Desperate For Forgiveness?

In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Dr. Ergun Caner is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and is now a prominent Baptist preacher and professor. I appeared with him on a TV program, Faith Under Fire, a few years back and discussed whether Muslims and Christians worshiped the same God. Recently, I happened upon a video he made, discussing his journey from Islam to Christianity.

He made some very interesting points about the essence of Islam, according to his point of view. I listened to the video several times and made sure, to the best of my ability, that I transcribed his words exactly, leaving out some portions that only further expounded upon his main themes.

The point of Islam, according to Dr. Caner, is summed up in verses 102-103 of chapter 23: “And they whose weight [of righteousness] is heavy in the balance – it is they, they who will have attained to a happy state; whereas they whose weight is light in the balance – it is they who will have squandered their own selves, [destined] to abide in hell.”

Here is what he said about these verses:

Here’s the point: The beginning of your life, from the moment your father whispers the shahada in your ear and you reach adulthood…you live and die by the scales…So at the end of your life, if I can say it this way, you have to be 51% righteous to make it into paradise. You have to have more good than bad.

Dr. Caner talked about how his father, each night, would put him to bed and asked him about his “accounting” for the day. Then, he said this:

You can immediately see the angst that we’re dealing with, certainly in the
context of our culture: you have to lie. You hope you do more good than
bad…but you’re not sure. It’s a guessing game. Nothing erases the scales.
Temporarily some things do, a woman giving birth, that erases her scales, but
she goes back to scales again. You live and die by scales.

Then, he said something very interesting about Islam and Muslims:

As it applies to our culture, post 9/11, hear me. Even if there are Muslims
who disagree, and I’m sure there are – and may your tribes increase – roughly
over 80% of Muslims worldwide will agree with exactly what I am about to
say. Only one thing erases the bad scales, only one: to die, as a
martyr, in a declared fatwa, in an act of jihad.

Dr. Caner continued:

It explains 9/11, it explains 1993…but it also, I hope, opens your heart to my people. Muslims don’t act out of rage, we act out of desperation. The Muslims that you live with [in America] don’t believe this…but worldwide, worldwide they believe that by shedding their blood they will find the one thing that has eluded them their whole lives: forgiveness, assurance.

With all due respect to Dr. Caner, who was very courteous to me during our discussion on that television program, I must completely disagree with his contention.

First of all, the verses that speak of the scales may indeed be literal: there may be indeed scales that will be set up and the good deeds will be weighed against the bad deeds: we really don’t know. Yet, they can also be taken as an allegory: that we shall be held accountable for our actions before God. Certainly, this is not something strange: every day in our lives, we are held accountable for the things we do, from speeding on the road to doing a good job at work.

Furthermore, the imagery of the scales brings to mind the justice of the Lord: that He will not wrong us one bit: everything good we have ever done will be shown before us, as will everything bad that we have ever done in our lives. It is as the Qur’an says in chapter 99:6-8: “On that Day will all men come forward, cut off from one another, to be shown their [past] deeds. And so, he who shall have done an atom’s weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom’s weight of evil, shall behold it.”

Yet, I dispute the notion that “more than 80% of Muslims” worldwide believe that the only way to erase the bad scales is to die as a martyr in an “act of jihad.” I dispute that the only way a Muslim can obtain that “elusive” forgiveness is by shedding blood. I truly do not know from where he got this information. Certainly, it cannot be from the Qur’an.

On the contrary, the Qur’an states that the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden:

And do not take a life that God has made sacred, except for just
cause. (17:33)

And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you.

Say: ‘Come, I will rehearse what God hath (really) prohibited you from:
Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your
children on a plea of want–We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not
nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which God hath
made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom (6:151)

And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who…invoke not, with
God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just
cause… (25:63-68)

So, killing and the shedding of blood does not lead to forgiveness; it leads to condemnation. And in no way, shape, or form is the killing of any innocent life, wherever it may be, considered “just cause.” There is no “just cause” that justifies the murder of an innocent human being. Period.

Yet, his larger contention is also not accurate: that forgiveness is elusive in Islam. On the contrary, forgiveness is only a prayer away. Again, I know this from the Qur’an itself. Verse after verse expound upon the limitless forgiveness and mercy of God:

[Thus speaks God:] “O you servants of Mine who have transgressed
against your own selves! Despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives
all sins – for, verily, He alone is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!”

and who, when they have committed a shameful deed or have
[otherwise] sinned against themselves, remember God and pray that their sins
be forgiven – for who but God could forgive sins? – and do not knowingly
persist in doing whatever

they may have done. These it is who shall
have as their reward forgiveness from their Sustainer, and gardens through
which running waters flow, therein to abide: and how excellent a reward for
those who labor! (3:135-136)

for We have never sent any apostle save that he should be heeded by
God’s leave. If, then, after having sinned against themselves, they would but
come round to thee and ask God to forgive them – with the Apostle, too, praying
that they be forgiven – they would assuredly find that God is an acceptor of
repentance, a dispenser of grace. (4:64)

God has promised unto those who attain to faith and do good works
[that] theirs shall be forgiveness of sins, and a mighty reward.

[And as for thee, O Prophet,] nothing is being said to thee but what
was said to all [of God’s] apostles before thy time. Behold, thy Sustainer
is indeed full of forgiveness – but He has also the power to requite most
grie­vously! (41:43)

Tell My servants that I – I alone – am truly forgiving, a true
dispenser of grace (15:49)

[Said Prophet Jacob:] O my sons, go forth and try to obtain some tidings of Joseph and his brother; and do not lose hope of God’s life-giving mercy: (12:87)

This is but a smattering of the verses of the Qur’an which talk about forgiveness and mercy in the Qur’an. The hadith literature is also filled with references to God’s overwhelming mercy. Here are but three examples:

“When Allah decreed the Creation, He pledged Himself by writing in His book,
which is laid down with Him: ‘My mercy prevails over my wrath.'” (Bukhari,
Muslim, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah)

“A servant [of Allah’s] committed a sin and said: ‘O Allah, forgive me my sin.’ And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said: ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said: ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you.’” (Bukhari, Muslim)

“O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.’” (Tirmithi, Ahmad)

Islam teaches that the mercy and forgiveness of God is overwhelming, and all one has to do is ask Him for it. All one has to do is reach for God, and God will come to him. As the Prophet said in another hadith, God says: “And if [my servant] draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah)

No shedding of blood; no bombs strapped to the body; no blowing up of buses. That is the devil’s handiwork, even if it is done in the name of Islam. That is the devil’s fingerprint, even if they yell “God is great!” before pulling the trigger. These barbarians follow the devil’s counsel when they think that killing people will lead to paradise.

Killing does not yield forgiveness. It never has and never will. All one has to do to tap the limitless mercy of God is open his or her hands and ask.

Yet, when Dr. Caner says that Muslims “live and die by the scales,” when Dr. Caner says, “You can immediately see the angst that we’re dealing with, certainly in the context of our culture: you have to lie. You hope you do more good than bad…but you’re not sure. It’s a guessing game”, he makes an important point.

It is a point upon which, God willing, I will expound in my next post.


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