The Story of a Converted Japanese Muslim Woman: “Japan is Becoming More Accepting of Diversity”

When we think about Japan, often we think about “the Land of the Rising Sun”, the rich Japanese cuisine and culture, nature, high technology, Shinto, and perhaps Buddhism as the most practised religion in the country. But what if we talk about Islam and Japan?

Let me introduce you to Nur Arisa Maryam, a Japanese Muslim who converted to Islam  and is currently living in the UK. Born and raised in Tokyo, she later gained an interest in foreign languages, which is why she chose to major in Malaysian Studies and Language at university. Even now, she’s still very interested in foreign languages, and is taking Arabic and Islamic Studies classes in one of the institutes in London.

Let’s have a talk with Arisa!

How did you encounter Islam in the first place?

I majored in Malaysian Studies at my university in Tokyo and one of the lectures was a hijabi Muslim woman. Through my study, I met many Muslims and I was also a member of the Indonesian dance club in the university. Then I started to discover Islam. I realized that the Muslim way of thinking is beautiful. I was also shocked by it, because no matter what happens, they live for the sake of God and have dedicated their worship exclusively to God.

Her curiosity brought her to Islamic classes at her university. She noticed that Malaysians and Indonesians like to use Arabic terminology, such as Masha Allah (God has willed) and Alhamdulillah (praise to God). She tried to find the meaning in Malaysian and Indonesian dictionaries, but found none. This led her to discover more about Islam.

How was the reaction of your family and friends, after you decided to become  Muslim?

My mother was shocked when I told her. She couldn’t accept the fact that her daughter became Muslim without telling her. She was really worried that people would see me differently and attack me and she also was worried about my marriage, because she knew that we don’t have many Japanese Muslims. She was confused by the sudden news and she couldn’t understand me. She said to me that I’m not her daughter anymore and she didn’t talk to me at all for a while. But I knew this was a normal reaction, so I did my best to make her accept me. And I wanted to make her see me being a better person because of Islam. So, I tried to maintain a good relationship with my mother. When it came to my friends, there were some who were wondering about my new life as a Muslim, but they didn’t say bad things about Islam in front of me. Alhamdulillah.

Meanwhile, Arisa immediately received support from her younger sister. “She told me that she was happy for me,” said Arisa. Her sister also helped her to convince her mother that she is still the same person and that nothing has changed. However, it took time until her mother accepted her as a Muslim and she even cried while apologising to Arisa.

Many people are afraid to talk to their family about their conversion. Not all families are open towards different religions and cultures, and this is why Arisa never told her mother her process of learning Islam. On the other hand, she always talked openly about having some Muslim friends to her mom.

Now that you are a Muslim, do you feel like you have a different life?

I felt hopeless. All I could think about was studying, work, getting married and starting a family. It felt like I had no purpose in life other than all of those things. Sometimes I wanted to give up. But now I feel like I live my life for Allah and I prepare my life for the hereafter. Although I still have difficulties and challenges in life, I know this is not the end. I know every difficulty is a test from Allah.

How was life in Japan as a Muslim compared to the life that you have now in the UK?

Japan’s Muslim community is very small compared to the UK. It’s normal to live with Muslims in the UK. There are many more mosques and halal restaurants here. It’s much easier to find halal food as well, to the extent that you can even find it in normal supermarkets. Japan doesn’t have many Muslims and there are still very few Islamic events and places. But I always look at this situation positively. I feel like Muslims greet each other more often back in Japan, even though we don’t know each other. I think it’s also a lot easier to make friends with Muslims in Japan because we’re such a minority there.

We have some difficulties in terms of prayer spaces and Halal foods, however, and thankfully, Japan is becoming more accepting of diversity and they are welcoming Muslims as well. Alhamdulillah!

It is also one of the reasons why Arisa moved to the UK. She wanted to study the Qur’an, hadith, Arabic, and deepen her knowledge about Islam because she dreams of becoming an Islamic scholar.

Before Arisa converted to Islam, she used her social media and blog to share all her feelings and curiosity about Islam and Muslims. She wondered whether there were people in the same situation or not. Little did she know, her posts attracted some attention to people in the same situation. After she converted, she created a small community through Instagram and has helped a few people to convert to Islam. Now Arisa continues sharing her story via Instagram and she combines it with Japanese culture. On her @japanesemuslimahinuk account, you can read more stories about her journey towards Islam in Japanese manga style and on her personal account @nurarisamaryam, she shares her daily activities in the UK. Arisa hopes Japan will acknowledge the existence of Japanese Muslim like her who wear a headscarf, because when she wore it in Japan, people often thought it was a cosplay.

Written by Adin Lubis

Profile photo of Adin Lubis

Adin is a master student of Journalism & Media in Europe at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She loves travelling, share her thoughts on her Instagram @adinlubiss, and vlogging on YouTube.

  • Dave

    Will she accept it if her husband wants three more wives? She may not be allowed out of the house, and her husband may beat her if she becomes disobedient. Would she like FGM? Just a few things to look forward to.

    • Angelo Mathews

      would God Accept you even though you associate partners with God who created everything or doesnt believe at all specially when Islam is a proven fact. (Prophet’s prophecies, he ws prophecised in odler scriptures, biography, quran filled with linguistic and numerical miracles and memorised by over 50 million people in the world etc).

      All the subjective opinions are flushed down the toilet but still you dont know anything about Islam.

      maybe 1% muslims are polygamous and its only allowed if you can support financially, physicaly, emotionaly etc. (the only religion to actually prohibit polygamy in this way). FGM is not allowed in islam..only male circumcision. Prophet Muhammad came a t a time when female babies were being buried alive but he said giving to a daughter and raising her up would guarantee paradise. he always said take care of women. only islam says heaven is under teh feet of motehr when most religions blame women. you are not blamed for anything like menstrauation etc. you are always financially secured..even in marrying husabnd have to give you money not teh other way around.

      He was known as the bestest man for 40 years. when he starts preaching the religion of Abraham, dominant polytheists persecute and boycott early muslims for 13 years and he had to flee to madinah. before he dies at 63 he reforms whole arabia under 1 God free of superstitions, inequalitya nd injustice. Thats why arabs advanced in maths, science, arts after that. Our greatest scholar is a woman Aisha(ra), a muslim builds teh first degree giving university. Muslim women were the most liberated during those times. Prophet wished that God willingly one day a woman will be able to travel by herself fearing no one but animals.

      • Dave

        I do know that Mohammad married Aisha when she was six years old.
        His first wife was a very successful businesswoman who gave him a job. He realized he was on to a good thing and married her. She supported him. Muhammad progressively took away women’s rights. Her testimony is half that of a man. He decreed that they were intellectually inferior. They only inherit half of their husbands estate. As I said in my previous reply, women were to be beaten if they became defiant in any way. They were allowed a warning to behave themselves.

        The Quran was copied from the Torah and the Bible. Muhammad performed no miracles, and made only one vague prophecy. He himself thought he had been taken over by an evil spirit.
        Although Muhammad decreed that men could have up to four wives, he himself had 11 wives at one time, and slave girls.Slavery is still practiced by Muslims.
        FGM is practiced by muslims.In the UK, polygamous wives are not recognized by the law, so they are supported on benefits as single mothers. They are also given housing. Their husband is often not working, and he lives off benefits as well.

        I hardly need to tell you that the Koran preaches the death to the infidel.Leaving Islam can give the death penalty. Muhammad was criticised by a poetess, said he had her killed. He personally killed 600 Jews, having just defeated them in battle, by beheading them.

        Most knowledge gained by the Muslims came from the civilisations that they conquered. How many Nobel prize winners are there who are Muslims?

        I have said enough for now. I do not know how or if you will respond to this. I do have references for what I have said that it cannot find them at the moment. I have not said anything that cannot be backed up.