamic leaders, including Osama bin Laden, signed a fatwa declaring war on the United Sates and its allies. They quoted Allah’s Book: (the Koran) as follows: 

 But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every strategem (of war); and peace be upon our prophet, Muhammad Bin-‘ Abdallah, who said “I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but Allah is worshipped, Allah who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my orders.” 

Then followed a long list of grievances, mostly detailing America’s defilement of the sacred lands of Islam, its support of Israel, and the defeat of Iraq. This fatwa claims that these “crimes and sins committed by the Americans” amount to a declaration of war on Allah, the prophet Muhammad, and all Muslims. 

This is why the authors of this fatwa pronounce that it is the duty of every Muslim to kill Americans and their allies  - civilians and military - wherever they can. This order to kill is said to be in accordance with these words of Almighty Allah: “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.” 

The brothers Caner provide plenty of evidence from the Koran and the Hadith that the signers of this chilling fatwa did not read into their holy books what is not there. On the contrary, they convincingly show that these militant followers of Islam understood the Koran and acted in keeping with its teachings of jihad. 

Must Reading

There is much, much more in this book as it explains, backed with numerous references to the relevant texts, the history of Islamic conquest, its treatment of women and minorities, and the punishment for those who turn away from Islam. In short, this is a careful analysis of the mindset of those who read the Islamic holy books as the blueprint for a new world controlled by one system of thought and one political order. 

What makes this book all the more relevant today is that the two authors are living testimony that by God’s grace people are able to escape from the hold that Islam has over more than a billion people. Having lived the Islamic way of life, they are eminently qualified to explain the truth about that religion. Both are now university professors teaching theology and church history. They have lectured at many seminars and other public meetings about Islam and its relationship to Christianity. 

Above all, this book invites and enables Christians to acquire a better understanding of Islam. Not for the purpose of attacking its adherents but to be better able to present to them the Good News that God so loved the world that he sent His Son to save it. 

This is a most timely and superb presentation of the Gospel of love and inclusion versus a religion of rules and exclusion. It should be in every church and school library – if not in every Christian home.