For 39-year-old Edward, now Imran, May 27 of this year was the most significant day, as on this day he embraced Islam.
“I was passing by a da’wah center and decided to go inside. The same day I read the Shahadah and became a Muslim,” said the Filipino electrical engineer residing in Jeddah.
Many non-Muslim expatriates in Saudi Arabia have been entering the Islamic fold of life. Around 1,392 expats of different nationalities embraced Islam at the Cooperative Da’wah and Guidance Office in Riyadh’s Suwaidi District recently.
“As converts, if we are explained the various tenets of Islam, it will be easier to understand. The da’wah center provided reasoning and this is important as you just don’t embrace Islam but you also need to learn it,” said Imran, adding that his Muslim colleagues, Saudis specially, are “very happy” with his conversion.
“Earlier also, I was never left in isolation and felt I was one among them,” said Imran.
In the past five to seven years, there has been a 20 to 30 percent rise in the number of expats embracing Islam, said Mohammed Aqil of the Jeddah Da’wah Center (JDC).“More people are coming to the Kingdom, including non-Muslims, to observe Islam closely.
Also, with the help of new media, such as e-books, social networking sites, online videos, Muslim organizations are better able to spread much more Islamic awareness,” he said.
The JDC has seen 450 conversions in nine months since the last Muharram, with 55 people on an average embracing Islam every month. Last month, 64 conversions took place with most of the new Muslims being Filipinos and Indians.
“However, this is nothing as compared to the number of people coming to the Kingdom,” Aqil said. He estimated that there are seven da’wah centers operating in Jeddah under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Da’wah and Guidance.
Of the eight million expatriates residing in Saudi Arabia, over one-quarter of them are non-Muslims.
The close interaction between the foreigners and Muslims often provides increased level of Islamic awareness among the former.
“As a non-Muslim, I respect the Qur’an and wish that every Muslim reads it and follows it,” said S. Narendra Babu, 39, an Indian accounts executive in a travel company in Riyadh. He has never observed fast but, follows the general routine during the month of Ramadan which helps him to adapt a healthy diet.
“I have Muslim friends who invite me and my family for Iftar parties,” Babu added. Ye Ruan, a Chinese national, 39, hopes to become a Muslim and has started reading the Qur’an. He doesn’t fully understand it and communicates his doubts to his Muslim friends. He finds the atmosphere in the Kingdom more conducive to learning Islam than in his homeland, where the recent riots involving the Muslim minority ethnic group have raised concerns about China’s level of religious tolerance.
“Muslim people have a strong desire to help. I wish to learn more Arabic and, have also subscribed to an Arabic newspaper here to do so,” he said.
However, it should be noted that Islamic da’wah does not aim to convert people. It seeks to spread Islamic awareness and leave it to individual discretion whether to choose Islam or not. – SG