By Harriet P. Gross
I often tell both Jews and Christians that this time of year, the conjunction of Passover and Easter, is the closest our faiths ever come to each other. As we recall the Exodus from Egypt, the starting place of our peoplehood, all branches of Christianity are celebrating their beginnings as religions, not so much rooted in a baby’s birth but in a man’s death: that same baby, grown up.
Some Christians find it difficult to recognize, and accept, that Jesus’ famed Last Supper was probably a Passover seder. But the truth is, Jesus was a Jew, in Jerusalem to observe one of our pilgrimage festivals. The bread and wine that he told his disciples at that table to adopt as symbols of him were the same matzah and sacramental drink on our tables today. The eggs and greens we use to symbolize spring and its new life are replicated in Easter baskets; the lamb bone reminding us of our salvation from that terrifying 10th plague, the slaying of the firstborn, is the genesis of one Christian name for a sacrificed Jesus: “the lamb of God.” And some Jews find these correspondences surprising, too.
Would you also be surprised to learn that a man of 32, about the same age as Jesus at his death, has already lived his own kind of Jewish-Christian conjunction, and written a book about it? Its title is “Son of Hamas”; its author is Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Muslim convert to Christianity who for a decade was in the service of Shin Bet, Israel’s first line of internal security. I was surprised! I hadn’t even heard of this man, or his recently published book, until a reader handed me the first page of the Wall Street Journal’s March 6–7 weekend Opinion section, featuring an interview with him, reported by WSJ editorial board member Matthew Kaminski.
Mosab’s father, Sheik Hassan Yousef, is a Hamas founder who’s been an Israeli prisoner for about five years. Shin Bet has confirmed the truth of what’s in the book, and the sheik has confirmed that he and his family “have completely disowned the man who was our oldest son and who is called Mosab.” (A double quote: I’m repeating here what Kaminski quoted in his article.)
Although I’m interested in what he did with and for Israel, I’m more intrigued by why Mosab gave up Islam for Christianity, especially since this happened while he was under Judaism’s influence. The simple, basic facts: Someone handed him a New Testament and took him to a Bible study group. But the experiences behind that simplicity are far more complicated, and very basic to his life. Remember: This is a “son of Hamas.”
Mosab told interviewer Kaminski that he became a Christian because he found in Jesus something lacking in the faith of his birth: love. He maintains that his father is not a fanatic, but “What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic … he’s doing the will of a fanatic God. It doesn’t matter if he’s a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day, a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God.”
Listen, in your head and with your heart, to this man who’s articulating something he says few others will: “I know this is harsh … most governments avoid this subject. They don’t want to admit this is an ideological war. The problem is not in Muslims. The problem is with their God. They need to be liberated from their God. He is their biggest enemy.” This son of a Hamas founder says that there will be no defeating today’s Islamic terrorism without really understanding Islam’s God.
Mosab, son of Hamas, has left his work for Israel and now lives quietly in Southern California, waiting to see if the United States will approve his application for political asylum. A bundle of contrasts, he’s a low-profile person who’s put a high-profile story on the open market and signed his real name to it. Of course his life has been threatened, but Mosab Hassan Yousef says he’s not afraid. I wonder if he sees himself as a new Jesus?
Jesus was a “Reform Jew,” bringing a message of love to other Jews; he paid with his life for it. Here’s a new Christian who can say about death: “That’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. I’m OK with it.”
For me, this is the season, and the reason, to read his book.