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My Dramatic Conversion From Islam (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 04/07/2015

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Tass Saada shares his incredible testimony as a former Muslim member of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization who was trained to kill Jews and who now promotes a message of love and peace through his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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John Fuller: In recent years millions of Muslims have converted to Christianity and the Good News of Jesus Christ continues to reach this people group in a variety of ways. And on today's "Focus on the Family," you'll hear an incredible personal story from a former Muslim, who was once a PLO sniper for Yasser Arafat. He came to faith in the United States and it's an unforgettable story. Your host if Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller and this is one of our top programs from this past year.

Jim: John, this is one of the most inspirational stories I've heard and I've heard many and it demonstrates so beautifully God's power in a person's life and the fact that, and I've said this before, no one is beyond the reach of God. I mean, sometimes I think we, in the Christian community, can think of that person who doesn't know the Lord, maybe is fighting against the Lord, as beyond His reach. But this story today, it will prove that no one is beyond His reach. And in his amazing testimony, Tass Saada talks about how God touched him and changed his attitude toward Jews and Christians. And this is gonna move you to tears.

John: And if for any reason, you can't stay with us for the rest of today or you can't be with us next time, please get this download or CD. It's also part of our Best of 2015 CD set. We've got details about both today's program and that collection of programs at or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Let's go ahead now and get into this Best of 2015 presentation from Focus on the Family.


Jim: Our guest, he grew up in the Middle East and as I said, he had a deep hatred for the Jews and for Christians, and as a teenager he joined Yasser Arafat's group, the Fatah. His journey really is stunning and amazing. Tass, I want to say thank you for making time to be with us here at "Focus on the Family" and really for living a life that right now, when we look at the newspapers each and every day, you must be going, "Wow! Things are comin' to pass."

Tass Saada: Amen! Amen. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be with you, Jim and John and have listened to you guys for many years and praise the Lord for giving me the opportunity. You know, coming to Christ in my life, I was not really looking for Christ or Christianity, but His grace found me and I'm so grateful for His grace.

Jim: Well, and that's the amazing part of it, Tass. I'm so encouraged by that, because so often as Christians we don't think that God can reach that person, or those people. They're too gone, but that's not the heart of God is it?

Tass: That's right, that's right. You know, looking in the Scripture and looking at the Apostle Paul, for example, and if we want to look at terrorism and the meaning of terrorism, I find in 1 Timothy 1, the Apostle Paul is speaking to Timothy and saying to him, you know, he was one of the worst people, I'm paraphrasing, but yet, he was saved because; just because to be saved? No. Because of the grace that found him and to also give example to others that nobody is immune from being [saved].

Jim: When you think about it, Paul must have carried a tremendous burden after persecuting the Christians the way he did, you know, Stephen being stoned right in front of him.

Tass: Exactly:

Jim: He kind of rallied those people to carry out that execution. And that had to be an incredible burden, encountering Christ and then realizing what he had done. It's a very similar story to your own and we need to unfold--

Tass: Believe me.

Jim: --that right now. You were born in the '50's in Gaza. Your family moved; I believe your dad was an auto body specialist, so--

Tass: Yes, that's right.

Jim: --he was able to take that trade around the Middle East, you, again, born in Gaza, but you also lived in Saudi Arabia. You lived in, Qatar.

Tass: Uh-hm.

Jim: And talk about those early days and kind of what formed you, what shaped your opinions of Jews and Christians as you were growing up in Gaza and around the Middle East.

Tass: I grew up more in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, I grow up as a Palestinian immigrant and a refugee and referred to every day of my life. And growing up as a young kid, I couldn't understand why am I an immigrant and a refugee? I'm supposed to be among my people. But that isn't the case and that continued to build my anger and frustration as I grew older and at the age of 17–almost 17–I realized after the '67 War, that these Arab leaders are selling us out to the Jews. I'm gonna to go and take that into my own hand.

Jim: And the six-day war, recap that for those that may not be familiar with it.

Tass: Yeah, that's the way that Israel have [sic] fought against the Arabs and it took six days and Israel won the war in a very humiliating way.

Jim: And it's still disputed today. That's the land where they're building settlements and the Gaza strip, the West Bank.

Tass: That's right; that's right.

Jim: That's really one of the hot topics--

Tass: Yes.

Jim: --between Israel and, Palestinians today.

Tass: Yeah, you're right. I came to understand through the Scripture that really the land is given to the Jews. I disputed that with God over and over and over and angry, you know, wrestling with God. They don't want to accept that, but eventually as I continued to read the Scripture I had to come to a conclusion that God had a plan and who am I to dispute this plan? And I love God so much. I love Jesus when He spoke to me in the form of a light and poured that love over me. I could not reject that, that eventually I had to come to agree.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: And that's what God decided to do.

Jim: I can appreciate the tough decision that, that is. I mean, this is bitter rivalry between the Jews and the Palestinians. Going back to you as a teenager, there was an account in your book Once an Arafat Man, there was an account where you met with Osama bin Laden. Talk about that.

Tass: Yeah.

Jim: He was young and you were young.

Tass: When I was growing in Saudi Arabia, my father and his two brothers, they put a very, very big garage that we were taking care of King Saud cars and other cars. And Osama bin Laden, his father, Mohammed bin Laden, had one of the larger companies, construction companies in Saudi Arabia. And so, eventually he came and partnered with my father so that my father's garage will take of the services on his cars, all of his equipment. And so he used to come, Mohammed bin Laden used to come to my father's garage and I happened to be there one time when he had Osama with him. And, looking at that kid and thinking back, I mean, he was so afraid of his shadow, and you go "Boo!" to him, he will fall.

John: Hm.

Tass: And when I first saw him on television when after September 11, and I heard the name, I didn't see him, I heard the name and I turned and looking at that screen. "Osama? No way! That weak, very intimidated young man?" And I realize it's not really him; he was just the money man. It was the second man who was in charge and I think he was the brain behind all of this, Ayman, I think his last name is Zawahiri. And he's the whole brain behind it. But, it was a surprise, a shocking surprise to me to see Osama--

Jim: Hm.

Tass: --starting that organization.

Jim: Let's learn more about this, because again, it takes up headlines every day. You're that teenager, the Six Day War has occurred. You're now motivated; as a Palestinian, you're motivated; you want to get back at the Jews. Talk about what steps you took to become a fighter--

Tass: Yeah.

Jim: --for Yasser Arafat.

Tass: I was almost 17. I wasn't even 17 yet. Arafat used to come to Qatar all the time. My father was a big donor for Fatah. So, naturally, he would come and visit us in our house, so he was my hero. And so, when I decided I'm gonna go fight, naturally I would join Arafat's forces. But my father would not let me go, so I ran away from home and joined.

John: Why wouldn't your father let you go?

Tass: Well, his son, he didn't want to lose one of his sons. I said, "Father, you have eleven of us, you know, four girls and seven boys. Sacrifice one of us for the cause and he would not.

Jim: And you were volunteering.

Tass: Yeah, I was volunteer[ing], yeah.

Jim: And you were volun[teering].

Tass: Yeah and he said no, you finish your education and after that you can do whatever you want to do. And I didn't listen to my dad, so I ran away from home basically and joined Arafat in Jordan.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: I was trained as a fighter and then sniper.

Jim: A sniper.

Tass: I was a sniper, yes. And eventually I was trained as a special assassin for Arafat, right before I came to the States.

Jim: In that I guess, capacity, how many people do you estimate that you killed?

Tass: it's not really a subject that I like to talk about. It, it wasn't a lot of people as an assassin, because it wasn't a very long time. But I remember the first time it took a toll on me emotionally. Fighting as a sniper in a war situation is one thing, but to go and hunt people down and study their life basically, you get to know them more than they know themselves [sic], and then gunning them down, it was not an easy situation for me.

Jim: Let me ask you, and I appreciate that, because of where you're at today, but it's getting into the mind-set of where you were at then. What drives a person to that kind of hatred?

Tass: (Sigh) As much as my father becomes so wealthy and did well for himself, but yet, we are not natives of those countries. We are Palestinian immigrants and refugees and that haunted me. I just hated being not one of those natives and I realized the only way I'm gonna feel like I belong somewhere is for me to fight for the home that I believed was mine, which is Palestine. And that's really what drove me there.

Jim: Now at this time you're carrying out these missions. You're killing on behalf of the Fatah and Arafat.

Tass: Uh-hm.

Jim: What happened? What created the opportunity for you to break loose from that activity?

Tass: Eventually I thought if I get more education like my father suggested once in my life, maybe I can fight the Jews with my brain instead of my weapons and the explosives. And that's why I decided to seek more education. And I was so drawn to come to America. I had no idea why America, because I hated Americans just as much as I hated the Jews. No offense.

Jim: So Christians were equally targeted?

Tass: Christians, yes, I say this with much, really, regret and shame in my heart. We believed Christians were spies for Israel, because they favored Israel against us and even Christian Arabs. So, I was targeting Christian Arabs. This work was on my own. Was not really ordered by my commanding officers. I just did it on my own.

Jim: In fact you talk about something you did to get at the Christians, to try to kill Christians. It was when you machine gunned, I believe. Tell us--

Tass: Homes

Jim: --about that.

Tass: When I wasn't really doing operations against Israel in Amman Jordan, I would go look for Christian homes. Our headquarter[s], Fatah headquarter[s] was in one of the more affluent area, which is also surrounded by Christians. And so, I used to just go looking for them and gun their houses down or shoot up their cars or throw hand grenade into their homes.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: I don't know if I killed any Christians or not, but throwing hand grenade into a home--

Jim: Hm.

Tass: --there has to be victims there in there.

Jim: Well, and as we said at the top of the program, that's that parallel with Paul--

Tass: Yeah.

Jim: --going after the Christian community. I know, I can see it in your face and in your voice, that heaviness that you feel toward that. Let's talk about coming forward then to America. You've had this past, this background. You want to fight with your mind, not with guns directly. You put your time in it sounds like. What happened to you? How did you get here?

Tass: I (Chuckling), that is really a miracle and I realize really, God gave me the favor. You see, when I went to apply for a visa for the United States, they requested a certificate of good conduct--

Jim: Ha!

Tass: --from the nation I carried their citizenship, which is Jordan. And I was wanted by the Jordanians, because I tried to assassinate the Crown Prince of Jordan at the time.

Jim: Well, we didn't touch on that. You gotta tell that; why did you try to attempt to kill him?

Tass: Well, Prince Hassan was a nuisance to the Palestinians. He really created a lot of problems for us--

Jim: Why?

Tass: --and infiltrated, because he didn't like us.

Jim: Yeah.

Tass: And infiltrated so many of his people to create problems so that the government will retaliate against us and we saw this. I saw this. And so, I heard that he was coming through the territory where we were in the mountains. And so, I decided I was going to take him out. And so, I set up for it without orders from my leaders, just on my own with some of my fighters. We went and shot his car. You know, they travel in three identical cars, so I didn't know which car, but we did the "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" in Arabic style

John: Hm.

Tass: And we shot one car and went off the cliff of the mountain, but turned out he wasn't there.

Jim: He wasn't in that car.

Tass: And eventually it was leaked. One of the guys that was with me was bragging that we tried to kill him, so it was leaked and--

Jim: And they were after you for that, obviously.

Tass: Yeah.

Jim: So, what did you do? How did you get paperwork to say, oh, you're not a bad guy--

Tass: I didn't. (Laughing)

Jim: --even though you're killing everybody?

Tass: I didn't. I applied for a certificate of good conduct through the embassy of, Jordan, Qatar, and the ambassador, to make it short, told my father, don't let him go to Jordan; they want him--

John: Hm.

Tass: --and he's not gonna get a certificate. They requested that he come to Jordan to get it.

John: Oh, so it was a set-up to arrest you.

Tass: Yes and so I went to the embassy to get my passport as that's not gonna happen. And I get to the American embassy and I give them my name and they look through the passport and they look and they say, "Oh, have a good time in America. You have five-year multiple entry visa."

Jim: Huh!

Tass: And I looked at that, and I didn't say anything. I just took the passport and walked away and I opened the passport and sure enough there is the visa on my passport.

Jim: So really, you can't explain how that happened.

Tass: I can't.

Jim: It just did.

Tass: I can't explain.

Jim: Maybe another God thing.

Tass: Another God thing.

Jim: Now your dad was at his wits end, right? You had now left Gaza; you had returned to your father's home in Qatar and he was feeling you were a bit unruly. And was he supportive of you going to America?

Tass: Eventually he did, because I've done so many, so many, evil things, let me put it this way.

Jim: Now you've gotta help us understand the Middle Eastern mind-set because, in other words you were shaming your father because of your behavior.

Tass: I was shaming my father and then I did other things that caused his position to be more shaky with the government.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: And he had to do something to get me out, so he finally said go anywhere you want, just get out of here.

Jim: I mean, like out of the country, out of the area.

Tass: Out of the country, yeah, yeah. And he knows I can't go back to Jordan, so he knew I wasn't gonna go back to Fatah.

Jim: Ah, so you make it to the U.S. What's your plan at that point? You have a five-year, multiple entry visa; you're a PLO fighter.

Tass: Yeah.

Jim: You're shocked that America's let you in. You didn't, I'm sure they didn't have Homeland Security.

Tass: (Chuckles) No, I didn't. They didn't, thank God.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, so you get here; what's your plan of action?

Tass: Well, I went to the University of Columbia, Missouri. And I started, I had a friend there who goes to college there and so, I wanted to take Business Management and International Marketing and they had one of the best school management, business management schools. And so, I started taking courses at Hickman High School, to get my G.E.D.

John: Yes, because you had--

Tass: I didn't have high school. Yeah--

John: --you'd been kicked out of school, so yes.

Tass: I was kicked out of school. And so, I was successful enough to manage that, but I was there for three months and I realized that American people really liked me and treated me like anybody.

John: Hm.

Jim: Did that change your heart?

Tass: Immediately! I was so touched that I was not called an immigrant and a refugee. That really meant a lot to me. It made a lot of difference.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: So I decided I want to live in America. So I asked my friends what would be the best way to stay in America?

Jim: How old are you at this time?

Tass: Twenty-three.

Jim: Okay.

Tass: So, they told me to marry an American girl. I thought, that's easy; that's not a problem. So, I went hunting for American girl.

Jim and John: (Chuckling)

Tass: I went to a night club. Now, my wife was not easy to get. I must say this up front. I went to a night club in Kansas City, Missouri with a friend of mine and as I walked I, I see, Karen, my wife, sitting with few of her friends--her sisters actually. They were celebrating her 21st birthday.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: So, I thought to myself, that's my girl or my victim--

Jim: Hm.

Tass: --depends on how you look at it, because my intentions were really less than honorable. I wanted to marry Karen, get my papers in America and then say good-bye. That's two or three years at the most.

Jim: So you had that plan.

Tass: I had that plan, yes, but thank God He had better plans than mine. She's still my wife--

Jim: Isn't that amazing?

Tass: --41 years later.

John: Oh my.

Tass: Praise the Lord.

Jim: Think of that! But what prevented you from carrying out that plan? So you married Karen; you applied; you're getting your paperwork. What went right?

Tass: She's a good girl, and when I met Karen she had a 5-week old baby boy. And she was dating a Persian guy and when I met her and she brought the baby with her, I fell in love with that baby immediately. Somehow I just loved him. And I thought maybe I'll do something good in this process. Get my papers and also give this boy a name because she told me the story of what happened with this Persian guy. And so, I wanted to make up. It turned out that I was worse than the other guy in the way I've lived my life with my wife and then we had a girl, my daughter, Farrah. And that was it, I couldn't leave my kids.

Jim: So that changed your mind, having your daughter.

Tass: Totally, totally.

Jim: Kept you from divorcing Karen.

Tass: My daughter and Ben. I loved Ben who had become my son. I adopted him.

Jim: Yes.

Tass: He's become my son. I mean, I don't feel any different towards him than, my daughter, Farrah.

Jim: Tass, we're coming in, we've got a bit of time, but I want to cover the big question, I mean, that is how did Jesus, the Lord of Lords, get ahold of your heart?

Tass: When I, married Karen, my family said no more money from us; You feed your American wife. They cut me off. And so, I started working at a French restaurant as a dish washer, worked my way up, learned how to cook French food. Then went to the dining room. And as I went to, as a bus boy, to take my first customer dish, dirty dish away, and this man by the name of Charlie, Charlie Sharp, he looked at me with such a beautiful smile because my hand was shaking. I was nervous.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: He said, "Thank you young man!" I said, "Wow, this rich man is thanking his servant." That really touched my heart. That began a relationship. Charlie just loved me and respected me; treated me as an equal person when he's a very wealthy man. And that is another thing. In our culture in the Middle East, the rich people look down at the poor people.

But Charlie never did and built relationship over the years, until 19 years went by. We were trying to buy this French restaurant and I wanted to move it from the location that it was in. It was in a rental property, I wanted to buy our own building and move the restaurant to it. And Charlie knew. He's a big business man, so he was trying to help me find a place. He came to dinner in mid-February of 1993 and he was telling me about a place I should go to see. And I happened to have gone to the same place just three days before. This building used to be an old funeral home; they fix dead bodies.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: I walked in there; I was terrified. I physically ran out of there.

Jim: Why would that be--

Tass: In Islam--

Jim: --so we understand?

Tass: --in Islam we are taught places where it had dead people in it, there is demons and ghosts.

John: Hm.

Tass: And so, when I walked in there I felt demons and ghosts in the place. I physically, I mean I was really scared.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: I was never scared of anything in my life. And so, I said to Charlie, I said, Charlie I was there three days ago and man when I walked in there I felt creeps all over the place.--

Jim: Hm.

Tass: --demons and ghosts. He laughed at me. And for the first time in 19 years he ever brought up the subject of God.

Jim: Hm.

Tass: He said, "Tass, do you know why you felt this way?" I said, "No why?" He said, "'Cause you don't have the fear of God in you." I was surprised [and] said, "Charlie, what are you talking about? I'm a Muslim; I fear God." He said, "No you don't, but not to worry," he said. "I can help you with that. I can fix it."--

Jim: Oh my goodness.

Tass: --with such a confidence he's there, points his finger to the sky and he says, "I have connection."

Jim: (Chuckles)

Tass: I laughed at him and I walked away, but this word "connection" just stuck in my head.


John: Okay, we have a bit of a cliffhanger here, as we wrap up today's "Focus on the Family," but we'll be back next time with the conclusion and that connection that Charlie was talking about, as our guest Tass Saada is starting to wrestle spiritually with what is truth?

Jim: John, you're right. I mean, this is a cliffhanger and Tass is gonna tell us next time how God worked in his heart to put love in his heart where there was hatred. And this is one of those miracle stories. If you know somebody that you think or the Lord is nudging you right now, that this story might move their heart, get the CD or the download. Just contact us, in working together I'm sure the Lord'll use that net to pull more people into His kingdom.

In fact, last year, you know, we do research a couple of times a year and that research indicates that Focus on the Family, with your prayers and your financial help, we were able to see 210,000 people come to Christ in the last 12 months or recommit their life to the Lord in the last 12 months. And that is a great number. I follow that number closely throughout the year, but 210,000 people! It puts a smile on my face like nothing else because that is the core mission of Focus on the Family and Tass's story will help somebody, many people, I believe, come to faith in Christ.

Well, do get a copy of this message or better, get the entire Best of 2015 set on CD or in download form. Fourteen of our top programs about marriage, parenting and faith.

And certainly, get the book by our guest, Once an Arafat Man and you can get these resources and other helps at or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: And John, let me let people know about some very generous friends who have put up a matching gift which doubles your gift right now to Focus on the Family. So, if you're able to send a gift of $50, they match that 50 to make it a $100 gift. And they do it with such a good spirit. They just want to see Focus's budget taken care of as we try to reach another 210,000, hopefully more people in the name of Jesus next year. So, if you can stand in that gap for us and help us financially, we would so appreciate it and these special friends will also double your gift right now when you give to Focus on the Family. And let me say thank you for helping us and helping these wonderful people, who listen to the broadcast and who are touched by what they hear.

John: And when you contribute today generously, a gift of any amount, we'll send the copy of our guest's book to you as our way of saying thank you for partnering with us.

Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for joining us and inviting you back tomorrow. We'll hear more of this amazing first-hand account from Tass Saada, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Tass Saada

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Taysir (Tass) Abu Saada and his wife, Karen, are the co-founders of Hope for Ishmael, a ministry dedicated to reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, and Seeds of Hope, a non-profit humanitarian organization providing necessities to impoverished people in the Middle East. Tass is an ordained minister, an entrepreneur and the author of Once an Arafat Man, his autobiography detailing his experiences as a former Muslim and his dramatic conversion to Christianity. Visit the Seeds of Hope website to learn more about Tass and his ministry.