The son of a prominent Hamas leader in the West Bank has left Islam and become a Christian. Masab Hassan Yousef, now called Joseph, has told his story in a number of recent interviews.
Joseph’s father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is a Hamas MP and one of the founders of the organisation in the West Bank. Joseph assisted his father for years, but in 2004 he decided to convert to Christianity, and has since left his home in Ramallah to live in the United States.
This testimony is a compilation of edited excerpts from several interviews that Joseph has given.
As a child I grew up in a very religious family, on the principle of hatred of Israelis. The first time I encountered them was at about the age of ten, when soldiers entered our home and arrested my father. We didn`t know anything about the circumstances of his arrest. His membership in Hamas was a secret matter, and we certainly didn`t think he was one of its founders.
I didn`t understand anything about politics or religion. I only knew that the Israeli army had arrested my father repeatedly, and for me he was everything: a good, loving man who would do anything for me. In high school I studied shari‘a, Islamic law. In 1996, when I was only eighteen, I was arrested by the Israel Defence Forces because I was the head of the Islamic Society in my high school. And my process of awakening began.
Until then I knew Hamas through my father, who lived a very modest and loving life. At first I really admired the organisation, mainly because I admired my father so much. But during the sixteen months I spent in prison I was exposed to the true face of Hamas. It’s a negative organisation. As simple as that. A fundamentally bad organisation. These people have no morals; they have no integrity. They receive money in dishonest ways, invest it in secret places, and outwardly maintain a simple lifestyle.
I remember how the family of Saleh Talahmeh, a member of the military arm of Hamas, who was assassinated by Israel, was forced to beg for financial assistance because they were left with nothing after his death. The Hamas leadership abandoned them as well as the families of other shahids [martyrs], while the senior members of the organisation abroad wasted tens of thousands of dollars a month only on security for themselves.
Even some of the current leaders of Hamas were involved in the past in the “security arm” in the prisons. They were suspicious of prisoners who spent too much time in the bathroom. They suspected that the prisoner was transferring information or alternatively having sexual relations with other men.
Then I understood that not everyone in Hamas is like my father. He`s a nice, friendly man. But I discovered how evil his colleagues are. After my release I lost the faith I had in those who ostensibly represented Islam.
About eight years ago I was in Jerusalem and I received an invitation to come and hear about Christianity. Out of curiosity I went. I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible.
When I studied the Bible carefully verse by verse, I made sure that that was the book of God, the word of God. A verse like “Love thine enemy” had a great influence on me. Every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves “great believers”. I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I re-examined the Qur’an and the principles of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions.
So I started to figure out the problem is Islam, not the Muslims. I can`t hate them because God loved them from the beginning. And God doesn`t create junk. God created good people that he loved, but they`re sick, they have the wrong idea.
I consider Islam a big lie. The people who supposedly represent the religion admired Muhammad more than God, killed innocent people in the name of Islam and don’t have any idea what God is. I have no doubt that they’ll go to hell. I have a message for them: there is only one way to Paradise – the way of Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross for all of us.
I feel that Christianity has several aspects. It`s not only a religion but a faith. I now see God through Jesus.
Only those Christians with whom I met and spent time knew about my decision [to convert]. For years I helped my father, and he didn`t know that I had converted, only that I had Christian friends.
Just stop and think for a minute about announcing your Christianity; you feel sick immediately because it`s crazy. You`re not just saying goodbye to a religion, to a tradition. You are saying goodbye to a culture, to a civilisation. Even the process of taking your skin off your bones might be easier than saying goodbye to your mother and to everybody, especially when you are a well-known figure in your society and everybody has high expectations that one day in the future you will be one of the leaders.
Suddenly you are starting from scratch and cancelling everything you have. But when it started, I was ready for any circumstances. I thought about the worst conditions that could happen as consequences after my announcement. But – and I tell you this is a miracle, this is how God works – you carry the cross and rely on Him completely and He takes care of everything.
This may be the first case that a well-known Muslim just goes to the public and says, “I am a Christian.” Many Muslim sheikhs, many Muslim imams may be converted to Christianity but they keep that a secret. They didn`t announce it because it is very embarrassing for them and for their families. They were afraid for their lives.
But I decided to declare Jesus in front of the world, so He declares me in front of the Father. That was the main reason. I am going to be worshipping God in a very special way by doing this.
When Jesus says, “Carry your cross and follow me,” it wasn`t to put a cross on your shirt and keep walking the street. I have many friends [in Ramallah] whom I would like to see and I don`t know whether I`ll be able to do that at all. I mainly miss my mother, my brothers and sisters, but I know that it will be very difficult for me to return to Ramallah soon.
I helped my father and conducted his affairs because he`s my father, not because he`s a leader in Hamas. I`m not a Hamas activist who converted to Christianity. That`s not the story. I was always opposed to the use of terror. I wanted to help my father understand that harming innocent people is forbidden and through him perhaps to change other people`s thinking.
Within Hamas there were leaders who thought they had to continue with suicide attacks as an effective means of achieving their aims. I tried to understand those people, their thoughts, in order to change them from inside by means of a strong person like my father, who admitted to me in the past that he does not support suicide attacks. He thinks that harming innocent people gives the organisation a bad name.
I know people who support Hamas but they never got involved in terrorist attacks. They follow Hamas because they love God and they think that Hamas represents God. They don’t have knowledge; they don`t know the real God and they never studied Christianity. The problem is not Hamas, the problem is not people. The root of the problem is Islam itself as an idea.
Jesus is not going to give them a political solution, but He has changed me and He can change those people to a better people. He can teach them how to forgive, how to love. Everybody on both sides is hurt – not only Israelis, not only Palestinians. If we can teach them how to forgive and move on and love their enemies, for the next two generations, we can build a new leadership for both sides to be able to live together.
Now, as it is, there is no hope for them but Jesus. It`s that simple.