Monday, September 22, 2008

Being a Muslim in Japan

Ramadhan gave me the opportunity to sit back and take a third-person look at my past experiences being a Muslim in Japan. I'm not really good at being super religious, but I strive to be a better person each day; but I must say, being in Japan did change my view about being an ordinary Muslim just trying to get through life.

A lot of my Muslim friends ask me: Is it hard to be a Muslim in Japan compared to Malaysia?

My normal answer would be: Definitely not easy, but you’ll get used to it in time.

It is easier to practice Islam when you’re in a community with a Muslim majority; mosques are a plenty, halal food is everywhere, everyone knows the do’s and don’ts of Islam and you don’t really have to think about integration with people from different cultural/religious backgrounds. Everything is easier.

The same things cannot be said when it comes to Japan, the land of the rising sun. Unlike other developed countries like the United States, Great Britain, France etc, in Japan the mosques are scarce, halal food could only be bought through the internet, there are a lot of misunderstandings about Islam and a lot of people thought that religion are nothing more than a technique that people had been using from ancient times to control other people’s way of life.

There is only a mere 1% of the people who live in Japan who is Muslim, and 90% of that pie came from Muslim foreigners. And 90% of those Muslim Japanese, became Muslims because they want to marry a Muslim. Suffice to say the percentage Muslim Japanese in Japan is like the percentage of Jew Malaysians in Malaysia, they’re really small in numbers.

The majority of Japanese people are Liberal Atheists, and they perceive religion as a very personal thing; as long as you don’t mess up with other people’s business, you’re doing just fine. Islamophobia almost doesn’t exist because people don’t really care about religion or faith; and some doesn't even know the existence of Islam to begin with. But that is slowly changing, sadly by the works of Osama Bin Laden.

So what does it mean to be a Muslim in Japan?

Being Muslim in Japan means you have to practice Islam more than you would in Malaysia, IF you want to achieve the equal level of closeness with the faith. Being a Muslim in Japan demands more effort and a strong will of Iman.

I might be dead wrong, but at least that’s my opinion; through experience.

This is because, in a daily life of a Muslim in Japan, the exposure and sense of existence of the strong cultures of Islam, especially the ritual part, are very low compared to what I used to feel when I’m in Malaysia. You don’t hear the azan, nobody cares about the concept of covering one's awrah, people idolize pork, they don’t pray, and you don’t hear conversations discussing Islam. Everytime you want to shop for food, you have to check the contents in the back for haram ingredients, and you can’t fell safe because sometimes the haram ingredients are not written at all.

But like I said before, it’s all ritual stuff. The essence and value of Islam is actually everywhere in Japan. The roads are swept clean from rubbish (sense of cleanliness), the level of crime is one of the lowest in the world (sense of righteousness), almost everyone is polite at certain level (sense of being nice?), everyone is dedicated to their work (well, maybe TOO dedicated sometimes, ever heard of Karōshi?)… these are some of the qualities that Islam claimed to promote.

Japanese people are very much Muslims at heart; they just eat pork, don’t perform the solat and have a weird fondness to hentai and pervert things.

Of course, not everything about Japan is all cherry and honey. Like any other country in the world, there are lots of things that are fucked up about Japan. Take for instance, its high suicide rate and sexual crimes. Well, I can’t deny that although Japanese are very nice people, they sometimes are too serious and they do live in a very stressful society that frowns upon failure; compared to Malaysians. People believe that they fail because they don’t work hard enough.

They rather die than face the shame of being a failure, it’s unbearable to them. They took the concept of 'losing face' to a higher level than we Malaysians.

Anyways, I’m not an expert in social-science of Japan, so my observation about the Japanese society might be nothing more than bullshit, so don’t really believe what I think about them. You never know, there maybe a stress-free Japanese person out there who is lazy as hell, cannot eat raw fish and hate hentai.

Being a Muslim in Japan, people will ask about this alien religion that seems to be associated with a lot of violence and terrorism, as famously portrayed by the international media. I was once asked “So you’re a Muslim? You’re not with the Al-Qaeda, aren’t you?”

At first, I was really uncomfortable with people associating Islam and violence while pointing it to my nose. Damn you OSAMA! But I came to take these ignorant ideas and see it in a humorous way and make a joke about it.

“Hi my name is Taufiq Ali and just because I didn’t bring my bomb-wrapped green jacket, that doesn’t mean that I’m not a proper Muslim”

Islam teaches about peace and being cool with each other, but it is hard to answer to the violence, unfairness and human-right-abusive actions that those Muslims did in the other part of the world. You can say “ohh don’t compare me to them, they’re extremist!” but the fact still remains that they’re Muslim, no matter how fucked up their understanding of the religion is.

The only thing that I could do is to explain to them that in every religion, there are extremists and clever opportunists who use the influence and strict sense of obedience in religion, for their own personal gain; or for an ideology that was based on hatred, not peace as being taught by Prophet Muhammad saw.

One of the main responses when I talk about Islam to my Japanese friends is the ritual obligation and some of the strict regulations about food and social-interactions. A good Muslim doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t eat disgusting pork and doesn’t have pre-marital sex. They jumped when I said that couples were not even allowed to hold hands; and hand-jobs are just unthinkable.

“So you are telling me… even if one day, a very beautiful lady with a really healthy set of knockers came to you and said you could fondle her breasts for free, you wouldn’t do it?”

No I won’t. I will say no, as I swept away the tears bursting out of my eyes.

“Wow I don’t believe you. So what if this one very pretty girl came up to you and offered to PAY you to bone her senseless? An offer no man can refuse. Just think about it. You don’t have to bring her for a nice dinner in some fancy restaurant. You don't have to go the cinemas and watch romatic movies with her just to pretend to be a sensitive guy who could stand romance. You don’t have to act like you’re listening to her talk about emotions and feelings etc, you know, the words that girls often use to confuse men. You don’t have to buy her innocent gifts like teddy bears (which is gay, but guys do it anyways in hope of happy-bang-bang in return). In short, you don’t have to pretend that you care about what she thinks and feels, and still you’re being offered sexy-time!”

First I would think for a second, and before conscience tries to cloud my judgment, I will say no to that too, but I will probably hit the floor and cry like a baby later on.

“You’re tough, but what if this extremely cute girl with the most perfect shape of breast…..”

As you can see, being Muslim in Japan is not very easy.

…to be continued…

probably way after Ramadhan is over.

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