ABU DHABI // More and more people are converting to Islam, according to figures released by a government-accredited centre in Abu Dhabi. Since the launch of the New Muslim Center four years ago some 630 people have converted and the rate of conversions is rising all the time. The centre, which opened in June 2004 under the patronage of the late Ali bin Ghanem bin Hamoodah, said 70 per cent of the converts were women and more than half the total came from the Philippines.
It said it received 15 converts in the first six months but now received the same number every two weeks. Mohammed Nasser, the daawa, or preacher, who manages administration of the centre said he now saw more than one person every day. "We get on average 10 people a week choosing to embrace Islam," he said. "This number is increasing all the time." He said these numbers only represented "a fraction of the truth".
"Embracing Islam is not something that has to be recognised by the government. It is an agreement between one person and God and can be done anywhere by anyone," Mr Nasser said. "Theoretically all new Muslims should come here for support and to learn how to read the Quran, but of course many people are supported by their own communities and can be Muslim for many years before declaring it to the government. Therefore I'm sure the number of new Muslims is much higher than the actual figure."
Converting to Islam is a simple process. Converts must declare belief in one God - Allah - and that Mohammed was the last Prophet. To make the decision official the statement must be made in Arabic in front of witnesses. To receive a certificate the process must be repeated at a Shariah court. A report by the World Christian Database last year estimated Islam was growing at 1.84 per cent annually compared to a global population growth rate of 1.12 per cent per year.
Mr Nasser said he was not surprised that most of the converts at the centre came from the Philippines. "It is not really a surprise that it has spread within one community as the way of Islam spreads through word of mouth." The centre's figures showed that other converts came from all over the world - seven per cent from African countries, five per cent from India, five per cent from China and a handful from the Americas and Europe.
Mr Nasser said his work involved no formal recruitment process. He simply relied on word of mouth and the strength of his religion. "When we opened the centre we didn't have any adverts to notify people. It was initially set up as a place to distribute books to those who were interested in Islam. It was my job to invite people to listen, so I would talk to people on the street or in the market. Soon I had regular visitors and they began to speak to their friends and the message began spreading."
The figures will be used by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment to monitor the increase in converts across the emirate. firstname.lastname@example.org