x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

More foreigners embrace Islam

Hundreds of foreigners living in Abu Dhabi have converted to Islam this year, the majority of which were women.

The majority of converts were from he Philippines, followed by India and China.
The majority of converts were from he Philippines, followed by India and China.

ABU DHABI // Hundreds of foreigners living in the capital emirate have converted to Islam this year and the majority of the new worshippers are women. Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said it had registered 363 converts, more than any other emirate, in the first five months of the year. A total of 256, or 70 per cent, of the converts were women, while the majority of the total came from the Philippines, followed by India and China.

According to the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment's Islamic information service, those who have embraced Islam made the decision after seeing it being practised by those around them. "Many non-Muslims have converted to Islam after having had positive interactions with Muslims," said Sadig al Malki, a research associate at Georgetown University and co-founder of the Faith in Diversity Institute.

"It is the duty of every Muslim to treat others with the utmost respect so that he or she is a positive influence. When one is treated with dignity, love and respect, one embraces that," the scholar said. "All Muslims must act as ambassadors of their faith in order to encourage more people to embrace Islam." However, he warned that people should convert only for the right reasons. "Converting to Islam to simply get a visa to visit Saudi Arabia and go on a tour of Mecca, for example, is not a reason one should convert," he said. "One has to be convinced in his heart that it is the right thing to do."

Although Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas, it allows Muslims to apply for a pilgrimage visa to enter the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Doce Belano, 47, a Filipino production supervisor in Sharjah, converted to Islam in 2002. "I became interested in Islam when I started reading the Quran," he said. "I even took Islamic studies for a year when I was in Saudi Arabia. I realised Islam is a true religion that I should follow. I feel that Islam has completely changed my life. I used to drink alcohol, but I am now leading a more disciplined life.

"I've also encouraged my colleagues to embrace Islam," Mr Belano added. "My wife, Jocelyn, who chose to convert this month, received her Certificate of Conversion from the Dubai court on Sunday." A total of 267 of those who converted this year live in the capital, 91 in Al Ain and five in Al Gharbia. The highest number of converts were Filipinos, with 174 registered, followed by 37 from India and 18 from China.

Emiratis reacted proudly to the news. "The number of people converting shows that the country is influencing foreigners in a positive manner," said Sarif Al Romaithi, 24, a pilot with Etihad Airlines. "As a result, they are converting to Islam after absorbing our culture, our behaviour and through positive interactions with us. Their converting shows that they believe in the way we do things here."

The news had given Zainab Mohammed al Saeedi, a customer service representative, "extra pride in being a Muslim and in being a part of a culture that represents Islam well. For someone to change their religion to another is a huge step. I am so proud of them all." Mr Malki said the process of converting to Islam was relatively simple. Believers must accept that there is only one god. * With additional reporting by Ramona Ruiz