Skeptics challenge life stories offered by high-profile Muslim converts to Christianity
Liberty University is expected to release a report next week on whether Ergun Caner, president of the school's Baptist Theological Seminary, fabricated or exaggerated his account of being a former Muslim extremist rescued by Jesus.
Caner is no ordinary ex-Muslim. His story has made him a favorite in conservative Christian circles, and many credit the charismatic preacher with helping boost enrollment at the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
At the same time, some critics say Caner is just the latest charlatan in a line of supposedly ex-Muslim terrorists who have found an audience among Christian fundamentalists seeking to attack Islam.
Most worrisome, the critics say, is that the self-styled former terrorists have been welcomed as experts on Islam and terrorism by religious institutions, universities, media outlets, members of Congress and even the military.
"These guys are to real terrorists what a squirt gun is to an AK-47," said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who brought claims of religious discrimination against the U.S. Air Force Academy. "But this is not a joke. This is a national security threat," he said
Caner, 43, has said that he was raised as a Muslim extremist in Turkey but that he converted to Christianity after moving to Ohio as a teenager in 1978. "Until I was 15 years old, I was in the Islamic youth jihad," he said in a November 2001 sermon at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. "I was trained to do that which was done on 11 September, as were thousands of youth." In 2002, he wrote "Inside Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs," with his brother Emir, president of Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist school in Cleveland, Ga.
In recent months, however, skeptical bloggers, such as London-based Mohammad Khan of FakeExMuslims.com, and Oklahoma-based Debbie Kaufman of the Ministry of Reconciliation blog, began unearthing documents and statements by Caner contradicting his claims.
The Caner brothers' book, for example, states they were born in Sweden, not Turkey, and spent most of their time with their non-Muslim mother, not their Muslim father, after the parents divorced in the United States. Records indicate that the family arrived in the United States in 1974, four years earlier than Ergun Caner has claimed.
Caner and Liberty officials have declined to comment. Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., in a May 10 statement, said only that "in light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry."
Other avowed terrorists-turned-Christians have drawn scrutiny as well, including U.S. citizens Walid Shoebat, author of "Why We Want To Kill You," and Kamal Saleem, who has worked for Focus on the Family and recently wrote "The Blood of Lambs." Like Caner's book, their books purport to be insider explorations of radical Islam.
Shoebat, who has called Islam "the devil," says he was recruited by the Palestine Liberation Organization as a teenager. In 1977, he has said, he threw a bomb on the roof of the Bethlehem branch of an Israeli bank.
The bank, however, has no record of the incident, and it was never reported by Israeli news outlets.