photos by Saizensen
(1) Religious concept of Japanese people in present day
As being well known, Japanese Shinto since the ancient time and Buddhism that had been transferred from India, China and Korea thousand and a few hundred years ago had been widely spread among Japanese people who had earnestly worshiped both. In the middle age, Christianity was brought by missionaries from Europe to Kyushu or West Japan, however, the Tokugawa government (17th AC - 1868) banned it in those days. Later the Meiji Government (1868 - 1912) admitted the freedom of religion and allowed Christianity to spread again.
After Japan's defeat of the World War II in 1945, the worship toward Shinto which had been the spiritual pillar of the nation was rapidly declined. Buddhism also isolated from the real world because its doctrine was too deep and difficult. It used to emphasize only formal or ideological sermons such as funeral, ancestor service, Bon, equinoctial week, etc.
Under these circumstances and the age of spiritual vacuum, many new waves of religion erupted to preach doctrines which people can easily understand, are attached with daily life, and fill the vacuum of their mind. One of them got so much popular and is rapidly expanding to enter into the field of political renovation movements through its religious activities.
What happened with Islam which is the topic of this paper? Generally speaking, most of Japanese have been indifferent, ignorant, or not interested in Islam. Going back to history, some pioneers have broken ground of Islam in the middle of the Meiji period, i.e. about 90 years ago. However, since their preaching power was week only a limited number of people worshiped.
After the outbreak of the China-Japan incident and the Greater East Asia War, it was discovered that a few hundreds of million Muslims resided in many areas of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which aroused the interest in Islam by some scholars. As a result, some people converted to Islam and a number of Islamic books which had never seen before started appearing on store selves. Nevertheless, the light of Islam had been put off due to the defeat in the war which caused shortage in food, clothe, or accommodation and made people occupied only with daily necessities and worldly matters.
Since 1955, missionaries of Tabliq from Pakistan started visiting Japan every year to preach Islam all over Japan. At the end of 1973, the first Oil Shock erupted and threatened the daily life of people. They realized that the oil which is indispensable for our daily life was produced by Islamic nations in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia. Then people suddenly showed the strong interest in Islam.
Taking advantage of this golden opportunity, Dr. Saleh Samarrai who had studied in Japan since 1960, came back to Japan to establish the present Islamic Center, Japan and initiated the systematic Islamic Dawah activities. This was an innovative incident in the history of Islam in Japan. It is no exaggeration to say that this became the driving force for various movements which made the Japanese Islamic circle recognized among Japanese people. Of course, the read ahead is much far, there are still many commitments which the Islamic Center, Japan has to fulfill.
(2) How do Japanese people consider Islam?
How do Japanese people accept and recognize Islam, a foreign religion, which has been comparatively recently introduced to Japan? It is sad to say that until recently, 90% of Japanese people used to misunderstand that Islam, a barbaric, aggressive and inferior religion, came from barren deserts of Arabia. First of all, polygamy, prohibiting alcohol, pork and so on. Also once a year, they have to fast for one month. Preconceived ideas that Islam is extremely strict in commandments or rules, clag into brains of Japanese people. This stereo type preoccupied people's minds.
Especially, the polygamy which has been repeatedly used as a means of attack for the anti-Islamic propaganda, is often taken as ithyphallic as if Islam allows or promotes polygamy. In fact, this needs the clear explanation and remarks, which I will describe in another section and skip here.
Above all, briefly saying, Islam may generally give an impression that its commandments are strict with the complicated rules and rituals. Therefore, most of people shrink back at its entrance, back away from it or avoid it. It is so-call disliking without trying. It would be equal to the proverb that "wait for a hundred years until Yellow River gets clean" (the river is always dirty not to get clean for ever).
These misunderstanding or falsification were somehow brought back by those students who had been dispatched to learn the advanced culture of Western nations , later had accepted Christianity, and had been brainwashed ideologically. Even after they returned to Japan after their study, they were misguided by Christians to believe that Islam was a barbaric or vulgar religion. In fact these brilliant elites wrote many textbooks and books to be spread widely.
This is the reality of the prejudice carried since the beginning of the Meiji Era to the present time in Japan. It was been the general tendency apart from a few exceptions.
The second reason for prejudice is that most of nations in Middle East, Asia and Africa had been colonized by the Western Powers and subordinated under their control. The majority of them left themselves to the exploitation of the Western nations or were not fully independent. Therefore, other nations jumped into conclusion that the religion, that was worshiped (修正: practiced) by those underdeveloped people who were culturally or economically inferior, must be an uncivilized and vulgar religion. They despised and fooled Islam from the beginning. In other words, They concluded that since the Christian civilization is superior to the Islamic civilization the former religion was also much superior to the latter religion.
It is one of the major reasons that they could not spiritually afford to contemplate about Islam calmly or deeply. This unfavorable trend has been corrected along with the change and progress of the objective time and the aspersion or slander has been dwarfed, however, it would take still a long time for people except a few number of believers to respect it as one of the three major religions in the world.
Briefly saying, in the sage of Heise started from 1989, while there are not many people as those who used to look down on Islam immediately after they heard about Islam in those days of Meiji, Taisho, and Showa (1868 ~ 1989), there are not many people in total who proactively embrace Islam. Since it would need a certain amount of pages to explain, I will do in another occasion. While scholars or researchers are increasing, it seems that, they may hesitate to enter Islam due to the feeling of distance in order to follow and adjust to the way of Islam as a perfect Muslim.
(3) What is Islam?
Islam is generally translated into 'peace' or 'chastity', however, they are not enough to explain. In summary, it is based on the teaching to surrender to Allah, the only one God, obey Him and pray for peace. In rather hard saying, it teaches us the righteous way in the world and ethics of human life from every direction and field. While it may be obsolete to say, aside some part, it is strangely very much similar to the Imperial Rescripts on Education that people, irrespective of age or sex, used to recite before the end of the war. You, readers, may try to read and compare both for proof.
Leaving the profound and ultra-hyper doctrines such as difficult Islamic theologies or philosophies to specialists, scholars, or researchers, the revelation of the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, teaches us how human beings should behave or the way of daily life, the guideline or direction and also the practical code of life which fits to the reality. It also shows how a society as well as individuals should deal with others, how to negotiate. These teachings of daily life by the religion that was initiated 1400 years ago, still goes for the modern times in which super advanced science and technology are being developed day and night, without any contradiction. Furthermore, the population of Muslims is increasing all over the world, which gives the clear evidence.
(4) What is anti-Islam? Or misunderstanding of Islam
In comparison with other religions like Christianity or Buddhism, there are many differences in Islam. The most distinctive character is that it does not worship Buddha or the cross. In short, Islam is not idol worshiping like other religions.
Then, what does Islam worship? In one word, we worship only Allah, who is only one and has been omnipresent in every space from the beginning of the world creation, whom we cannot see by our eyes (it is called Gaybu in Islam ) , and who is omnipotent, and we also follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, a messenger of God, and believe him as a prophet of God. On the contrary, it is against the teaching of Islam to worship someone or something but Allah.
As I mentioned above, unscrupulous people of Christian countries in the West, intentionally spread negative and distorted images of Islam which are far away from the true picture of Islam. Recently, many people realized its mistake by themselves, or were taught by others, however, a certain number of people still stubbornly despise or looked down Islam.
These people often mention the polygamy which I quoted in (2). They misunderstand in extreme cases that Islam officially admits it or rather promotes.
What about the fact? Some of learned people realized and corrected their mistake, however, they could have understood the reason if they studied the truth in the course of the history. When the teaching of Islam was enlightened to the Arab world, they often used to fight with pagans or different ethnic groups. They had rarely experienced peaceful times and suffered from wartime conditions. Therefore, many of men went to battlefields and also many of them died there. Their wives were left widows, suffered from earning bread and became badly off. When women lost their fiancé, only the way to save them was the protection by marriage because there were not social welfare systems or facilities as we see in present days. Islam puts the strict conditions that only the husband who can treat his wives equally without discrimination, physically and financially love, and take care of them are allowed. Therefore, ordinary people except riches or royal families did not have much to do with polygamy. In the present Islamic world, there are not many husbands who have plural wives. On the other hand, in the first stage of Islam, the polygamy was the effective and necessary means for people to increase the population as many as possible, as we did in Japan during the wartime with the slogan, "bring forth and increase".
What about in non-Islamic countries? Though they may keep monogamy on the surface, they give silent approval to keeping a mistress or a second wife. Japan is also not an exception. In this sense, Islamic countries are more fair and forward-looking.
All the misunderstandings have been carried by the people who were brainwashed by Western Christian countries during the Meiji Era. Once you understand the cause of the misunderstanding, it will melt way and ordinary people will understand clearly.
Also regarding Ramadan, it is not forced to anybody. Sick persons, travelers, pregnant women or children are exempt from fasting. They will resume once they clear their problems and fit themselves to fasting, for example, after travel or delivery, recovery from sickness. Islam does not force everybody to keep fasting.
Islam has flexible approach toward all aspects of life as well as fasting. The teaching is very flexible and comprehensive. Once you know Islam, you will easily understand its characters.
(5) Thoughts of ordinary Japanese and similarity with Islam
Japanese people called themselves as a clean nation and were proud of it from ancient times. Since we had abundant clean water in mountains and rivers and we have four seasons every year with genial climate, Japanese people naturally became the clean nation.
On other hand, most of Islamic countries are in barren deserts where trees do not grow or water is scant. Since their landscape is desolate, they always wash their body or keep clean themselves before prayer or after discharging urine or defecating. If water is not available, they may use clean sand. It has some sort of similarity with the ablution that Japanese people often clean their mouth and hands before entering and praying inside a Shinto shrine.
b. Honor and Faith
It is also the same with Muslims. It is strictly prohibited in the Qur'an to break a promise. It is to be expected to carry out in any case once you promise. This is the teaching of Islam that is also common with Japanese.
We are also similar in respecting manners. Japanese people emphasize courtesy and principle. If someone does not follow, others will not care him.
How about Islam? The revealed Holy Qur'an teaches the guideline and principle of Muslim's daily life which are given in details, for example, how to visit friends, how to walk on the road, etc. If you enter into a room or climb stairs, you have to send elders forward. Start from the right sleeve and then the left sleeve when you put on the cloth, or start from the right foot when you stand up to walk, since it is considered that the right hand is clean and the left hand is unclean.
d. Salvation and charity
While Japanese people used to consider from the ancient time that it was a virtue to help and give charity to poor, weak, or underprivileged people, Muslims are more positive and practical.
Why are they so? Many verses of the Qur'an emphasize the spirit of mercy and salvation, and positively promote its practice.
One of the five pillars of Islam which are the basic duties of Muslim, is zakat, charity. It is quite clear from the fact that Zakat is indispensable in Islam.
The Japanese race has been brave since the ancient time. People stopped saying something brave or gallant on the face, because it may cause unnecessary misunderstanding or dispute since the wartime militarism had been thoroughly removed and eliminated on the declaration of the Peace Constitution after the World War Second.
Nevertheless, I have to state that the true courage should not be violent, aggressive, threatening barbarism. It should be the true courage to follow justice and the golden road of the universe.
Though many Muslim nations have experienced rise and fall from ancient times, all of them followed the spirit of Islam with bravery, especially the first one hundred years in the beginning of Islam were the most paramount. That was why the great teaching of the emerging Islam had rapidly spread in the region of meniscus shape centered by Arab in a short time. If it had been done by brute courage, territorial ambition or materialistic lust, Islam would not have expanded so much that there are one billion believers as one of the three biggest religions in the world.
Similarities between both are countless, and we find so many similar aspects that I will not list in this paper.
(6) Why Japanese people should accept Islam?
a. For Japanese people who unnecessarily flow to flippancy and luxury
All material and immaterial assets were destroyed and lost when Japan lost the World War II. The damage was tremendous to the extent that the nation was on the verge of ruin at a certain stage.
However, standing up from this serious crisis of turmoil and apathy, one hundred million Japanese people worked so hard day and night as one nation that they could overcome every kind of troubles. Within 10 years after the defeat, they promoted a number of reconstruction projects and within 20 years they could reach the pre-war level. Later Japan outstripped it with astonishing speed every year and nowadays, Japan distinguished herself in the world in every field of politics, economy, culture, academic study, etc. Japan, that people though was almost disable to recover, became one of the largest powers in the world.
Therefore, the national life became very rich, which people could never image during or soon after the war. They get used to luxury, consumed goods unnecessarily without considering abuse, and they do not care the fact they put on warm cloths, take abundant and tasty foods in daily life.
People's vainglory is puffed up with the materialistic ideas that people believe they can get everything only with money and never have the thankfulness to God, the Creator of the Universe.
The people who depend on money and materials in daily life, would get confused or lost when they encounter a natural disaster or unexpected accident or incident while they feel no problem in a peaceful time or their conditions or environments are stable. It is because they have not cultivated patient, strong and sturdy mentality. As a result, they are equal to weakly children mentally and physically. Affluent materials and rich foods have negative effects to wreck the nation for both mind and body. It is somehow a bitter phenomenon.
In these situations, there is the best and most effective medicine, that is Islam. The best way is to follow and practice the Teachings and Spirit of Islam.
Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has been a barren desert since the ancient time and Islam was born and has been grown from the harsh and hard natural environment. That is why Islam teaches the very positive way of life, to encourage simple and sturdy life, face difficulties resolutely and preserve against poverty.
For example, fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, represents its model. It is nowadays well known by nonbelievers as Ramadan of Islam. In fact, Muslim may practice it whenever he or she decides to do it for a day. They really feel the importance of food and realize the gratefulness to Allah who provide.
If you keep on training yourselves in daily life, you will be able to withstand starvation, hunger or thirst and will not feel any pain. They will not give up so easily like people who have indulged in luxurious life. They have patience, resolution not to bend their necks to difficulties. They will never complain, get exhausted nor have any negative thoughts.
From these aspects, young people, who have been brought up after the war, especially should accept the Muslim's way of life that practice the teachings of Islam based on the simple life and thrift and they should welcome and learn its teachings.
b. Friendship based on the spirit of Islam
In Japan nowadays, there are many people or organizations that promote friendship wit Asian, Arab or African countries, or start positive actions based on the slogan "Friendship with Asian, Arab and African countries". For example, they accept, take care of , or support foreign students and trainees.
Of course, there are several associations or organizations which produce some results. However, in fact, there are comparatively many of them which show just shadow play for the sake of formality.
Under these circumstances of international exchanges, though some of Japanese people may do something with good intention, they may often cause negative effects to receive a backlash from a counterpart just because of their ignorance about its custom and tradition. Even if they may understand custom, tradition, or language to some extend, we should be very careful not to conflict with the teachings and commandments of Islam to get along with Muslims.
One of the best way is to learn the way of Islam, the teaching of Allah for him or her in order to become Muslim, and contact and communicate with Muslims from Islamic countries. By doing so, you will be sincerely dedicated to establish the true friendship and mutual understanding which will be able to strike the right cord of people's hearts. This will be able to achieve the true and close friendship. It will be the true and real friendship with those countries if this is realized. People will conclude that it will be the nearest way though it looks an indirect and long way, to understand and embrace Islam in order to go along with and promote friendship with one billion of Muslims who reside in Asia, Africa and Arab nations.
The statement above had been given to me by Hajji Omar Mita, my former mentor who passed way a decade age, during his life. Mr. Omar Mita used to mention that we would be proud of ourselves that Japanese people are the most excellent nation in fame and reality, if we live based on the spirit of simple, strong, sturdy life, i.e. if we accept the spirit of Islam and apply to the real life, which would bring the strength of Samson. His words are very much rational and appropriate. In fact, he used to deplore that most of the people who have been brought up after the war, have poor-spirit with gallon head. We should fairly admit the reality.
In brief, the friendship and diplomacy should be led not only by technology, economy or culture but also spiritual communication which go deep into the bottom of hearts, i.e. we should understand what the spirit of Islam and respect it, which will be the real and best friendship.
Looking back the pre-war Japan, thought people used to consolidate into the unit under the spiritual pillar of the Emperor as the central core, based on the loyalty and patriotism, this spiritual structure was totally collapsed by the defeat of the World War II, and they started emphasizing westernization under the banners of democracy and freedom.
Many of pre-war bad habits and obstacles were removed, however, our unique Japanese traditional virtues were also demolished under the name of old-fashion. All the morals have been fallen away. As a result, many flippant and gooey Japanese who lost healthy spines increased in these days, which is a really sorry state for us.
At present, the Ministry of Health and Welfare recently announced that though the height and physics of Japanese youth apparently improved quite well, their chest size became narrower and their physical strength is getting much less than those in the pre-war period. It is an interesting data in fact. One of the specialists clearly pointed out that the major reason is that people go for delicious cuisine in daily meals and, on the contrary, they do not exercise much for training.
With in a decade, Japan would have only top-heavy, fragile people without soul as mentioned above. We already witness these signs unfortunately. What shall we do to solve the situation? There are many countermeasures to be taken. The author believe that if we understand the spirit of Islam and grasp the quintessence of Islam, we will be automatically a physically and mentally strong nation and we will be welcome by one billion Muslim spreading all over the Asia, Arab and African continents, as their true and heartfelt friends. It would be best for both worlds.
Some of historians foresee that, in the forthcoming century, the Western materialistic civilization will start decline and the age of Muslim will arrive with the renovation of a new Islamic civilization, a successor of the Saracen civilization that has been declined for hundred years.
We Japanese people should not see matters through shortsighted and narrow views. Rather we should open our eyes toward the coming new century to encourage ourselves for further development. For that sake, lets start learning what Islam is.