ABU DHABI // In her first Ramadan in 2009, Ruchell Charmain Sy tried fasting, a reminder to Muslims of the challenges faced by those less fortunate and an effort to bring them closer to Allah.
Although not a Muslim, she fasted every Ramadan, read books and watched YouTube videos about Islam.
“My Muslim friends had encouraged me to convert but I wasn’t prepared,” Ms Sy said. “I had too many questions running through my mind at that time.”
However, in May she decided to visit the New Muslim Centre in Abu Dhabi, and the centre’s manager, Dr Nasser Raciles.
“It was an unplanned visit,” Dr Raciles said. “She told me that she had learnt Islam from YouTube, books and through Muslim friends. I asked her, ‘why not say the Shahada?’ Shahada is a solemn promise, where one testifies that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah.”
The 31-year-old Filipina, who was raised a Roman Catholic, recited the Shahada at the centre that night.
“The next day, I told my mother about my decision,” Ms Sy said. “After a long silence, she told me, ‘If that’s God’s plan for you, then I can’t prevent you from converting’.”
After nearly a week of fasting, Ms Sy said she felt closer to God, in addition to feeling healthy and lighter.
She rises before dawn to eat and pray, heads off to work and then breaks her fast at iftar.
“I used to be tired and grouchy when I was fasting,” said Ms Sy, who works in customer relations at Ikea on Yas Island.
“But now, my first Ramadan as a Muslim, I don’t feel irritable. I feel light and happy.”
Dr Raciles reminded new Muslims to strengthen their faith, mostly through prayer and attending lectures.
“At the centre, we teach them to pray, which is in Arabic,” he said. “It can be tough but you repeat the same prayer five times a day. They’re able to memorise it after one week.”
Ms Sy is determined to learn more about Islam, the Quran and the Muslim way of life.
“Since reciting the Shahada, I’ve started learning how to pray,” she said. “I have a prayer guide but I’m trying to memorise the whole text.”
Converts to Islam make the biggest decision of their lives.
“That decision is not a joke,” Dr Raciles said. “Some may embrace Islam for the wrong reasons but we at the centre cannot turn them away. The guidance will come from Allah, who has invited people to accept Islam. Allah calls everyone according to his will.”
When Ms Sy’s Muslim colleagues found out about her life-changing decision, they assured her of their support.
“They even shed some tears,” she said. “In my heart I know that I have made the right decision.”
She is now looking forward to completing her fast and her first Eid prayers during the Eid Al Fitr celebrations after Ramadan.