Mosab Hassan Yousef in 2008 interview with Al-Hayat TV (Middle East Media Research Institute)
From his prominent West Bank Muslim family to the Israeli intelligence service he served for a decade – and even to some professing Christians – people who know Mosab Hassan Yousef are finding it difficult to explain his radical transformation.
The son and heir apparent of a founder of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, Yousef broke the heart of his pious, close-knit family and put their lives and his own in danger with his announcement two years ago that he had become a follower of Jesus Christ. Today, the threats have only intensified since he shifted his mission from saving lives by battling terrorism to saving Muslim souls by exposing Islam as “the biggest lie in human history.”
In a telephone conference call Thursday with WND and several Christian publications, Yousef explained that, along with Hamas, secular media and members of some mainline Christian denominations are trying to discredit the story he tells in the new book “Son of Hamas,” which is No. 10 on the New York Times best-seller list this week.
It’s a story many find hard to believe, he acknowledged.
But the “secret is very simple,” said the 32-year-old Yousef. “When the love of our Lord is in a man’s heart, this man acts totally different.”
“They don’t want to admit that,” he said of his detractors. “If they admit that what changed my life was Jesus Christ, this will open lots of questions, and they don’t want to go there.”
He’s now seeking asylum in the U.S. after working alongside his father, Sheik Hassan Yousef, in the West Bank city of al-Ghaniya near Ramallah while secretly embracing Christian faith and serving as one of the top spies for Israel’s internal security arm, Shin Bet.
Hamas has dismissed his claims as Zionist propaganda, but one of his Shin Bet handlers has confirmed his account to the Israeli daily Haaretz. Yousef was recruited by Shin Bet in 1996 at the age of 18 while at a detention facility of the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. He was arrested after buying a gun. His first arrest was at age 10, during the First Intifada, or “uprising,” for throwing rocks at Israeli settlers.
Earlier this month, his father issued a statement from Israeli prison that he and his family “have completely disowned the man who was our oldest son and who is called Mosab.”
Shortly after publicly declaring his Christian faith in August 2008, the al-Qaida-affiliated Global Islamic Media Front released a statement declaring him an infidel headed for Hell and citing Islam’s prophet Muhammad: “Whoever alters his religion, kill him.”
Last month, his chief Shin Bet handler, “Captain Loai,” told Haaretz of his great admiration for Yousef, who disrupted dozens of suicide bombings and assassination attempts by Hamas, saving hundreds of lives.
“So many people owe him their lives and don’t even know it,” Loai said. “People who did a lot less were awarded the Israel Security Prize.”
Yousef says he was the one who revealed that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorist group was comprised of members of Yasser Arafat’s presidential guard, Force 17.
He helped bring in the likes of Hamas commander Ibrahim Hamid and Marwan Barghouti, regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas. Yousef convinced Shin Bet, however, to spare the life of his father, who Laoi said would otherwise have been “dead 10 times over.” The sheik has been in an Israel prison since his arrest in September 2005.
Yousef told the London Telegraph in August 2008 his family was “definitely suffering because of what I’ve done.”
“They are not a regular family, they are a very famous family, and Muslims around the world praise my family, praise my father. So when I came with a step like this, it was impossible to think about, it was crazy.”
Yousef’s journey to Christian faith literally passed through the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a Middle Ages reconstruction of the first-century gate through which the Apostle Paul traveled on his way to violently quash the fledgling Jewish sect he considered heretical.
At that historic spot in 1999, Yousef and two friends met a British Christian who was visiting Jerusalem with a small evangelistic group. The man, a cab driver in the U.K. who was in the city for only a few days, invited him to a Bible study at the YMCA near the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem.
Damascus Gate, Jerusalem
“I took the Bible, I studied it,” Yousef told reporters Thursday. “It took me six years to study Christianity, to study Islam all over (again) and study even other religions.”
In his book, he recalls reading, from the beginning, the dual Arabic and English New Testament he received from the group in Jerusalem and coming upon Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”
“I thought, Wow, this guy Jesus is impressive! Everything he says is beautiful. I couldn’t put the book down. It was a very simple message, but somehow it had the power to heal my soul and give me hope.”
When he came to Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he was “thunderstruck.”
“Never before had I heard anything like this. But I knew it was the message I had been searching for all my life.”
He recounts a crucial moment in his “spiritual odyssey” when his best friend directed him to a program on the Arabic Christian satellite station Al-Hayat.
He watched as an old Coptic priest named Zakaria Botros “systematically” performed an “autopsy on the Quran, opening it up and exposing every bone, muscle, sinew, and organ, and then putting them under the microscope of truth and showing the entire book to be cancerous.”
Yousef said he cannot point to a day or hour when he became a Christian, because it was a “six-year process.”
“But I knew that I was, and I knew I needed to be baptized.”
Yousef’s Shin Bet handlers told him they had no problem with his Christian faith as long as he didn’t reveal it to anyone else and didn’t get baptized. Yousef believed they were more afraid of losing him as a spy than of any trouble a declaration of conversion might bring him.
But in 2005, not long after he watched the Coptic priest cut away “all the dead pieces of Allah that still linked me to Islam and blinded me to the truth that Jesus was the Son of God,” he literally took the plunge, wading into the Mediterranean from a Tel Aviv beach in an unconventional “secret” baptismal ceremony performed by a Christian visiting from San Diego.
Now in the U.S., he has lost touch with the British cab driver.
“I met him two times only. I don’t know where he is, but I pray for him all the time,” he said Thursday.
‘Biggest lie in human history’
With 10 years of fighting terrorism behind him, Yousef sees himself now on a new, but no less provocative mission – to free Muslims from the “god of Islam.”
He emphasizes Muslims are not his enemies.
“My heart is broken for them,” he told reporters Thursday. “This is what I want them to understand. I am not here to fight Muslims. I am fighting their god, and I believe that the biggest enemy that Muslims are facing is their god and their prophet.”
Muhammad, Yousef said, began 1,400 years ago with a lie he “wrapped with layers of facts, truth and charity work and good things.”
“So he made a perfect lie,” he said. “I believe Islam is the biggest lie in human history. This is how I believe. Muslims are victims of this lie.”
Now, he said, is the “time for them to wake up from this lie, to be brave enough to face it.”
He acknowledged his words are extremely offensive to many.
“But somebody has to say the truth and tell them this with lots of love,” he said.
Yousef said when he searched for the root of the problems his fellows Palestinians face, he came to the conclusion it was “the god of Islam.”
But he contends the primary obstacle to persuading Muslims to abandon Islam is not convincing them that “Muhammad is a liar.”
“The problem that they face is they don’t have the courage to face the consequences if they recognize that,” he said.
‘Something much better than this life’
Yousef said Thursday he doesn’t expect the threats on his life that began the day he declared his faith in Jesus Christ to go away. While he says he “doesn’t look like somebody who wants to die,” he’s “not going to hide.”
“As a believer in Christ, I believe in his promises, and I believe that he is preparing something much better than this life,” he said.
President Bush at White House Ramadan dinner with Muslim leaders in 2004 (White House photo)
“If the cost will be my blood or my life to spread the message, let it be. I don’t wish to die, but probably this is the best way to deliver the message,” said Yousef. “I will keep doing what I have to do, what’s right to do, and if the result will be to get killed for this cause … everybody is going to die as some point.”
Asked his opinion Thursday of the Bush and Obama administrations’ policy of pronouncing Islam “a religion of peace” and insisting the U.S. is not in a war with Islam, Yousef said, “With all respect to Mr. President, there is a huge misunderstanding.”
“I encourage them to read the Quran, chapter 9, verses 5 and 29, which put a death sentence on everybody who doesn’t believe in Islam,” he said.
“This is not new,” he added. “This is not an idea of a radical Muslim, this is the ideology of the god of Islam himself. So, we cannot change what’s in the Quran, and no Muslim has the authority to change that.”
He understands that diplomats and governments have limitations, but he believes the threat will remain unless the primary motive of Islamic jihadists is addressed.
Yousef said his calling is to challenge the problem at its core.
“What governments are doing, they are dealing with some terrorists, radicals here and there, but they are ignoring, for sure, the reality of Islam,” he said.
After a decade of “fighting terrorism,” he said it became clear “we were fighting a ghost.”
“At the end of the day, their motive is still there,” he said. “The best way to stop them is to fight their ideology. If we don’t fight their motive, if we don’t fight their ideology, if we don’t challenge their ideology, suicide bombers and extremists will keep coming.”
He said the task may not be the duty of government.
“We ask the government to give us space to work,” he said. “If they don’t want to go through this war, this is the duty of every free man in this world. Not only Christianity, every free man.”
In his interview with Haaretz last month, he said many believe terrorists are motivated by the Israeli “occupation.” But “all that is just the backdrop,” he insisted.
“It is not the root of the problem. The occupation is like the rain that falls on the soil in which the seed has been planted, but it is not the seed itself,” he said.
“The root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not lie in security or politics: It is a war between two gods, two religions,” Yousef contended.
The Quran, he explained, teaches the land of Palestine is a sacred endowment, a “Waqf,” that must not be given up.
Israel’s problem, he said, is not “with Hamas or with any other organization, nor with the interpretation Hamas reads into the Quran. It is with the god of the Quran.”
Even a “moderate Muslim” who reads the Quran, Yousef argued, “must read that the Jews are the sons of apes and that the infidels must be killed.”
“The Palestinians must stop blaming Israel, or the West, for all their problems,” he said. “If they want true freedom, they must free themselves from their god.”