SHAFAQNA -Â For most Muslims, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, is a time to practise self-discipline and spiritual reflection.
Along with abstaining from food and drink from dusk to dawn for 30 consecutive days, Muslims should refrain from sinful behaviour and speech, and redirect their focus from lifeâ€™s distractions to worship and prayer.
For new Muslims, the experience of fasting for a month is one that is both thought-provoking and peaceful. They consider Ramadan a spiritually learning experience and what they describe as â€œa test from Godâ€. The image of families and friends, strangers and visitors gathering to share their iftar meals whether at home or at the mosque is one that many new Muslims find inspiring.
Gulf News talks to three Dubai residents who have embraced Islam about their memory of their first Ramadan and their journey of becoming a Muslim.
â€œPeaceâ€ is the word JoÃ£o de Deus Cabral from Brazil uses to describe Ramadan.
Also known as Ebrahim, the 61-year-old started to embrace Islam in 2008 and is now experiencing his eighth Ramadan. â€œRamadan is a practical school that teaches people patience and makes us feel the state of those who suffer from poverty and hunger around the world,â€ he said.
Currently living with his family in Dubai, Ebrahim considers this month a time when hearts become more sympathetic to human suffering, and a time that teaches people to control their desires.
Previously a Christian priest and pastor of the Assembly of God church for 21 years, Ebrahim began his journey of embracing Islam after one of his three daughters became a Muslim while studying English in New Zealand.
Studying the Islamic faith with the intention of understanding his daughterâ€™s decision, Ebrahim was surprised to find answers to questions and doubts about his faith that he has carried around for most of his life.
Ebrahim described his first Ramadan as a â€œtest from Godâ€ as he was hesitant to openly announce his decision of embracing Islam to members of the church and others in his community. â€œIn secret, I used to end my fast with three dates and water and, in my prayers, I was asking Allah to guide me in the best way to make the transition.â€
While family members accepted and respected Ebrahimâ€™s choices, the majority of his friends were not as understanding and avoided any contact with him after his decision to embrace Islam was made public.
Ebrahimâ€™s wife also became a Muslim at the same time he made the transition, and his youngest daughter followed the same path a couple of years later.
While he lives in Dubai, Ebrahim is an administrator of an Islamic centre he established in his hometown in Brazil.
Calling it a month of â€œmercyâ€, Abdul Rashid, a new Muslim, is experiencing his second Ramadan as a Muslim in Dubai.
Also known as Jay Colina, the 30-year-old from the Philippines described his first Ramadan in 2014 as a blessing. â€œThis month is a chance for us to reconcile and do better, and make up for all the other months of the year. Our deeds are multiplied, and our reward is bigger.â€
Abdul Rashid said he enjoys meeting different people at the mosque, who he shares iftar with after attending maghrib prayers.
â€œThe site of a full mosque of people eating and praying together is one of my favourite things about Ramadan.â€
Abdul Rashid was first introduced to Islam after meeting a Muslim Filipina friend before moving to Dubai four years ago to work as a photographer.
Born and raised a Catholic, Abdul Rashid enjoyed engaging in discussions with his new friend, Alajayxah Abdul Cader, about the similarities between their religions.
â€œMost people debate the differences between their religions, but we avoided arguments and instead looked at the similarities and shared knowledge. We had a different sort of connection,â€ said Abdul Rashid. After continuous communication with Abdul Cader over a three-year period, Abdul Rashid was curious to learn more about the stories of the prophets. â€œShe suggested a scholar who posts videos on YouTube about the prophetsâ€™ stories, and my intention was to derive life lessons from these stories.â€
Beginning a journey he described as â€œa cultural and spiritual discoveryâ€, Abdul Rashid was quickly drawn to Islam, and began a new stage of his life on April 17, 2014. Attending a session by his favourite scholar at Dubaiâ€™s Islamic Peace Convention, Abdul Rashid took the step to begin his spiritual journey by embracing Islam. Shortly after, Abdul Rashid and Alajayxah got married in Dubai. â€œLife is a test, and God doesnâ€™t give anyone more than they can handle. I truly believe that,â€ said Abdul Rashid.
â€œRamadan is a gift from God,â€ Fatima, another new Muslim said when describing the holy month. Also known as Cherry Gruyal Urquia, the 27-year-old from the Philippines, who is an accounting assistant in Dubai, said she considers Ramadan â€œ a time of peaceâ€.
â€œRamadan to me is another chance to repent, and submit to God. This month is another chance to do good, read more of the Quran, and continue to refrain from what is forbidden,â€ she said.
Beginning her spiritual journey by embracing Islam in 2014, Fatima said she finally felt inner peace and contentment in her life. She describes her life before that point as one of confusion. â€œI came to a moment of realisation that something is missing in my life, and I always wondered who I can turn to and give thanks to. I felt like someone was watching over me and listening to me,â€ explained Fatima.
Born and raised a Catholic, Fatima said her familyâ€™s support and love has made her decision to follow the Islamic faith a lot easier. While her family understood her choices, Fatimaâ€™s friends and colleagues were not as accepting and took a longer time to adjust to the transition.
â€œItâ€™s all a part of a big test,â€ said Fatima.
She described her first Ramadan as a â€œrollercoasterâ€, and an emotional and wonderful experience.
This year, Fatima shares some advice with her Muslim brothers and sisters by urging them to put their hearts and mind into everything they do, with their goal being to please God.