Salaam Alaikum (Peace be upon you),
The following article appeard in the Japan Times on Thursday, November 19,
1992 and it may be of some interest to this readers of this newsgroup.
I have bracketed  my comments and have used underscores _ to delineate
I welcome your e-mail and thank the many people who
have already written. To those seeking matrimonial
assistance, I'd like to clarify that I am not in touch
with any Japanese Muslims at this time and, being single
myself, may not be your best source of help.
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 [Arabic for God]. 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 prayed
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
A hub of Islamic activity in Tokyo, the Islamic Center in
Setagay-ku registered over 80 new members this year, the
majority Japanese women.
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," said Siddiqi.
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.) [In Islam the waiting period, _idda_, is shorter].
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 Koran may not consume pork,
alcoholic beverages and animal products that have not been
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 Muslim.
"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,"
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
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
"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
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 cake.
Also, for many Muslims in Japan who open Indian
restaurants, serving alcohol is a painful dilemma. Although
prohibited by the _Koran_ [Islamic scripture] it is all but
impossible to run a restaurant in Japan without it.
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 friends.
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
"But we believe that one's body belongs to God and should
be treated with respect."