Japan is a country with a relatively small Muslim population and a unique cultural context. Over the years, studies have shown that the Muslim population across Japan is growing rapidly. The current Muslim population of Japan is 185,000 (excluding converts), which makes it 0.1% of the entire population in Japan. The number of converts in Japan, as of 2019, is 50,000 and is reported to grow heavily in the upcoming decade.
In the earlier days, people in Japan had different perspectives on Muslims. In multiple interviews, the local crowd seems to point out the hijab, praying habits, terrorist attacks, ISIS, and dietary plans of Muslims, such as prohibiting pork and alcohol. While the elderly seem to have little to no information about Islam and see it more as a cultural practice of Arabs, the younger generation seems to be informed and have a few Muslim companions. Modern Japanese people are indifferent to religion. Even though Buddhism and Shinto are the major religions of Japan, people tend to identify themselves as atheists and call religion ‘an outdated culture’ or ‘festival practice.’ Some aspects of Japanese culture seem to have roots in religion that make the nonbelievers visit temples, not to pray, but to respect their customs.
Real interactions between Japan and the Muslim world are thought to have started during the end of the Edo and early Meiji periods. They intensified following Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 as Japanese Pan-Asian nationalists made friends with Muslim nationalists and Pan-Islamists. Before World War II, most Muslims worldwide were colonized or partly dominated by European powers. The relationship between Muslims and the Japanese during this time was characterized by informal and personal connections rather than official diplomatic ties.
Indian Muslim traders and Tatar Muslims migrated to Japan, and as a result of their arrival, the first mosque in Japan was built in the 1930s. The mosques are, Kobe mosque, Nagoya mosque, and Tokyo mosque. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a significant increase in the number of immigrant workers coming to Japan from predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran. These workers came to Japan to earn money during the country's economic boom, which was characterized by a strong yen and decided to settle down for numerous reasons.
CAUSES FOR THE RISE OF ISLAM
The migration of people from Muslim countries is the first and early cause of the rise of Islam in Japan. The number of Japanese Muslims grew due to intermarriage between non-Japanese Muslims, Japanese, and the children born to these families. As there are many religious events and educational practices taking place in Japan today, the younger generation is better taught to be introduced to their religion. Japanese culture is perceived as one of the most disciplined cultures. Many Muslims would appreciate the values and morals of Japanese culture and prefer to raise their kids in such environments.
An increase in the number of mosques could be another reason why Japanese people are more drawn toward this religion. Other than praying, these mosques are adopting tourism and teaching basic aspects of Islam to the visitors. Back in 2003, Japan had only 24 mosques, but by 2017, it had built a total of 102 mosques and routinely provided halal meat for Islam practitioners in schools, airports, and hospitals to the rightful consumers.
The growing islamophobia worldwide could be just another reason why people are introducing themselves to the religion. The 9/11 incident and the abduction and killing of two Japanese men in Syria by ISIS brought in a lot of hate for the country and the religion in practice. This made many despise the Islam religion, while some studied it in depth to understand right and wrong.
Low rates of religious switching are also another cause for the growth of Islam. Typically, individuals who are born to Muslim parents, regardless of their place of birth, tend to follow Islam. Even if they don't strictly adhere to all aspects of the religion, they usually still consider themselves to be Muslim. This has led to the emergence of a Japanese-Muslim population in Japan. Even so, Japan seems to be a much more accepting and reliable country for Muslim immigrants specifically, as the country is focusing on the economy, multiculturalism, and tourism.
It is widely recognized that people's perceptions of religion are primarily shaped by their understanding of what religion is. It is noticed that Japanese Muslims who are perceived as foreigners are allowed to practice their faith without judgment due to their foreign status, whereas Japanese Muslims who perform the same religious practices are often viewed as strange or imitating foreign customs, which creates difficulties for them in negotiating their identity as both Japanese and Muslim. As a result, Japan has made significant efforts to promote tolerance, acceptance, and harmony in its society to better understand Islam, which has often been misunderstood for various reasons.
picture credits: FUN! JAPAN
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