You may have heard that the son of a major Hamas leader announced that he is Christian. But if your curiosity was piqued as to why he converted, read Haaretz reporter Avi Issacharoff's story about Masab Yousuf. The article was a model in some ways for religious reporters. First, the lede was memorable, underscoring the man-bites-dog theme of the story:
A moment before beginning his dinner, Masab, son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, glances at the friend who has accompanied him to the restaurant where we met. They whisper a few words and then say grace, thanking God and Jesus for putting food on their plates.
It takes a few seconds to digest this sight: The son of a Hamas MP who is also the most popular figure in that extremist Islamic organization in the West Bank, a young man who assisted his father for years in his political activities, has become a rank-and-file Christian.
Second, Issacharoff asked Masab the proper questions. It might have been tempting for the reporter to describe Masab's conversion in a sentence or two. But Issacharoff let the subject speak Rosebud style, which as the exchange below illustrates was a wise move:
How were you exposed to Christianity?
"It began about eight years ago. I was in Jerusalem and I received an invitation to come and hear about Christianity. Out of curiosity I went. I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills, to places like the Al Tira neighborhood, and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible. A verse like "Love thine enemy" had a great influence on me. At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves 'great believers.' I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I reexamined the Koran and the principals of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions."
The story was not perfect, however. Its chief flaw was a lack of context. While I use this criticism frequently, it really applies to Issacharoff's article. Consider the following passage in which Masab warns the readers of the Israeli-based Haaretz:
"You Jews should be aware: You will never, but never have peace with Hamas. Islam, as the ideology that guides them, will not allow them to achieve a peace agreement with the Jews. They believe that tradition says that the Prophet Mohammed fought against the Jews and that therefore they must continue to fight them to the death. They have to take revenge against anyone who did not agree to accept the Prophet Mohammed, like the Jews who are seen in the Koran as monkeys and the sons of pigs. They speak in terms of historical rights that were taken from them. In the view of Hamas, peace with Israel contradicts sharia and the Koran, and the Jews have no right to remain in Palestine."
Those comments are harsh. Although they might be true, Issacharoff should have quoted an academic or outside expert to verify this claim, as well as others that Masab makes. The lack of context can be viewed as a tacit endorsement of Masab's views of the relationship between Islam and Judaism.
In addition, the article's headline is odd. The story of the prodigal son in the New Testament is about a fallen-away Christian or Jew who returns to His Father. By using this headline, are Haaretz's editors saying that Masab will return to Islam? Or that Masab's ancestry is Jewish, presumably because his family is from Palestine, and that he will return to a Jewish conception of God?
Bottomline: this story got religion -- about Masab's experience of it at least.