TOKYO – Finding Islam thousands of miles away from his home, a Japanese Muslim has devoted his life to spread the correct Islamic teachings and present the true image of Islam to his fellow citizens.
“I think Japan inherited a somewhat biased European view of Islam, and this has exacerbated this tendency,” Shimoyama Shigeru, a Japanese Muslim who works at Tokyo Camii mosque and Turkish Culture Center, told Nippon website on Monday, June 17.“For instance, a lot of people in Japan became familiar with the expression “Either the Qur’an or the sword,” and this has gotten in the way of a proper understanding of Islam.
“Particularly after 9/11, the impact of media coverage has made Islam seem an intimidating and “scary” religion to a lot of people.”
Shigeru first came to know about Islam during his journey down to Nile river to Sudan as a young university student
There, he met different people who flooded him with hospitality though they did not understand a word of what he said.
“The Africans I met were Muslims, and their hospitality made a deep impression on me,” he said.
“I was surprised to learn later that their kindness came from Islamic teachings.”
Returning to Japan, Shigeru met an Iraqi student at the University of Tokyo who gave him the final push he needed to revert to Islam.
“His kindness and brotherly love was intricately bound up with his faith as a Muslim,” Shigeru recalled.
“That experience was the starting point for the person I am today. To be honest, I never had much belief in God until I became a Muslim,” he said.
“But once I joined the Muslim community and started to worship alongside other Muslims of all races, side by side as brothers, I realized what a wonderful thing it is.”
Islam began in Japan in the 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.
In 1930, the number of Muslims in Japan reached about 1000 of different origins.
Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peak in the 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Japan today is home to a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000, among nearly 127 million in the world's tenth most populated country.
Described as the Japanese teacher of Islam, Shigeru believes that human interaction is a key point to offer Japanese people a better understanding of Islam.
“Islam is essentially a way of life—it is present in every aspect of the daily life of a devout Muslim,” he said.
“I hope that people will become interested in Islam through seeing its influence in aspects of everyday life, and that personal contact with Muslims will help them to understand Islam better.”
Shigeru, who participated in the establishment of the Islamic Center of Japan, said that Islam puts a strong emphasis on correct behavior and the virtues of charity.
“The reason we worship in lines alongside each other goes to the heart of the spirit of Islam, which says that all believers are equal before God,” he said.
“There is also the belief in justice, or birru; this is the idea that you should always think about the needs of others first.
“This belief frees you from an egotistical way of thinking. These Islamic ideas have become deeply engraved in my heart.”
Editing and publishing numerous works explaining Islam to Japanese readers, Shigeru hopes to spread the true teachings of Islam, away from biased media.
“I was lucky to experience aspects of Africa that most Japanese people don’t have a chance to encounter, so I hope I can make a positive contribution,” he said.“I want to do whatever I can to clear up some of the misunderstandings Japanese people have about Islam and convey a correct understanding of the religion to as many people as possible.”
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