Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ergun Caner, Sri Lanka, and an Embellished Autobiography

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

UPDATE (from a draft post that never published):

Apparently, Ergun Caner spoke on January 12, 2005, for the North Alabama Bible Conference-2005 (link to mp3). It is a version of his "Church House or Jail House" sermon - another instance of this same sermon can be found as a transcript here (link to pdf).


Anonymous said...


yes, I too have a witness to what I believe the atrocities are with regard to Sri Lanka. I have seen video and read reports of them, too:::>

"....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)....".

I don't find it a bit strange Caner's estrangement from reality as it seems apparent to me the estrangement he is under exists and in my view, it goes something similar to this:

[By the way first, though, I would say, it is only going to get worse for him and Liberty if they do not succumb to the Sanctification of the Holy Spirit. He is at work!]

When in college many years ago I read a book, don't know the author's name, but it was the work of a professor, the title is "The Catholic, Protestant and Jew".

In this work he puts forth a proposition to a phenomenon of generations that goes something like this. One generation wants to lose their family identity to the previous immediate generation and the next generation, the grandchild generation, wants to know and identify with the grandparent generation and be more like them than their parents do.

That caught my attention because of my own personal experience with my Grandparents and father and mother.

I am a mix breed, partly Pomo Indian and partly Irish/Swedish.

My father, the Pomo, wanted to "lose" all public identity with our culture in public because of the stark racism he experienced against Native American boys at the turn of the Century. He was conceived in 1909 and birthed "on" the Reservation in 1910. When it was time, my Grandmother leaned up against an Oak Tree, sat down and gave birth to my dad.

When he could leave the cultural identity, he did. He left the "native" culture identity aside, moving from the Reservation and tried to assimulate into the "Whiteman" culture.

When I came along, 1953 and in the first few years thereafter, he brought his children to the Reservation frequently because of our grandparents and uncle and auntie and cousins who wanted to know more about us living off the Reservation.

As I have recollection, I recall sitting around the bondfires at night sitting in the lap of my Grandmother as she with other of the elders of our band talked in our native tongue our culture. We are story tellers and pass our history onto the next generation this way, generally. I recall that I understood what was being said and could speak the native language.

But as time went by, those visits were fewer and far between. Also as time went by, my father's generation were dropping the language assimulating the language of English and culture so that today, very very few of our "elders" even speak our language let alone gather around bondfires and tell stories to the next generations. There are some elders still alive who speak our language and within my people now, my generation want to preserve our language as it was "spoken" and "written". The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. hired my grandmother and Aunt to come back there in the late 50's and early 60's to write and speak our language into the official historical archive to preserve it. It is archived into their system now.


Anonymous said...

So, for me, when I listen to Dr. Caner speak Arabic or jibberish, I think of my own yearning to know again and speak my native language as I remember speaking it and hearing it when I was very very young, two years old, three and four years old up to about seven or eight. But over time I lost it and don't know it at all other than by recollection.

Partly, I think the estrangement we experience in the videos when watching the Caner's is a natural sense inherent within their genes because of their father's origins. Surely they were exposed to some of his culture there in Sweden. I have been to Sweden and met with and talked to many Muslims there during "Evangelistic" times on the streets when only the Muslims would gather and pay attention to our public proclamation of the Gospel message. It was so odd then that the Swedes for the most part would have nothing to do with us but the foreigners, the Muslims there were most interested in "hearing" the Gospel message and debating us right then on the street about it. Their liberty was most impressive that they would without fear for doing so be so open and talk about Jesus and ask revealing and real questions of truth about Him. You got a sense the Holy Spirit was at work within them.

So, adding that to the mix, the Caner brothers becoming an instant celebrity via Liberty University's motives and all the attention that was given to them because of 9/11, one easily can conclude that things just got out of hand and they got lost in the shuffles and glares of the hightened interests pressing upon them for interviews and responses to their Muslim upbringing and their Christian zeal?

Sadly though and but "most fortunately" for the Truth, this now is coming to a head by serendipities, such as the failed attempt at a "formal" debate with Dr. White and how they so publicly handled the breakdown of that debate, and of course, because of the insights of folks like Mohamed Khan, who went public by his videos with the discrepancies noticed about Islam.

I was listening to Dr. White explain his own view of the serendipity of events after the debate failure and quite frankly the stupidity with which Dr. Ergun Caner spoke with regard to "why". It makes sense now, in hindsight, that the issue was really one of having to go before another set of eyes and ears in a most "formal" format of debate with the likes of one Eagle eyed Dr. White, who, if anyone would have an open mind to "his" approach to formal debating, whatever the subject, one would want to be fearful and well prepared and not be a feign of sorts when debating him. At least, it seems Dr. Caner had that good sense about him? :)

He is good, Dr. White, as all the public debates I have come to know, attest! If you don't believe that characterization about him, just ask those who have debated him and they undoubtedly will tell you they were in a match extreme when debating him. There was nothing feigned, nothing shallow or insignificant in substance or nature with Dr. White, as we now have come to understand about Dr. Caner and his approach to debating?

TF I really do appreciate, as do many other, the way you keep this whole thing in a Biblical mindset, fair and balanced, seeing some people seem to be out for their heads on a platter.

What good does that pathway do for the Gospel and the Great Glory of God's forgiveness to His Elect who are struggling even these days with their own flesh, this world's message and the constant accusations of spiritual forces of wickedness against them?

None, no good.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Ok, I listened to that talk.

Wow, I suppose if those folks in the audience that day are following what is happening now with this whole Dr. Caner/Liberty U. fiasco, there is probably some sincere feelings of forboding within them?

I am trying to rationalize "why" he would say that.

Maybe, in his mind, he is thinking that Muslims, a minority "community" in Sri Lanka, hold to this arcane behavior of killing those who leave the Islamic faith?

As here with the girl who fled to Florida and then brought back to Ohio, if her father "killed" her, he certainly would be arrested and tried for murder. I suppose, because of the law of the land, if a Muslim father did likewise in Sri Lanka, the authorities would arrest him and try him under their form of jurisprudence, no matter if the State's "person" prosecuting the crime were a Muslim, Hindu, Catholic or just a prosecutor/Atheist doing his job?

I have to say, now, as more and more Truth is revealed about Dr. Caner, it is more torturous to watch and listen to him on these video clips!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add a couple of points. One regards the picture of family members wearing robes. I have seen this picture before, along with the suggestion that it was originally posted on Dr. Caner's website with a caption identifying the place as being in a mosque. Once challenged, it was removed. The challenge to it was that this could not have been taken during worship in a mosque, as everyone was wearing shoes. The suggestion was that this picture was likely taken in a church during a Christmas nativity. Seems to fit.

But natamllc's comments fit well with the way that I have envisioned Dr. Caner's duplicity. More likely than a blatent grab for fame, I have suspected some yearning for a more colorful (as you suggested) story line, as well as a longing for a father who did not abandon his sons. All loss of a parent--even to death--is an abandonment. Loss of a father through divorce, particularly when that father remarries and has a replacement family, is a powerful wound. To explain that loss in terms of a choice to accept religion (which at best guess may have been also lacking), is preferable to a belief that one is unloved because they are unloveable.

While I appreciate the suggestion that no harm was ever intended, in terms of understanding and ultimately forgiving, I would argue that whether intended or not, harm has been done. While Dr. Caner's statements about Sri Lanka may have been merely misinformed, they played into a firestorm that has served to maintain an enormous rift in a family that might otherwise have been healed.

I live in the city where people bore signs reading "Islam is of the Devil" in front of the courthouse in an attempt to influence a judge that the converted daughter of Muslim parents faced (and still faces) an imminent threat of death from her parents ONLY because they are Muslims. The judge has not been swayed in that direction, however this does not mean that no damage has been done. The hatred that has been fostered is extreme. A child and family who might have received immediate counseling and help was instead spotlighted for months in the hysterical belief that all Muslims, including those from Sri Lanka, are bound to murder children who convert.

I believe you are right on the money when you point out that Dr. Caner's experience as the child of a Muslim father does not make him an expert. But, there has been true harm done to real human beings in his assertion that he is such an expert.