Once an Arafat Man

I thought I’d take a momentary break from regularly scheduled programming to share with you a book that deeply touched my life; one that I’d encourage you all to read.

Before I discuss it, however, I want you to stop and think about something for a moment. Of my Christian readers out there, how many of you regularly pass up opportunities to share your faith with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow gym-goers,  or anyone else who happens to cross your path in life, simply because you’re afraid of what “might” happen? I’d be a bold-faced liar if I didn’t sheepishly raise my hand right along with the rest of you. Let’s be real- we all worry about what our coworker might think of us; what our neighbors might say, or the fact that the guy next to you at the gym happens to be holding a 50 pound dumbbell and might not be particularly pleased about having someone point out that he needs a Savior to rescue him from his sins. . . you get the point.

You think you’ve got it rough.

Try being a former Muslim sharing his beliefs in a part of the world that has no qualms about killing an apostate (one who leaves the Muslim faith).

Did I mention he was witnessing to Yasser Arafat?

Now that’s guts.

The man’s name is Tass Saada, and Once an Arafat Man is his story.

(Courtesy of Tyndale Publishers)

It’s the autobiography of a rebellious young boy named Taysir whose family eventually left their homeland in Palestine for better times in Qatar, where he caused more than his fair share of teenage shenanigans. From destroying cars to attacking a teacher who happened to cross him, Taysir, later called Tass, was anything but peaceful. Burning inside him was a rage instilled by those who surrounded him and faith he practiced- a rage against what he perceived to be the cause of all ills in his world- the Jews. Having once met the man leading the movement against Israel at the time, Tass was deeply affected by Yasser Arafat; so much so that Tass ran away from home in his late teens to join Fatah, later known as the PLO. He quickly moved through the ranks and became one of Arafat’s deadliest snipers; and even served at one point as Arafat’s personal driver.

Tass’ father had other intentions, however, and devised a plan to bring his son back to Qatar until he could finish high school. He arranged to have Tass’ passport confiscated by airport authorities in Qatar; thus effectively trapping him there. The once-revered Fatah fighter and deadly sniper was once again stuck behind a desk in high school. . . and Tass was going mad with boredom. He eventually caused so much trouble for his father that his father proposed that he go and attend school in either Egypt or Saudia Arabia. Tass protested, saying he wanted to join a friend in the United States. His father wouldn’t hear of it—no son of HIS was going to grace the great infidel with his presence. Ultimately, the stubborn Tass got his way, and he was soon on a plane to join his friend in Missouri— a far cry from the desert of Qatar.

He began working, first as a busboy at a restaurant, and then a waiter. . . and eventually he decided that he wanted to stay longer in the U.S. than his current papers would allow. He decided that he was going to find someone to marry; thus securing his status indefinitely. He did find a woman; a single mother who probably knew better, but she agreed to marry Tass nonetheless. Tass eventually did come to love his wife and family (they had another daughter together) deeply. . . but that was a few years off yet. Keep reading. . .

At one point, Tass was questioned by U.S. authorities as to the nature of his involvement in the PLO. Curiously they allowed him to stay; convinced it seems that Tass harbored any radical intentions towards the US. They were correct. This miraculous permission to stay in the U.S. would later prove critical in changing his life forever. Had Tass been sent back. . . this book wouldn’t have been written.

As the years moved on, Tass moved up from working as a busboy, to managing restaurants, to eventually partnering with someone to run his own restaurant. At one point, he noticed a change in his business partner. Curious, he begins prodding to find out just what had spawned this change in attitude. Eventually his friend shared his feelings about his new-found faith, and later on talked to Tass directly about his own. His friend’s biggest revelation? The secret to being content. The friend’s answer didn’t please the once-sniper toting Tass. .  . “You must learn to love a Jew,” the friend said. Naturally the friend had used this as a reference to Christ’s love for all mankind, but in that moment the friend brought it down to Tass’ level. Shocked- Tass initially wanted nothing to do with such insanity. Miraculously, however, after conversations with his friend,  and studying God’s word.  . . the former PLO-sniper, Arafat man and unabashed Jew-hater, became a Christian. He speaks of a transformation so incredible, it’s almost difficult to explain. Years of hate melted away. His eyes became opened to his children, his wife, and his relationship with God. Life became utterly and completely different. Ironically enough, as he went to tell his son that he had become a Christian. . . the son couldn’t contain his joy. You see, he himself had recently become a Christian but had done so secretly, in fear of what his father might think or do. The two rejoiced.

Tass later on left the restaurant business and he and his family began partnering once again with the man who changed Tass’ life. The Lord led them both into a life of service. . . eventually helping troubled teens, and later sharing his message of redemption and salvation with churches, synagogues and mosques around the country. His journey took him to Washington D.C. at one point, where he was able to personally apologize to representatives of the Israeli government for the harm he had done to their citizens. His mission to spread his story also took him back to the Middle East, where he had been asked to speak at a conference in Cyprus. Happy to oblige, Tass agreed. . . only to later find out that they’d booked his flight on Jordanian air. . . something that could prove to be a problem for someone who once attempted to assassinate the Jordanian crown prince. Despite the fact that going would mean his imprisonment and possible death, Tass’ prayerful consideration led him to decide that he needed to go. After a tearful goodbye at the airport, Tass was off. Upon arrival in Jordan, Tass experienced what could only be explained as utterly divine intervention. Though his name was more than likely on that country’s terror list. . . he sailed through the airport without so much as a single question. Much like Corrie Ten Boom was able to walk right past prison guards with a Bible and medicine, Tass made it through security unscathed. He was free- free to go on and continue his work.

Tass’ heart ached for his people- people who, under the leadership of men like Arafat, had been placed in incredibly dire straights. Not only that, but spiritually they remained in an even worse predicament than their earthly situation. It was time to go back. Tass’ conversion alone was miraculous, and his decision to go BACK into the lion’s den and work among his people in the Middle East. . . serving them in both a humanitarian and spiritual sense. .  . was just as amazing.

Perhaps the most jaw dropping of any moment throughout Tass’ story is an encounter with the man to whom he once swore total allegiance. During one of his several trips to the Middle East, Tass was able to procure an audience with Yasser Arafat. The two talked of the war, their people. . . and eventually, Tass’ faith. Apostasy, a phrase meaning the action of leaving Islam, is a crime punishable by death in that part of the world. Yet there Tass sat in front of Yasser Arafat himself, sharing his story. . . and the Gospel with him. Arafat listened to him for hours until it was deep into the night. Finally Tass had to leave, wondering about the impact his words had had on the old warrior that evening. A few months later, an Egyptian pastor friend of his emailed with incredible news. HE had the chance to speak with Arafat as well. . . and recounts to Tass that Arafat prayed with him, asking God for forgiveness for the sins he had committed those many years. It was this pastor’s understanding that Arafat had become a Christian; something that took place just shortly before his death.

Dear readers- what a thought! If the pastor’s account is true, and Yasser Arafat indeed became a Christian. . . what joyous news! Here’s a man who spent his life in violence and hatred. . . and yet he at this moment may be rejoicing in heaven, fully stripped of his sins by the grace of God alone.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call. On the other end was the man with the courage to share the gospel with anyone and everyone- including Arafat himself. I had emailed Tass requesting an interview for this very blog, and though current safety concerns didn’t permit him to speak to anything beyond the story in his book, he graciously decided to call me to decline in person. It was an honor to speak with him. Truly, what a blessed, personal reminder of our Lord’s great commission to us all.

Shortly after speaking with Tass, I left to attend church. That evening’s scripture reading was none other than the thief on the cross, who, just moments from death after leading a hideous life of violence and crime, repented of his sins and was promised by Jesus Christ  that THAT day, he would be with Him in paradise.

This side of eternity, we won’t know whether or not Arafat became a 21st century thief on the cross. Nevertheless, this book reminds us again of the powerful impact of God’s living, breathing word; able to melt hearts of stone and years of hatred. God, with the grace and love only He can bestow, was able to change a hate-filled sniper named Taysir Saada, and take him from death to life. . . from professional hit man, to once. . .an Arafat man.

To learn more about Tass’ word, please visit Seeds of Hope. 

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