Jennifer Berzon is counting the
months. In a year she will leave her
job as home help for an Emirati
family and finally return to her own
children and husband in the Philippines.<
And to that joyous reunion she will
take something in addition to the
hugs, kisses and gifts – a new
Jennifer, 31, converted to Islam from
Christianity last year, in the middle of
She credits her life-changing
decision in part to her close
relationship with the Abdouli family
for whom she works, and the woman
of the house, Umm Ahmed, her friend
Jennifer has spent three years with
the family in Al Shamkha, Abu Dhabi.
Working together in the kitchen, they
spent many hours talking about the
small details of life.
“I see a lady with a truthful good
heart. I learnt so much from her,” she
says. “The respect and treatment of
the family I was blessed to live
among has touched me deeply.
“It led me to wonder about the
reason they were all so sweet and
genuine to me, even though I was
just the maid.”
She says it was a blessing from God
that she has been among the family.
“Life has changed for me forever.”
Jennifer says listening to the words
of the Quran “mesmerised me. I felt a
light enter my heart and soul and
staying there. I couldn’t resist, tears
came to my eyes every time I heard
The decision to convert was not easy
for her. Her family have found it hard
to deal with and are divided in their
Her eldest brother, to whom she was
closest, has threatened to physically
hurt her and says he never wants to
see her in a hijab.
Another brother, who lived in Saudi
Arabia for 12 years, is trying to
persuade their mother to accept her
daughter’s choice of faith.
“It was very difficult to take the step,”
Jennifer admits. “My family now will
not accept me. I don’t know how I
am going to deal with that and face
them when I go back.”
Fortunately, her husband has
supported her decision.
“When I entered Islam and I told my
husband and he respected that,”
Under Sharia law, a marriage of a
Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man
is not recognised. The husband must
Jennifer says her employer helped
out, explaining the principles of Islam
to her husband in a phone call. He
recited the shahada with her, in
Arabic: “There is no god but God,
Mohammed is the messenger of
Jennifer is extremely proud of her
husband and says it makes her
happy that the father of her children
realised how important her new faith
had become to her.
After entering Islam, she says, he
went to the Muslim community in the
Philippines to learn more about it.
Mariam Arcena, another Filipina
convert, is now a preacher working
with converts from the Philippines,
India, Bangladesh and Russia
Living in the UAE for 24 years,
Mariam gives lectures on Islam and
helps converts in the spiritual but
practical areas of their lives,
sometimes even helping in their
release from prison.
She estimates there are an average
of two converts a day from domestic
“There is a lot of growing interest
and many have opened their hearts
to learn more,” Mariam says.
Jennifer says one of the things that
moved her closer to Islam was the
acceptance and respect for non-
“I have found there is more
acceptance in Islam and that really
surprised me,” she says.
The key to her conversion, Jennifer
says, is her close relationship from
her employer, who treated her with
kindness, respect and an equality
that affected her deeply.
Umm Ahmed says she is very proud
of her helper.
“I always like to talk to her, especially
when we are in the kitchen for hours.
We are lucky to have her, she is very
kind and good with the kids.
“And to me, the greatest gift was her
conversion in my house. It made us
all, my children too, extremely
This is not the first time a home
helper in Umm Ahmed’s house has
converted. The first time was when
she was a newlywed.
Umm Ahmed says Jennifer seemed
hesitant at first to talk about her
interest in Islam, but “it meant the
world to me when she did”.
Jennifer says: “I was scared that she
would be upset if she knew that I
wanted to know more about the
religion and wanted to convert”.
So she talked to a friend of her
employer, who told her Umm Ahmed
would be thrilled.
“I sat with my madam and told her
what I felt and what I wanted, and
she was so happy,” Jennifer says.
“Until the end of my life I will always
remember my time with this family. I
never felt a stranger. Madam is a
great friend, a mother, to me and to
those around her. I see it.
“Her personality affected me and
when I observed closer and listened
to her I knew it was because of her
religion. And that is why I want to
become one of them, and learn what
makes her and her family act the way
“Every Ramadan I observed in Abu
Dhabi with the family was very
meaningful. It made me wonder
about the reason of life and the
purpose of it.”
Ramadan this year is one of the
pillars of her new faith. She will go
home to the Philippines, she says,
with great memories and a religion
that has changed her life.
In tears, Jennifer says: “For the first
time in my life I felt that maybe this
is the right time, in the right home, in
the right country that I was meant by
God to be in. And for that I am