An Interview with Dr. Emir Caner
by Dr. Michael H. Reynolds
On a cool Tuesday morning in mid September 2011 I had the privilege to sit down with Dr. Caner in his office at Truett-McConnell College in the North Georgia Mountains.
MHR: Dr. Caner, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. Would you please share your testimony of how you came to Christ?
- Caner: in the 1960’s my father married a Swedish Christian who “reverted” (reverted instead of converted because Islam teaches that all people are born Muslim) to Islam and they immigrated to the United States in 1969. My parents were later divorced and I lived with my mother. When I was in middle school I was invited to Stelzer Road Baptist church for a revival meeting. It was the first time I had ever heard the gospel and I accepted it on the spot that evening. In reality it had been a two year journey from lostness and a false god. For me, it was like the son coming home in Luke 15, “My son who was dead is now alive. He was lost, but is now found.” Soon after this my father asked me to pray and I knew I could not pray to a false god and he knew. He disowned me and told me I was no longer his son. My brothers and I were able to reconnect with him near his death but he was in the background most of my life until then. When Christians prepare to witness to Muslims they need to consider the repercussions of those actions. A decision for Christ could end in being kicked out of the family to death. When a Muslim comes to Christ it really is surrender. Often people ask: “How do I witness to a Muslim?” My response is – basically like anyone else. We have a lot of people who talk about the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible but they have forgotten the sufficiency of God’s word. The Real issue in evangelism is a matter of speaking the Word.
MHR: I have recently read The Costly Call, vol. 1 and was very impressed with the depth of searching by those Muslims who came to Christ that are portrayed in the book. Is this normal in the Islamic faith?
- Caner: Yes, this search is quite common. The key to understanding this search is that Islam is the only religion in the world to take Christianity and completely flip it upside down. While other religions and cults altar doctrines or in some way deal with Christian beliefs only Islam is the complete opposite of every Christian doctrine. Where Christianity teaches the intimacy, love, and mercy of God Islam is the opposite. Muslim people are looking for those things and when they hear it in Christ they find what they have been looking for. Some people believe that Mohammed was ignorant of Christianity but if he was it was willful ignorance. It appears to me that he had to have some knowledge of it to completely repudiate every tenet.
MHR: Over and over again I read a phrase that kept some of these folks from Christ for years: “I was born a Muslim and I will die a Muslim.” Is this normal even in nominal Muslim people?
- Yes this is very normal among all Muslim people. It almost seems genetic in their theology. If you leave Islam you die. The Qur’an in Surah 3:85 says, “And whosoever will seek a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted of Him, and he shall be of the losers in the Hereafter.” This is one of the major stumbling blocks to leading Muslims to Christ.
MHR: Some people (including Dr. Geisler’s book – Answering Islam) see Allah of Islam and the God of Judaism and Christianity as the same God and that Allah is just the Arabic word for God. Could you help us understand the difference between Allah and the God of the Bible?
- Caner: In 1 Kings 18 where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and wins. It is monotheism vs. monotheism. While there were some similarities between Baal and Yahweh, at least from the people’s view, it became quite apparent that they were not the same and in fact Yahweh was very distinctive. Baal is further defined as a false god. In our discussion with Muslims we must be just as distinctive. If Christianity is true, and I believe it is, then the one triune God cannot be Allah and thus Allah is not God.
- The word Allah is basically the Arabic word for God and many English speaking missionaries use that word to denote the God of the Bible and it is true that some Christians used it of God before Islam. There are other Arabic words for God or Lord and they can and should be used. Otherwise, how are the people we are witnessing to going to know the difference?
- In the Qur’an surah 29:46 says, “And dispute not with the people of the Book unless in the best manner, save with those of them who do wrong; and say: we believe in that which hath been sent down unto us and that which hath been sent down unto you: our God and your God is One; and unto Him we are submissive.” If we are not careful then we may unknowingly advocate that both the God of the Bible and Allah are one in the same when they are just not. Our understanding of God – our theology has to run our use of language.
MHR: In the national media in the United States much is made of Islam being a peaceful religion. Can you please give us your insight?
- Caner: Ask those who hung around with Mohammad when he was alive. Mohammad conquered by the sword and converted by the sword. He went on the offensive and Islam stayed on the offensive for hundreds of years. It had been somewhat on the defensive for a period of time but is now awake again and following the dictates of Mohammad himself. Mohammad taught the destruction of anyone who opposed him. Surah 9:5 teaches that the faithful should slay the enemies of Allah where you find them and anyone is not a follower of Mohammad is the enemy. Another really good thing to do to help understand this concept of Islam is to compare the disciples of Jesus with the disciples of Mohammad. All of Jesus’ disciples except John died a martyr’s death trying to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the other hand the disciples of Mohammad fought, conquered, and killed anyone who opposed them in order to convert people to Islam.
MHR: The Growth of Islam in the United States seems to be accelerating from what I can tell. Do you see any reason for this?
- Caner: The growth of Islam in the United States and around the world is sometimes difficult to grasp and it depends on who you ask. For example CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) say as many as 7 million but they count everyone that was ever born Islamic including me. Islam is growing in the United States but it is slower than some imagine. There is some indication that Christianity may be growing faster than Islam worldwide. Christianity grows by conversion and Islam grows primarily by birth rate today.
MHR: Can you share with us Islam’s view of women and why it exists?
- Caner: The Qur’an teaches in Surah 4:34 that men are superior and that if women are disobedient you can withhold food, beat them, and withhold the marriage bed from them. In another part of the Qur’an it teaches that they are a field to be plowed. In other words, you can do with them whatever you want to. Compare this to Ephesians 5 where Christians are taught to submit to one another, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church and that husbands are to love their wives the way Christ loves the church. There is just no real comparison. Islam is not uniform in the manner of dress for women or their treatment but it is clear that in most any Muslim country a woman is a second class citizen.
MHR: Dr. Caner, I am sorry that we are running out of time please allow me to ask one final important question. From your perspective what is the number one problem in witnessing to Muslims?
- Caner: The most difficult problem in witnessing to Muslims is the fear of the unknown for them. In Islam the way is clear in what they have to do with the Five Pillars, the systematic and orderly prayers.
- We need to remember again the sufficiency of Scripture in our witness and while we need to understand Islam better to be effective any Christian can use scripture to witness to anyone, including a Muslim.
- Some of the things Muslims are searching for are:
- Eternal Security. In Islam there is none.
- Unconditional love. In Islam everything is conditional.
- Intimacy. In Islam God is remote and distant.
- When witnessing to Muslims it is always important to ask the right questions:
- When was the last time Allah spoke to you?
- Is the Trinity a reasonable doctrine?
- Establish Christ as reasonable and then ask if he is reasonable why he should be rejected?
Further Reading by Dr. Caner and others:
The Costly Call, vol. 1
The Costly Call, vol. 2
Islam and Jihad
The Truth About Islam and Jesus
The Truth about Islam and Women