Dubai: For Ismael Ssentongo, Ramadan could not have come at a better time.
The 23-year-old barista from Uganda became a Muslim just four days before the month of fasting started on April 24 in the UAE.
His first-ever Ramadan is filled with fasting and prayer, as well as ample free time to learn more about Islam.
Ssentongo came to Dubai from his native Mityana District in search for employment in 2018. But he had also been searching for spiritual solace.
Ssentongo said he embraced Islam because he wanted to follow “the true religion” in which he did not need an intermediary to worship God or communicate (make supplication) to Him in prayer.
He also sought to follow a divine book “that has not been changed” since it was revealed – which he came to realise as the Quran.
After some Muslim friends introduced him to some aspects of Islam, his interest grew.
‘I wanted to become Muslim’
He downloaded a Quran app and started reading. Ssentongo said he was particularly inspired by the first chapter, Surah Fatihah (The Opener of the Book), especially its verses, “All praise is for Allah…” and “You alone we worship and You alone we ask” – as this is what he had been longing to do all along.
“I understood this book, the Quran, is honouring only God without associating anyone alongside him, and that it guides people to talk directly to God in supplication, without going through anyone, not even prophets,” Ssentongo said.
“I wanted to become Muslim, I was thinking about accepting Islam. I started researching more about it. After a month of considering it, I finally decided I wanted to embrace Islam.”
Testimony of Faith
An acquaintance suggested him to contact IACAD (Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department) in Dubai, which he did. He received a call back from IACAD to confirm he wanted to accept Islam.
After affirming his decision, Ssentongo took the shahada, the “testimony of faith” in Arabic, and was explained its meaning in English, as the means to become Muslim.
“There is no God expect Allah and Mohammad is the Messenger of Allah,” Ssentongo declared and entered Islam.
This was on April 20, just a few days before Ramadan; he also received a certificate from IACAD confirming his faith as a new Muslim. Ssentongo has additionally received guidance and support from the Mohammad Bin Rashid Center for Islamic Culture, IACAD, in terms of understanding his new faith better.
Ssentongo prays five times a day, as expected of all Muslims, and also is fasting every day of Ramadan, another obligation in Islam.
“The first day of fasting was very hard, but by the second and third day, I got used to it.I’m learning about and practicing the duties of Islam every day. I don’t mind that I still have to learn many things and follow new rules because the best thing that happened to me is that I became Muslim,” he said.
“I feel so blessed to become a Muslim and it feels like it was a call from God that I embraced Islam right before Ramadan started. During Ramadan, you feel more religious and spiritual, which is helping us Muslims increase our faith.”
Ssentongo likes to read stories of the prophets in his free time.
His work is temporarily suspended because of the COVID-19 situation and he spends the hours learning more about Islam and worshipping Allah.
Ssentongo has memorised some verses of the Quran and du’as (supplications) in Arabic. He aims to become proficient in salah (prayer) by the end of Ramadan.
‘I feel happy’
Ssentongo lives with his colleagues and they have iftar, the meal to end the daily fast, at home.
“I feel like my life has really changed since I’ve become Muslim. I no longer have doubts about how to worship my Creator and how to call upon him. When it’s time for prayer, I feel happy because I’m going to talk to my Creator, there is no need for someone to come between us.”