x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

UAE Filipina speaks of conversion joy

The former Catholic joined 23 other women to recite the shahada during Ramadan but tells of mixed reaction among family and friends.

Arlene Alfaro, a sales associate and resident of Dubai, was inspired by the Islamic teachings and decided to convert to Islam from Christianity. Ms Alfaro outside a mosque in Deira. Sarah Dea / The National
Arlene Alfaro, a sales associate and resident of Dubai, was inspired by the Islamic teachings and decided to convert to Islam from Christianity. Ms Alfaro outside a mosque in Deira. Sarah Dea / The National

ABU DHABI // Arlene Alfaro left her Catholic roots behind to embrace Islam this Ramadan and was met with mixed reactions.

“Some Filipinos told me I had denounced my Christian religion by accepting Islam,” said Ms Alfaro, 32, a saleswoman.

“My Muslim colleagues and friends, who are Filipinos, Emiratis, Egyptians and Tunisians, were of course happy for me.”

Others felt Ms Alfaro had made a hasty decision to convert, something she denies.

“Last year, I started reading pamphlets on Islam and told my parents of my plan to become a Muslim,” she said. “But they did not allow me.”

She decided to attend lectures and classes in Arabic, the Quran and basic Islamic teachings at a centre in Dubai this month.“I’m still learning how to pray in Arabic and read the Quran,” she said.

Last Sunday, on the 12th day of Ramadan, she joined 23 other Filipinas to recite the shahada, or the testimony of faith, after a lecture by Rashid Indasan, a Filipino Muslim preacher.

“The feeling that overcame me was indescribable,” Ms Alfaro said. “It was an overwhelming sense of peace and joy.”

Her Muslim name is Rahmah, which means mercy.

As expected, she struggled to find acceptance from her family after the decision. She has three sisters and two brothers between the ages of 28 and 42. All are practising Catholics.

“My parents had no choice but to respect my decision,” she said.

Ms Alfaro, who is from Tondo, Manila, arrived in Dubai in June 2008 to work as a sales clerk. Before leaving for the UAE, she attended Sunday masses at a Catholic church.

Filipinos and other nationalities who convert to Islam are often drawn to the belief of the oneness of God, said Essa Puentespina, 42, who works at a Dubai government department.

When one recites the shahada to enter into the fold of Islam, a Muslim bears witness that Allah is the only true God and that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet.

One must then adhere to Islam’s four other pillars, including prayer, fasting during Ramadan, giving to charity and going to Mecca at least once for pilgrimage.

“Alhamdulilah, I accepted Allah wholeheartedly,” said Mr Puentespina, who came to Dubai in 1998 and converted to Islam from Christianity a year later.

“I take comfort in the fact that I had chosen the right path.”

Conversion to Islam is often met with scepticism by outsiders, and it is not uncommon for non-Muslims to embrace Islam for personal gain.

“Some convert for the sake of getting a good job or to gain benefits,” he said.

“This is unavoidable but all our actions are based on our intentions. When you convert with sincere intentions, you accept the way of life of the prophets.”

Ms Alfaro insisted that she converted for the right reasons, and said she would like to focus on further strengthening her faith.

“I would really like to learn more about Islam, pray five times a day, read the Quran and practice Islamic values and beliefs,” she said.

rruiz@thenational.ae