Islamic terrorists around the world don't have a hard time recruiting suicide bombers, because millions of Muslims believe dying a martyr's death in a holy war is their only assurance of heaven, according to a Liberty University professor and former Muslim.
Ergun Caner, an associate professor of theology and church history who grew up a devout Muslim before converting to Christianity as a teenager, said Muslims live and die by "the scales" that balance good against bad in thoughts, words and deeds.
"Every single Muslim—1.6 billion of us on the planet—live in fear of the scales, terrified we won't reach the standard…at the end of your life you've got to be 51 percent righteous to get into Paradise," Caner said Monday at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in Indianapolis.
Caner, author of the 2002 book Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, said there is only one act in Islam that assures eternal security and forgiveness of sin. "You are promised the highest heaven if you die as a martyr in a declared fatwa, an act of jihad," he said.
While there has been much discussion over the meaning of the term "jihad" since 9/11, Caner said if he misunderstands the word so do millions of Muslims.
"It explains why there was no shortage" of people willing to get on airplanes to carry out the 9/11 attacks or to drive truck bombs in Iraq, Caner said. "We will find the one thing that eludes us: peace."
Caner described his own relief at realizing that salvation is attained not by the scales but through Christ's redeeming death on the cross. "Jesus strapped a cross on his back so I wouldn't have to strap a bomb on mine," Caner said.
Caner acknowledged that like Islam, Christianity has used violence in history but there is a difference. "We learned from our mistakes," he said. "Christ never called us to kill in the name of Jesus. There is a difference between Christians in the military and a Christian military."
Caner said he was addressing his sermon entirely to the media, which he said always gets it wrong when reporting about Islam and Southern Baptists.
Polls show that 55 million Americans—or one person in five—describe themselves as evangelicals. "Stop calling us a fringe group," Caner said. "Stop calling us fundamentalists. Stop calling us a bunch of extremists."
Caner also decried the labeling of preaching the gospel as "hate speech" and "Islamophobia."
"There is no such thing as Christophobia, is there?" he said. "They can take your cross…and dip it in a vial of urine and take a picture of it and you and I are supposed to remain silent. We're not going to remain silent any more."
He also described "hatriotism," a trend where it "is now popular to become a critic of America."
The media were more interested in prisoner abuse in Iraq than in an American being beheaded in retaliation, he said.
While the "deviants" at Abu Ghraib acted in "express defiance" of their superiors, the terrorists who beheaded Nicholas Berg performed the act while reciting the call to prayer. "They are lauded as heroes," Caner said. "It doesn't lower us to their level, it proves our point."
"Since I am an equal-opportunity offender," Caner added, "Where were the feminists when we freed the women in Afghanistan?"
"They'd rather shake hands with the devil than with the current administration."
He also affirmed the "exclusivity" of Christ and the gospel. "There is no other name under heaven by which man can be saved except by the name of Jesus Christ," he proclaimed.
While the media like to report that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Caner said he knows of no Muslims who regard Allah and the Jewish/Christian God Jehovah to be the same character. If Allah and the God of the Bible are the same, Caner said, then "Elijah owes the prophets of Baal an apology."
Caner said Christ died for Muslims including Saddam Hussein. "Christ even died to save Dan Rather and Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw," he said. "The problem is if they did do that they might get fired by their network."
"You can report whatever you want, but I am begging you, if you're going to talk about us, get it right," Caner said.
Caner said Christ isn't just a messenger, as Islam teaches, but is the Messiah. He came not just as "a good man," he said, but rather as "the God-man."
"Jesus Christ is not just a prophet," Caner said. "I stand here today and you stand here today because he is prophet and he is priest and he is king."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.