Archive for the ‘Sri Lanka’ Category

Ergun Caner, Sri Lanka, and an Embellished Autobiography

May 15, 2010

One of the many errors attributed to Dr. Ergun Caner is an error that he made with respect to Sri Lanka. At the 2009 Value Voters Summit Dr. Ergun Caner spoke (scroll down through the videos at this link to find his near the bottom). During this conference he stated (at 15 minutes into the presentation): “In 36 countries around the globe, including Sri Lanka, it is a punishable offense by death for a Muslim to convert.” And then again at around 19 minutes into the presentation, “Sri Lanka puts my people to death. We are Murtad – we are converts.”

Here are the problems:

  1. Sri Lanka is not a majority Muslim nation. The vast majority are Buddhists, with a sizable Hindu minority. Muslims and professing Christians each make up less than ten percent, and are groups that are about the same size. There appear to be about forty-eight majority Muslim nations in the world, about thirty-seven of which appear to have some form of Sharia.
  2. Sri Lanka has some religious persecution, from what I’ve found. However, sites like “Voice of the Martyrs” report a small number of killings there, and those killings are murders.
  3. Specifically, Sri Lanka does not have Sharia law and does not punish conversion (although it does punish those who force others to convert, a provision sometimes apparently applied wrongly against Christians). Apostasy is an offense punishable by death under the most literal form of Sharia, but Sri Lanka does not have Sharia.
  4. While Sri Lanka does have capital punishment on the books (for crimes like murder, rape, and drug trafficking), from what I can tell their last official execution was in 1976 (although there are allegations of war crimes that Sri Lanka denies).

So, it seems clear that Dr. Caner made a mistake. This mistake was made in connection with concern that Dr. Caner had for another ex-Muslim, Rifqa Bary. His concern was well-intentioned but apparently misinformed. Frankly, we have no reason to think that this error was a lie, and I hope none of my readers will come away saying that I said Dr. Caner lied about Sri Lanka. He made a mistake. He apparently made a mistake as well about the number of majority Muslim nations.

The root of the problem may simply be that Dr. Caner is not really an expert in Islam. Growing up having a Muslim father gives one more of a background in Islam than not growing up with a Muslim father, all things being equal, but the same is true of having a Christian father. Simply having a Christian father and even growing up in a church doesn’t make one an expert on Christianity.

Undoubtedly Dr. Caner has more knowledge of Islam than the typical evangelical, but unfortunately he’s being presented as though he were an expert. And sadly Dr. Caner is contributing to this by apparently exaggerating or embellishing his Muslim background.

In the same speech, he also made a number of troubling autobiographical statements:

  1. at 3:30 “My father was an ulima in the Mosque” (questionable: there is no evidence that his father was actually an ulima, sometimes Dr. Caner claims that his father was a muezzin, sometimes an ulima, sometimes both)
  2. at about 3:50 “My father had other wives” (questionable: the evidence is that his father had one other wife, a woman he married after he and Ergun’s mother were divorced)
  3. at 4:00 “We were devout Muslims” (questionable: there is little evidence that suggests that the Caner boys were devout Muslims – there is strong evidence that their Mother, who had their primary custody, was not a devout Muslim)
  4. at 4:10 “We were devout, keffiyeh-wearing Muslims.” (doubtful: There is no evidence of either Ergun or his Father or brothers ever wearing a keffiyeh. There are photos of them not wearing a keffiyeh, however.)
  5. at 4:45 “As a freshman, devout Muslim kid” (questionable: There is no evidence that Ergun was a devout Muslim in high school.)
  6. at 5:50 “going to the Mosque on Jumu’ah” (doubtful: there is no evidence that Ergun went to the mosque for prayer every noon on Friday – that would have required him leaving school during the day, and remaining out of school for the length of the prayers – ten minutes or more – plus the ten minute drive each direction – it’s possible, but since there is evidence that his custodial parent, his mother, did not support his being raised in Islam, it seems unlikely that this happened)
  7. at 6:50 “it was as devout as it gets” (doubtful: see above)
  8. at 9:20 “Jerry Tackett started in our freshman year and he kept coming for four years” (false/misleading: from what we can tell, Dr. Caner was converted either in his Junior or Sophomore year, perhaps earlier – from what we can tell, Jerry did graduate with Dr. Caner, but the impression given is that it was four years of witnessing that lead to Dr. Caner’s conversion)
  9. at 9:50 “Going into my senior year I finally decided to challenge him” (false: from what we can tell, Dr. Caner was converted before his senior year – also see below where he claims he was converted in 1982, which is either the first part of his junior year or the latter part of his sophomore year, assuming he’s stating the right date)
  10. at 15:00 “That night I went home and I told my father, ‘Baba, I’m a born again Christian,’ and my father disowned me, 1982.” (questionable/misleading: Dr. Caner lived with his mother throughout the school year on school days – and while he may have told his father immediately, there is some evidence from his other that he did not, there is also reason to doubt that the year was 1982, it appears it may have been 1981 – it is true that his father disowned him)

From the evidence that we’ve seen, it appears that some of the statements Dr. Caner made about his autobiography are false. There are also a significant number of statements that he made that are doubtful or questionable. In some cases it is hard to say with any certainty whether they are false. I am sure that for some of Dr. Caner’s supporters, this is good news: it’s hard to prove that Dr. Caner wasn’t a devout Muslim (isn’t devotion somewhat of a subjective, internal matter, to least to some extent?), and it may even be challenging to prove that he was not one who was “as devout as it gets,” since it is hard to quantify devotion, even in Islam.

It’s hard to prove he didn’t get excused from school every Friday for a half hour or more to attend prayers at the Islamic Foundation on Broad St. It’s also hard to prove that Caner and his family did not wear headscarves. It’s hard to definitely prove that Dr. Caner’s father was not an ulima.

I realize that some will read the examples above and think that perhaps he was just having a bad day, or perhaps I’ve isolated statements that are not representative of his speeches. The good news is that some of his speeches have relatively few of these sorts of remarks, others have more.

Here are some examples:

“Church House or Jail House?” North Alabama Bible Conference-2005 (Dr. Ergun Caner speaking) afternoon of January 12, 2005 (link to audio).

We’ll skip over the issues in the introduction, since that’s not Dr. Caner himself speaking, although there are some incorrect statements and Dr. Caner does not take the time to correct them.

  1. at about 5:50 “came to this country in my teens” (false – he came to America as a toddler, as shown by his mother’s affidavit)
  2. at about 6:50 “I did wear keffiyeh” (questionable: see above)
  3. at about 7:20 “Our father was a muezzin in the mosque and an ulima” (questionable: see above)
  4. at about 7:30 “We wore keffiyeh; we wore robes” (questionable: except that they may have once or twice worn robes – see this photo (link to photo) note that Dr. Caner’s website had identified this as being a photo of Ergun and his father, though the man in the photo looks much older than Dr. Caner’s father.)
  5. at about 8:20 “Somewhere around fifty times a year my brother and I do debates with Muslims, Baha’i, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, on college campuses” (questionable: see my previous discussion of Dr. Caner’s debates)
  6. at 15:50 “He is from Johnston County, NC, from a city entitled, and this is the name of the town, ‘Possum Kill'” (joke/idiom – I’ve included this one simply because others have raised this an objection – see discussion here)
  7. at 17:10 “I said [to his father-in-law], ‘There’s no cotton in sand, Dad.'” (He may have said this, but he doesn’t appear ever to have lived in a sandy desert area.)
  8. at 49:30 “I always lived in majority-Muslim countries and then I came to America” (false: he was born in Sweden which has never been a majority-Muslim nation, and there is no evidence that he lived in any other nations besides that (for 2-3 of his first years) and the U.S. for the remainder.)
  9. at 49:42 “He [Caner’s father] had many wives” (doubtful: We can only identify Dr. Caner’s mother and the woman to whom Caner’s father got remarried. In his will, Dr. Caner’s father lists as offspring only the children from those two marriages.)
  10. at 49:50 “Every debate I’ve ever had, the Muslim, ‘Ah you do not understand Islam, you need to understand the Arabic,’ What’s next? That was my language before English.” (false/questionable/doubtful: Arabic was not his language before English. He was born in Sweden, but came to the U.S. apparently at 2-3 years old. His family may have spoken Swedish and/or Turkish, but they do not appear to have used Arabic, aside from the rote prayers. Finally, in the email exchange that Dr. Caner had with Nadir Ahmed, the closest thing to a debate with a Muslim that we can document Dr. Caner having – see here for more discussion of Dr. Caner’s debate, dialogs, and discussion – Nadir did not raise the issue of Arabic language knowledge, although I have heard Muslims make similar claims in debating Dr. White.)
  11. at 55:00 “I kept telling him, ‘No,’ for three years” (doubtful/misleading: Notice that above Dr. Caner had claimed 4 years. If the 1982 date that Dr. Caner has claimed is correct, and if Jerry Tackett started to talking to Dr. Caner in Caner’s freshman year, then the actual time was a little under two and a half years. However, there are reasons to think that the real year was 1981, which would make it a little under one and a half years (According to page 19 of their book, Unveiling Islam, Ergun invited Emir to a revival service “the following year” and Emir was born again on “November 4, 1982”).
  12. at 1:03:15 “I went home and told my father. I said, ‘Abi, I am born again – I’m saved.” It was November the 4th, 1982, and it was the last day I saw my father. ” (false/questionable/doubtful: It was not the last day he saw his father. When his father was dying, he saw him again. There is really no way he could forget about seeing his father on his father’s deathbed (his father died in 1999). Additionally, the date is questionable. That date is also alleged, as noted above, to be the date of Emir Caner’s conversion, but his conversion was allegedly a year later than Ergun Caner’s. Also, as noted above, the evidence suggests that Dr. Caner lived with his mother, not his father.)
  13. at 1:04:00 “My father disowned me as an act of mercy. Church became my family. You know those kids who show up who don’t smell really nice – don’t look good – got two different kind of shoes – back in the day of wally baby and the bus ministries – if it weren’t for the bus driver I wouldn’t be here – if it weren’t for for an 80 year old Sunday school teacher that for some reason wanted to teach high school boys – I wouldn’t be here. I was a church orphan. A year later both my brothers got saved. All three of us born again.” (questionable/misleading: It may well be that Dr. Caner’s mother did not support his conversion to Christianity, but his father disowning him did not leave him an orphan. His mother had primary physical custody of him according to the court records we have. Note, however, that he maintains the idea that his brothers got saved a year later. This is consistent with what his book says, although it would mean either that he got saved in 1981 or his brothers got saved in 1983. What is truly remarkable is that I have yet to see any account from his or his brothers where they give any date for conversion other than November 1982, yet they continue to mention that they were saved one year apart.)
  14. at 1:05:20 “In 1991, my mama got saved. In the baptistry took off her hijab.” (doubtful/misleading: We know that in the 70’s Dr. Caner’s mother was opposed to a motion from Dr. Caner’s father that would have required Dr. Caner to be raised a Muslim, and there is no evidence that Dr. Caner’s mother continued to wear hijab once she was in the U.S., if she ever wore it. The evidence is that Dr. Caner’s mother was not a practicing Muslim from some point in the 70’s onward. That does not make her baptism in the 1990’s less, but it is sad that Dr. Caner appears to have tried to suggest that she was a devout Muslim woman up to that point.)
  15. at 1:14:10 “There was a time when I was cool. 18 years old, foot-long Muslim mullet hanging off the back of my head. And I drove a Camaro … and women would just jump in the thing, forget the little towel-headed, olive-skinned boy …” (questionable/misleading: Dr. Caner was no longer a Muslim by the time he was 18. He had something of a “punk” hairstyle in high school, but not (as far as we can tell) either foot-long hair or a mullet (UPDATE: Some folks tell me that one of the hairdos in this recent post constitutes a mullet.), and there is no evidence that we’ve seen that he wore a keffiyeh, indeed, around the hour mark he specifically claimed to have taken it off as a symbol of his conversion. I have no doubt that there was a time when Dr. Caner was cool – he still seems like he would be a fun guy to hang out with.)

A couple more examples can be provided:

Here is a video from Dr. Caner:

(download here)
As you can see, he’s a good, compelling speaker. Much of what he says is actually good and helpful. Much of what he says about Christianity is good and actually much is probably more monergistic than he intended. However, when it comes to Dr. Caner’s autobiography, there is an inconsistency.

Dr. Caner states (around 1 minute in): “Finally, my senior year in high school to show him, I walked into this little church.” Dr. Caner’s senior year of high school was 1984 (link to site showing his class list). However, in his book, Dr. Caner claims to have surrendered to the gospel the ministry in 1982 (link to book page). Even if that was December of 1982, that would be in Ergun’s junior year of high school, and that’s when he allegedly surrendered to the ministry, not when he got saved.

Here’s a second video:

(download here)
Here he claims (early in the video): “And in every country where I had lived, we had always been in the majority. I am Sunni. About 90% of the Muslims in the world are Sunni. That includes the Wahabi, which is a subset, which is what Bin Ladin is. But I had never been around Christians.”

He also makes an error with respect to when Mohamed’s first alleged revelation came, it was when Mohamed was 40 years old, but not on his birthday.

Later in the video (around 11 minutes in) he claims: “And starting in my sophomore year in high school, he just wouldn’t let up. All the way through, almost my senior year, ‘Dude – you wanna come to this … ‘.”

Later in the video he appears to confuse Shabir Ally (still living) with Ahmed Deedat (famous Muslim apologist who is now deceased).

At about 19 minutes 50 seconds in, Dr. Caner states that on “November 4, 1982” he got saved. However, as you’ll note at the link to his book above, that’s the same date that the book claims that Emir got saved and the book claims that Emir was saved as a result of the fact that “Ergun invited Emir to a revival service the following year.”

And around 21 minutes in, Dr. Caner states that “A year later, both my brothers got saved.” This is the same year gap as in the book, but now it makes it sound as though Emir (and Erdem) got saved in 1983, not 1982, or possibly Dr. Caner got saved in 1981 (his sophomore year), not 1982 (his junior year).

You’ll notice that these last two examples, which are all I’ll post for now, have far fewer autobiographical issues than those above – and they are still enjoyable to listen to. The man is quite a speaker – he really knows how to work the crowd. Unfortunately, it seems that his comments about his own Muslim background or about Islam in general are not always strictly accurate.

– TurretinFan

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