World Bulletin / News Desk
19 year-old Ashley Mountasir Mountasir became curious about Islam when she watched her Muslim boyfriend Taha fast during the holy month of Ramadan two years ago.
When Mountasir met Taha, 23, two years ago through friends, she didn't know he was Muslim until she asked him why he was fasting. She was nominally Catholic but never connected with Catholicism and rarely attended Mass, reported the Press-Enterprise.
Murrieta woman was Catholic at the time but in June she converted to Islam. On Monday, the first full day of Ramadan, she fasted with her now-husband Taha for the first time.
Mountasir asked Taha, and his mother, Nafissa Larson, many questions, first about Ramadan and then about Islam in general. The more she learned, the more questions she asked.
She began to attend prayer services at the mosque occasionally.
"Every time I came to the mosque, I felt at peace with myself," she said. "I felt happy. Every time I went inside a church, I felt tension."
The Press-Enterprise said that Ashley and Taha Mountasir married in October. She converted in June. She said her husband never pressured her to convert. In Islam, conversion is simple: recognizing that Allah is the only deity and that Mohammed is his messenger.
"I have never felt so close to God," Ashley Mountasir said. "It makes me feel protected, like someone is watching over me."
At the prayer services Sunday, the imam, Mahmoud Harmoush, reminded worshippers that Ramadan is about more than fasting. It's also about forgiveness, kindness, mercy, prayer and charity to others, he said.
It wasn't difficult, even though the fast lasted almost 16 hours, she said.
"My body told me, 'I'm not hungry. My body doesn't need anything. I'm doing this for my God,'" Mountasir said.
Ramadan commemorates when Muslims believe Allah revealed the teachings of the Quran to Mohammed. During the month, observant Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset. This year, Ramadan will end Oct. 1.
Mountasir was excited about the service. She had read extensively about Ramadan and had long been looking forward to it.
During the service, two men said they wanted to convert to Islam.
One of the men, Alex Ruval, said he became interested in Islam when he served as an Army soldier in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Ruval, 27, of Del Mar, in San Diego County, heard the calls to prayer from the mosques and "it gave me a warm feeling inside. I could see how it connected with a lot of people."
When Ruval started working for a Muslim man's trucking company several months ago, he began asking the man, Julian Rivas, of Temecula, about Islam.
"I just wanted to know their beliefs," Ruval said. "He started talking to me about it, and it made sense."