DUBAI Over 200 Filipinos have embraced Islam since Ramadan began in July, XPRESS has learnt.
“This is only our rough estimate and we really don’t want to parade or make a big deal out of these numbers,” said Wafa Kasimieh, a Filipina senior advisor to Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD). “Kabayans are walking in every day to embrace Islam at various Islamic centres across Dubai, so it’s hard to keep track.”
Kasimieh was speaking at an iftar on Wednesday night attended by over 100 new Filipino Muslims in Dubai. The iftar was organised by IACAD and graced by Philippine Consul General to Dubai Benito Valeriano and Labour Attache Delmer Cruz.
One of the recent converts in Dubai is Malak Arias, 37, who left Catholicism and changed her name Christina to Malak. “I used to visit Islamic centres in Abu Dhabi, Karama and Deira to attend classes. It took me five years to come to a decision that I needed to go back to the religion of my forefathers,” said the civil engineer from Paranaque. “Many of our heroes like Lapu-Lapu, the ruler of Mactan, and Rajah Sulaiman, the ruler of Manila when the Spanish colonisers came, were Muslims.”
But more than her country’s history, what guided her decision was personal. “In the past, whenever I had problems,” said Malak, “I would simply cry non-stop. The emotional turmoil within me was just too heavy. The only relative I have here is my brother, who is usually away due to his work. Now, I have found a big family among the Muslim sisters here. I’m still a baby in my new faith, but I understand enough to guide me to this decision,” said Malak, who earned her civil engineering degree from the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP).
Josephine Lazona, 32, chose Aisha as her Muslim name when she embraced Islam on July 20, the first day of Ramadan this year. Aisha grew up a Catholic in Sultan Kudarat. The former teacher moved to Dubai in 2008 to work as an administrative assistant in Jebel Ali. “In February, I enrolled in a free Arabic class. All this time, I’ve been searching for answers to difficult questions about my faith,” she said. “As I progressed with my Arabic, my mind was opened. I’ve been seeking answers for years and asked God for a sign, which I got on the night of July 19th when I thought of cooking my favourite pork ‘adobo’ (a popular Filipino dish). Suddenly, I had an unexplained aversion to it. Even the thought of cooking pork adobo made me feel like throwing up.”
The next day, she told her Arabic teacher about her desire to become a Muslim. “My teacher, Sister Ana, was shocked. She never talked to me about converting to Islam. I came to this decision on my own.”
A former born-again Christian, Noriel Magtanong, 36, from Bicol, chose Nuh (Arabic for Noah) as his new Muslim name. “I used to join Christian services, yet I remained an alcoholic. Meanwhile, I’ve been observing Muslims as they pray. One early morning, I woke up and walked around in Dubai and saw them praying. It was a perfect moment. I wanted to surrender myself to God like they do. I saw their spirit of unity, despite their differences. Now, I’ve kicked alcohol altogether.”
Conversions among Filipinos are common in Dubai. In 2010, a total of 125 women from the Philippines embraced Islam. Ahmad Malagueno, 44, a Dubai aircraft maintenance technician who embraced Islam seven years ago, teaches Arabic at Al Sahhaba Centre in Abu Hail on Fridays.
“Before, I used to hate Muslims — but it turned out it was due to my own ignorance. Today, I see Filipinos here embracing Islam almost every day. On July 27, I saw 25 people embracing Islam after a symposium conducted by Filipino Islamic preacher. Only Allah knows the actual numbers today.”