Muslim Women in Japan
From the Japan Times, Thursday, November
Transcribed and posted to the web by Ahmed Biyabani - comments
in square brackets are his
Marriages lead women into Islam
By Lynne Y. Nakano, Staff Writer
"Aysha" Abid Choudry - her given name is Harumi
- adopted her Muslim name and faith four years ago, at the age
of 26, to marry a Pakistani. Two years later, like many Japanese
women married to Muslim men in Japan, she remained reluctant
to abide by Islamic laws.
Then one day about two years ago, she decided to act on her
own intuition that Islam meant having a personal relationship
with Allah. She got on her knees to pray for the first time.
Her husband, a devout Muslim who had never asked her to adopt
Islam but had parayed silently on her behalf for years, cried
openly at the sight.
Once distant and unknown in Japan, Islam has found converts
among young Japanese women. Many are married to men who come
to Japan to find work from countries with Islamic traditions
such as Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Malaysia.
Islamic law mandates that those who intend to marry Muslims
must convert, at least in name, to the Islamic faith, according
to R. Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Center, Japan (Zawaj.com Editor's Note: since very few Japanese
are "People of the Book" - Christian or Jewish - a
Japanese woman would have to convert to Islam to become an eligible
bride for a Muslim).
A hub of Islamic activity in Tokyo, the Islamic Center in
Setagay-ku registered over 80 new members this year, the majority
Although some women converted with no thought of marriage,
many more converted to Islam to marry Muslims; the center reports
a record number of 40 marriages between foreign Muslims and Japanese
women converts this year.
"Women are attracted to Islam because they want freedom.
Islam gives them independence because they do not have to be
a slave of any man. Islam is against moral aggression against
women. The chastity and honor of women are protected. No illicit
relations are allowed. All these things attract women,"
Islamic law also provides that men may have more than one
wife. "This cannot seem to leave Japanese heads," said
Siddiqi. "We explain one thousand times that marrying four
times is permissible only in certain unavoidable circumstances
such as impotency, infertility and so forth. As a result there
is no prostitution in Islam. If you need another women, then
marry her, take care of her children."
Asked why a woman can't have more than one husband, Siddiqi
explained, "Because she can't decide on whose child it is.
It is confusing for her." (Japanese law uses the same logic,
forbidding women to remarry within six months of divorce.)
Japanese women who marry men from Islamic countries often
face ostracism from their families and alienation from friends;
living by Islamic laws requires major changes in nearly every
every aspect of their lives.
The Muslim's daily ritual of prayer (salat) facing
Mecca, before sunrise, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset,
and before sleep, for example, is a major hurdle for anyone who
wants to hold onto a steady job. One resourceful young woman
who works for a major electronics company in Tokyo manages to
pray in the company changing room. [This
transcriber, an MIT-Japan Program Intern at another major elctronics
company, Sharp, finds that prayer is no hurdle to holding onto
a steady job.]
The new Muslim must also make major changes in her diet. Muslims
who strictly follow the Qur'an may not consume pork, alcoholic
beverages and animal products that have not been blessed.
Juices and tsukemono may contain preservatives with
low levels of alcohol; chocolate, ice cream, cakes and other
processed desserts may contain animal fats, and gelatins may
be made from animal bones.
Although blessed (halal) products have become increasingly
available from shops that specialize in halal or imported products,
many basic products sold in supermarkets are off limits to the
"At first it was hard to know what foods were permitted,
so a group of us got together and called the soy sauce, juice
and pastry manufacturers to find out exactly which products were
alright and which were not. We made a big checklist and that
information had spread by word of mouth," Aysha said.
Another woman married to a Pakistani says, "It's not
a problem. There's a store selling halal food that we order from
in Saitama and we eat fish. As for cakes and juices, I usually
make my own."
The most obvious symbol of the Muslim woman is the veil (hijab)
that covers her head, and the long sleeves, and pants that cover
her limbs. Countries have variations on this; Saudi women cover
the nose and mouth as well, while Malaysian Muslims [women] wear
short scarves over their heads.
An energetic face framed within her black hijab, Aysha says,
"I wasn't born a Muslim, so I'm strict (about Islam). Before
I became a Muslim, I was the secretary to a company president
so I drank alcohol, played, wore miniskirts, everything. After
I became a Muslim, everything changed. I threw away or gave away
five bags of clothing. To become a good Muslim takes time, though."
Although strict Islamic life may not be incongrous with lifestyles
with lifestyles in Saudi Arabia or Iran, in Japan, Islam means
accepting a life radically different from the ordinary Japanese.
Perhaps, for some, herein lies the appeal.
"Before I became a Muslim I didn't know what I was put
here on earth for. I though that the purpose of working was to
make other people think highly of me. I beleived that a person's
worth was based on what university he went to and how much money
he made. Now I know that work is to nourish my body and I am
here to live each day to praise Allah," said a woman in
her 20's married to a Pakistani truck driver.
Others, like Noureen, a 30-year-old teacher of nursing at
a women's university in Saitama, had tried other religions, including
Christianity, which she found unsatisfying before finding Islam.
She met her husband, a 29-year-old Pakistani factory worker,
while attending study sessions at the Islamic Center (their trip
home took them in the same direction) and officially became a
Muslim before their marriage four years ago.
She and her husband agree that Islam comes first and work
comes second, When the nurse's uniform and the hospital environment
interfered with the practice of Islam, "My husband told
me that I should change jobs if I couldn't be a good Muslim at
my own pace."
Many more Muslims in Japan, however, find that they need to
compromise their religion to the realities of life in Japan.
A 28-year old editor at a small publishing compnay admits that
she doesn't wear a veil except when she meets with other Muslim
women, and that her Ramadan [Islamic month of fasting] fasts
were broken when colleagues urger her to partake of a birthday
Also, for many Muslims in Japan who open Indian restaurants,
serving alcohol is a painful dilemma. Although prohibited by
the Qur'an, it is all but impossible to run a restaurant in Japan
While adult Muslims may somehow overcome the difficulties
of living under Islamic law in Japan, for children it is virtually
impossible. [I beg to differ
- see below.]
Noureen hasn't seen their 2-year-old son for six months since
they sent him to Pakistan to live with his grandparents to receive
a true Islamic upbringing.
[An Iraqi friend's cousin in
married to a Japanese man and as far as I know their shogakko-age
(elementary school) children stay with them in Japan.]
She tried sending him to a nursery for a year in Japan and
asked the staff not to feed him. Still she worried that he might
be taking food from other children. "When he gets older,
we would have to worry about him attending birthday and Christams
parties and it would be sad for him and hard for him to make
At present there are no Islamic schools in Japan. Noureen
says, "The problem is not just food, it's the concept: In
Japan people think their body is their own, and that a child
should stay up all night studying and only think about exams.
"But we believe that one's body belongs to God and should
be treated with respect."