Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/29/2010 by Ian Clary.
Recommended. The true story of a Muslim-turned-Christian who went from living inside Hamas to living beneath the Cross.
The name "Hamas" can conjure images of violence, terrorism, Islamic fanaticism and Palestinian resistance. For many westerners Hamas is a group of Muslims seen only on a television screen throwing rocks at Israeli tanks. Now, thanks to Mosab Hassan Yousef, a better look at the inner-workings of the militant group is available in Son of Hamas.
Yousef is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the seven founders of Hamas. The story that the young Yousef tells is of his own experience learning Islam at the feet of his father, his arrest and torture in an Israeli prison, his subsequent trade of allegiance to the Israeli intelligence operation Shin Bet, and his conversion to Christianity. In keeping with such an extraordinary young life, Son of Hamas is an exciting book to read. Yousef and Brackin adeptly explain such matters as the history of the Middle East conflict, the founding of Hamas, the Yousef family's role in Hamas and the inner-workings of the Israeli prison-system. I found I had read a large quantity of the book without realising where the time had gone.
Son of Hamas will keep the reader gripped for a number of reasons. One, it has gruesome scenes, in particular Yousef's first taste of prison that amounted to forty-five days of sleep deprivation, near-starvation, and beatings. That he made it out alive is a feat in and of itself. Second, the reader's mind is engaged the whole way through, not just due to the interesting events narrated, but to the questions those events conjure. For instance, the initial reading of the story may lead to a lack of sympathy on the reader's part as Yousef does a good job at putting a human face on certain aspects of the Palestinian cause. Knowing that he later changes sides makes one suspect Yousef's character. How could he turn against his own family and people? However, as the story progresses the reader begins to understand Yousef's thought process. One shares in Yousef's disgust at the treatment of the Palestinian people at the hands of Hamas and in his sympathy for the plight of innocent Israeli citizens. After a time it is easy to see why Yousef would agree to help Shin Bet, as a large part of his decision had to do with his desire to protect his family and countrymen.
One of the triumphs of the book, although not as prominent as the political intrigue, is the part played by the unknown Christians who evangelized Yousef. They are important because through their efforts he was given a Bible, attended a Bible study and began to change his ethic from one that mirrored the capricious god of Islam, to the loving God of the Christianity. This change in values impacted the way Yousef continued his dealings with both Shin Bet and Hamas: he went from wanting to take revenge on all Israelis, then wanting to take revenge on the corrupt leadership of Hamas, to finally loving both sides and wanting to share the love of Christ with all. The evangelists should be thanked for being faithful in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and for discipling Yousef - it should be said that they were not aware that he was a powerful figure in Hamas.
The story of Yousef's baptism is particularly poignant. He had been advised by Shin Bet that if he was baptized he would be outed as a spy due to the public nature of the rite. In spite of the potential danger, Yousef knew that baptism was an important step of Christian obedience and proceeded with it accompanied by his new Christian friends. This was a testimony to the genuineness of Yousef's faith and serves as an example to the many Christians who have yet to be baptized.
A surprising part of the memoir is the attractive way that Yousef portrays his Muslim father and the effect it has on the reader. As a Christian reading about this Islamic leader I developed a respect for the man that I did not expect to have. A devoutly religious man, Yousef Senior demonstrates great conviction and character, and also contradiction. Though he did not personally espouse the violent tactics of Hamas, he did not stop the terror - even when Hamas took to suicide bombing. Yousef went to great lengths to protect his father, even having him arrested in order to keep him safe within prison walls, away from assassins' bullets. As Yousef detailed the religious devotion of his father, I felt somewhat shamed as I did not see such spiritual discipline in my own life. Yet, in spite of the respect and admiration that Yousef has for his father, he starkly contrasts his father's Islam with Christianity. Whereas Sheikh Yousef devoutly followed his Muslim beliefs, he did so in order to earn favor with Allah. Yousef rejects this and presses home the need for faith in Christ free from good works.
Sometimes memoirs of famous Christians can fail to clearly express the content of the gospel - thankfully this is not so with Son of Hamas. Peppered throughout the book are bits and pieces of Christian belief that serve to whet the appetite, and at the end Yousef sets forth a sound explanation of what it means to become a Christian. He also, wisely, removes any notion that because of his background he is somehow now a super-Christian whom Christians should flock to for learning. Rather he humbly seeks to diverge from the celebrity-status that he could so easily engineer as a conversion success story. He knows that he is a new convert and does not pretend otherwise. As well, he also defends his reasons for writing the book: not as a means of making money or gaining fame, two things he had when he lived in Palestine. Rather, he simply wanted to tell the story of his life to magnify the triune God and to help, in some small way, the cause of peace in his homeland. This he does well and God indeed should be praised for drawing another sinner to himself through Christ and for doing so in such a marvellous way.