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.