Twenty-three young African footballers converted to Islam at the end of a two-month training camp in Dubai.
The men, all in their twenties, are members of a football academy for poor, homeless and orphaned youngsters in Cameroon.
“It is amazing that at an age when most people just want to play and have fun, these young men were searching for faith and enlightenment,” said Javeed Khateeb, senior religious adviser at IACAD, the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai.
“This is the first time we’ve had such a large number of people from the same group wanting to convert.
“We do get large groups of converts but usually they come from different backgrounds.”
The players and their coaching staff became interested in converting because of the peace and serenity they felt in Islam, and the kindness they received from the Muslim players they trained with, Mr Khateeb said.
“They were very impressed with the way Muslims behaved, but mostly they were impressed by the kindness and respect they received. These are poor young men and they were embraced like brothers.”
Having expressed their interest in Islam to their hosts, the squad were then taken to IACAD to learn more about the religion.
“We spent two separate sessions, which were about a full day each, talking about Islam and answering all their questions and alleviating any doubts,” said Mr Khateeb.
The players and coaches visited the IACAD centre on Thursday last week to convert. “Two of them did not wish to convert, but they wanted to learn more about Islam and the culture before deciding what to do,” said Mr Khateeb.
The squad, some of whom were Christian before converting to Islam, returned home to Cameroon on Saturday.
“The department has witnessed a lot of conversion cases of visitors and residents from different nationalities and most of them attribute their conversion to the tolerance and humane values and principles of Islam and the kindness they had from Muslims,” said Dr Hamad Al Shaibani, director general of IACAD.
The department organises programmes and events for non-Muslims and new Muslims to introduce the authentic, moderate message of Islam as a religion for all. These take place in schools, shopping centres and cultural clubs.