Filipina maid who converted explains joy of first holy month

Lenyvic Tubio, who came to work for an Emirati family in June 2009, describes feeling 'enlightened and free'.

UAE - Dubai - Aug 18 - 2011: Housemaid Lenyvic Tubio pose for a portrait outside the building of her employer at Al Warqa. Tubio's Muslim name is Mariam after converting to Islam in January this year. ( Jaime Puebla - The National Newspaper )
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DUBAI // It was no surprise that Lenyvic Tubio approached the holy month this year with so much enthusiasm. It is, after all, her first.

"It's a special time for me and other new Muslims," says the Filipina housemaid, 26, who came to work for an Emirati family in June 2009.

She recited the shahada, or the testimony of faith, in January.

Her employer, Sheikha Al Zuyudi, accompanied her to the Dubai Court so she could register as a Muslim. Her Muslim name is Mariam.

Conversion to Islam is a simple process that requires converts to profess their shahada in front of two witnesses.

They must then adhere to Islam's four other pillars, including prayer, fasting during Ramadan, giving an annual percentage of net worth to charity and going to Mecca at least once for pilgrimage.

"My madam did not convince me to convert," Ms Tubio says. "But she was very happy when I told her that I wanted to become a Muslim."

She was hired two years ago to assist her employer's daughter, Shamma, 13, who uses a wheelchair. This Ramadan, she also helps the Sri Lankan cook to prepare food.

Mrs Al Zuyudi ensures extra food is prepared for the security guard, maintenance staff and other workers in their building before iftar. The dishes include chicken, rice, juice, laban, dates and an assortment of Arabic sweets.

"It's a tradition that the family does each year for the less privileged," she says. Mrs Al Zuyudi says her maid is aware of her duties as a Muslim.

"She says her prayers and this is the first time that she's fasting," she says. "Fasting isn't too hard for her. She's happy like any woman in her early 20s. She told me that she felt like a butterfly leaving its cocoon when she converted."

Raised as a Catholic in Tanza, Cavite, about 27 kilometres south of Manila, Ms Tubio was active in church activities.

But in the UAE, she was attracted to the beauty of Islam after reading books and learning more about it from her employer's daughter. She sought her father's permission before converting.

"He wasn't upset," Ms Tubio says. "He told me that if it would make a difference to my life, then he won't object to it."

Abulcair Capatagan, 47, a store manager in Abu Dhabi who was raised as a Muslim in the Philippines, also provided guidance to Ms Tubio before she decided to embrace the religion.

He discussed the basic principles of Islam and other teachings.

"I encouraged her to research and read the Hadiths and the Quran," says Mr Capatagan, who is also the president of Muslim Overseas Filipino Workers, an organisation of 500 members from 13 Muslim tribes in the Philippines and Muslim converts.

"I felt proud of her when she later told me that her madam was with her during her conversion."

Ms Tubio says it was a destiny-changing decision to convert to Islam.

"I feel so great, enlightened and free," she says. "I had not felt this way for a long time."