On the beginning of Ramadan, Rhea Nieves, 25-year-old Filipina, who lives in a women’s shelter in the capital has embraced Islam and registered as a Muslim at the Abu Dhabi Sharia Court.
“I was enlightened by the beauty of Islam,” said Ms Nieves, who arrived in the country in October 2008. “Islam is the right path.”
She was introduced to Islam by an Ethiopian housemaid who worked with her for an Emirati employer.
“I watched her pray and also read the holy Quran, which had an English translation,” she said.
She was hesitant, having been born and raised as a Catholic. She attended a Catholic school in Agno, Pangasinan, about 210km north of Manila, and was also a member of a church choir in high school.
Last November, she and the Ethiopian maid fled their employer’s home. “On that day, while we were cleaning the house, she got really angry and hit us both with a wiper and the cord of an iron,” Ms Nieves said. “One time, she even hurled a knife at me. She would often beat me and the Ethiopian maid.”
At the women’s shelter, the Filipino Workers Resource Centre, in Abu Dhabi, she met many Filipina Muslims. She also visited the home of a female relative in the capital.
“The entire family converted to Islam several years ago,” Ms Nieves said. “I got to know their way of life as Muslims and how they prayed five times a day.”
She read books on Islam and listened to discussions between her aunt’s family and visitors.
“I asked them why they embraced Islam,” she said. “They told me that in Islam, I will find all the answers to my questions.”
Back at the shelter, Chemjoy Bungcag, 23, showed her a guide to performing Muslim prayers.
“I converted to Islam at the Sharia Court last April,” Ms Bungcag said. “Last week, Rhea sought my advice whether she should embrace Islam or not. I told her that it was something that she had to decide for herself.”
Ms Nieves said she was hesitant.
“I was worried that my family back home would not accept me if I changed religion, since my siblings and I were all raised in the Catholic faith,” she said. “When the right time comes, I will explain everything to them and let them understand why I chose to convert.”
Ms Nieves has earned the respect and admiration of others at the shelter born and raised as Muslims in the southern Philippines.