Book Review: Once An Arafat Man by Tass Saada

Title: Once an Arafat Man
Authors: Tass Saada with Dean Merrill
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Tass Saada was born in Gaza City in 1951. He was born in a tent. His family one of the many groups of refugees moved out of Palestine.

Moving from Palestine to Saudi Arabia and eventually to Jordan, Saada grew to be a young man characterized by rage. He found a channel for it: He joined the PLO and was trained as a sniper.

He became a murderer. And he trained others—including children—to be the same.

Eventually, Saada left the PLO and came to America. He married, had a family, a successful career… but his life was a wreck. He was a terrible husband, a worse father. While he didn’t actively practice the Muslim faith of his youth, he still identified with it.

Then, his friend Charlie told him about Jesus, and his life was changed forever.

Grace Abounding

Saada’s story as told in Once an Arafat Man, is powerful. He’s very transparent about his past, how he relished in the death and destruction he caused, his selfish motives for marrying his wife, Karen, and his unfaithfulness to her… Saada makes it very plain that he was a very bad man. He’s not a man deserving of God’s grace, and he knows it. That, in large part, is what makes his story so powerful. God had no need to save Saada, yet He did. The same is true for you, if you’re a Christian, and me.

A Dangerous Decision

Converting from Islam to Christianity is a dangerous thing, far more dangerous than I think most of us would realize. To do so brings dishonor to the family, a crime punishable by death. Saada’s experience facing his family really helped me understand this. He (and coauthor Dean Merrill) write,

I landed and proceeded through customs with no delay. I walked outside the terminal . . . There I immediately saw my older brother, two younger brothers, and my older sister with her husband. My brother wore the long white caftan that is customary in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I saw the bulge of a pistol in his pocket.

The presence of the other three men, I knew instantly, was to serve as legal witnesses for the act of honor killing. . . . In just a moment, he would put the gun to my temple and ask me, “Will you turn back to Islam?” If I said no, he would ask me again. If I still said no, he would ask me a third time. Upon my third no, he would shoot me on the spot right there on the airport grounds. (p. 172-173)

This is such a foreign concept to me. For most North Americans, to convert to Christianity means you’re probably going to get made fun of by your friends. At worst, people might stop speaking to you. But becoming a Christian here doesn’t equate a death sentence. Getting this window into Islamic culture is enormously helpful, particularly as we Muslims become an increasingly larger part of the North American population.

Costly Obedience

What amazes me most in Saada’s story is his understanding of the high cost of obedience. This is something that I get intellectually; but honestly, I’ve not been asked to give up anything really costly (yet). So to see it actually play out is incredible. He and his wife (now a believer as well) left behind a thriving business to join his friend Charlie Sharpe’s ministry, Heartland, in Missouri; from there, they began their own ministry, Hope for Ishmael, an organization that seeks to reconcile Jews and Muslims to the Father and to each other in Jesus Christ—to share the gospel with men and women who are extremely hostile to the message of salvation through Christ.

It’s a mission that’s seen him speak to Christian converts throughout the Middle East, encouraging them to persevere. And it afforded him the opportunity to share the gospel with Yasser Arafat himself, shortly before his death. This is a dangerous mission, one that could cost him his life.

This is costly obedience.

Jesus teaches us that, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

That’s what you’ll learn most from Tass Saada’s story in Once an Arafat Man, and it’s something Christians should never tire of hearing.

Read the book. Be encouraged and consider asking God if there’s a dangerous decision you need to make.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers

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