ABU DHABI // Prisoners who convert to Islam will no longer have to authenticate their new faith in court, under reforms by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
The initiative by the department’s Embracing Islam Section removes the need for prisoners to suffer the embarrassment of appearing in court in handcuffs to make their conversion official.
Instead, officers from the section will visit the inmates to finish the procedure at their jail.
“We receive around five or six inmates a month,” said Asmaa Al Zaabi, the head of the section.
“We can have an employee transfer there to make it easier for them, so they don’t have to come in shackles to do it.”
Other initiatives include an agreement under which the names of new Muslims are automatically transferred to the Zakat Fund. Converts are eligible for Zakat.
The initiatives have all been approved and should be introduced within months.
They reflect the growing stature and confidence of the Embracing Islam Section, which has come a long way since its inception in 2003.
“At first it used to be one employee and very basic,” said Mrs Al Zaabi.
But when the judicial department was established in 2007, the section grew. It now has 12 branches and several services to help the 200 people a month who convert to Islam.
Its official roles include registering the proclamation of Islam by converts, documenting their conversion if it was in another country and handling their children’s details.
The section also produces The New Muslim magazine and provides converts with New Muslim cards, which contain their details and photos, and replace the old paper certificates.
Mrs Al Zaabi said the magazine offered information about the section, although she stressed its function was not to preach about Islam.
For new converts, the section holds short classes each week with a mufti "as an initiative to give support and joy to the new Muslim".
Each Wednesday, students gather at the section’s offices for the half-hour class on basic Islamic concepts such as mercy and repenting.
Filipino Marycel Manalo, 38, was one of the students.
“When I was in the Philippines I always read the bible but I was confused, because when places are mentioned in the bible only Arab countries are there,” Mrs Manalo said. “I’m thinking, why not mention other countries?”
Since arriving in the UAE two years ago to work in sales, the mother of four has been reading about Islam.
Mrs Manalo was particularly taken by “how faith is explained in Islam, the faith for Allah, family relations, the way you fulfil your obligations”.
Mrs Al Zaabi said people from a range of nationalities showed up to convert, although most were from the Philippines.
“For a while, we had air hosts and hostesses come to convert and we also had people from Canada, from France, New Zealand, UK, Asia and some Arabs,” she said.