RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has become a popular time for many non-Muslims, especially Filipino migrant workers, to convert to Islam.
Everyday in Saudi Arabia, Islamic centres across the country open their arms to non-Muslim migrant workers who decide to join the world's fastest growing religion.
During Ramadan, a period of fasting, Muslim organizations set up camps attended by migrants who want to break their daily fast.
One religious center, The Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance at Al-Bat'ha (COCG Al-Bat'ha) in the capital Riyadh, sees around 200 would-be-converts from different nationalities flock through their doors every month.
"Thanks to Allah, the number of those who convert to Islam monthly is somewhere between 180-200 people, from different nationalities," says the COCG's Director Sheikh Nouh al-Qarain.
"Most of them give the reason for converting to Islam as the one-ness of God, they want to worship him and him alone," he said.
The process of converting to Islam involves seeking knowledge about the Islamic faith and attending a ceremony led by a preacher or Imam, where the convert is asked to recite the Islamic profession of faith.
The reaction from converts afterwards varies. One Filipino convert named Adcel Maglintian, said Islam gave him a new life.
"I feel like I am a new born baby, new life, new life, so right now I will start my new life as a Muslim, happy, I am very very happy," he said.
Another new convert from the Philippines named "Bebido" said he prefers praying five times a day to his previous life as a Christian.
"When I was a Christian maybe I come to church 5 or 3 times a year, but in Islam I know prayer is 5 times a day, I make prayer thank God. So that is why I go to Islam, that is why I need to feel the heart of Islam and a Muslim to make a good things to Allah," he said.
Inspired by Ramadan
Some say Ramadan inspired their conversion.
"I feel good because we will eat together when we break the fast. When we eat iftar. This [is] why if I break alone, I am not feeling happy because I want to gather with the new brothers in Islam," said Filipino convert Omar.
Saudi Arabia receives the highest number of Filipino workers in the Middle East region. At least 200,000 Filipinos entered Saudi Arabia in 2007 alone.
The total number of migrant workers from the Philippines is estimated to be around 800,000, but statistical breakdown of the different religious denominations of foreigners in Saudi Arabia is not readily available.
After converting, migrant workers are encouraged by the centres and preachers to continue learning about Islam to deepen their faith.
"What we are going to do now is to give them the basic analysis about Islam, Tawheed, the Hadeeth, the Quran, the Fiqh and other things, very basics for them," says Filipino preacher Sheikh Abdul Qadir al-Alabani.
Al-Qarain, the centre's head, immigrated from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia over 20 years ago, and is one of the few non-Arab preachers in the country.
A member of the Abdul Aziz Hospital University, he spends all his spare time preaching to the Filipino community in Riyadh. He takes with him a new group of would-be converts to every Friday prayer.
He says the most difficult and most time consuming thing is teaching the new converts the details of Islam after they officially convert to Islam by reciting the "Shahadah," the Muslim declaration of faith in God.
Supervised by the Ministry of Saudi Arabia, the COCG is the oldest and one of the most active centres in this field. It operates through a number of camps located in areas heavily populated by Asian workers, and it has preachers dedicated to the cause of helping non-Muslims convert to Islam.
There are around 18 centres Like the COCG in Riyadh, and more then 215 around the Kingdom.
As well as providing 5,000 people with food to break their daily fast in Ramadan, the center gives free lectures, and, twice a year, takes Muslim converts to perform the Umrah, a non-mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina that can be done any time of the year.