The first Ramadan in Japan

It has been 5 months since I updated last, I’ve been focused on developing my faith more for Allah than for myself. Now it’s a perfect time to start writing again since I had great fasting experience during my very first Ramadan in Japan as 7 months old Muslimah.

Preparation for mental pureness to receive blessings from Allah

Preparation for my first Ramadan starts in Rajab month which is two months before Ramadan. Alhamdulillah when I attended to Muslimah class on April at Tokyo Camii, Ustaz (Islamic female teacher) taught me what I should do in Rajab and following Shabaan month for coming the holy month of Ramadan. I learned Rajab is called a month for Istighfar which asking forgiveness from Allah so I initiated recitation “Astaghfirullah” (I seek forgiveness from Allah) not only what I did wrong but also the fact that I can not always appreciate enough for Allah. Later on the Shabaan month, I tried to reflect myself what I have done for 7 months as Muslim from the day I reverted. Listed up positive and regrettable actions/outcomes on the blank paper, apparently regrettable reflection was more than a positive one. It brought me a great reminder what should improve to be a better Muslim during the Holy month of Ramadan. The act asking forgiveness for Allah is to cleanse my soul indeed and it reminds me that we are blessed in the everyday life by him.

Meanwhile, I set my first fasting trial in the Shaaban month which was on May, early summer in Japan. Alhamdulillah, I was able to complete the day spending the time to learn what is fasting for and the benefit that Allah provides us through the commandment. On the day before welcoming Ramadan, Ustaz holds a personal class for new recently revert Muslimahs to go through Dos and Don’ts during Ramadan fasting so that I was able to fully get ready for my first Ramadan. I felt so lucky that Allah provided me chances to learn and start fasting in the special month from the first year of my revert.

Ramadan in Tokyo

We welcomed the Holy month of Ramadan on 5th June 2016 in Japan. As I mentioned it was early summer, Tokyo had 16.5 hrs to fast starting from Fajr around 02:30 am till Magrib about 19:00 pm. While trying my best to fast during the daytime, first few days was full of excitement to observe what Muslims do in this special month. When I visited Tokyo Camii for breaking fast on the 2nd day of Ramadan, there were lots of brothers and sisters praying Magrib and join Iftar served by the Masjid. When I was eating Iftar I looked around the venue and it was full of people and I found out they were happily enjoying their meal together regardless of their nationality, race, skin color and languages. It was a breath taking moment for me to capture Allah’s mercy that he equally created us. After Iftar finished they were having a good time by chatting with brothers and sisters over tea and sweets, I saw the relaxing time was floating there. During Isha surprisingly there were still lots of people to join prayer, totally different view from Isha prayer on weekdays that I saw before. It was my first time to conduct Terawih (Ramadan special prayer) and special feeling comes to pray together with lots of brothers and sisters in such a late night.

Personal struggles

Fasting required me physical and mental stamina and patience. Physically, I had very drowsy days during the daytime, woke up in the morning from Suhur (meal before fasting starts) around 2:00 am and Fajr prayer around 2:30 am. It was in the middle of the rainy season towards early summer, a temperature was quite changeable. Due to the weather condition and the sleepless nights  I caught a cold on the half way of Ramadan for a few days and it was the hardest time for me. Yet Alhamdulillah, after recovered from cold, my fasting days was going smoothly little by little by been through the awkward moments that I didn’t order anything during the cafe meeting outside the office with my project partners or my stomach glowed loudly in the serious meetings.

Meanwhile, the most challenging part was feeling alone to fast. My family was supportive yet they are not Muslims so that it could not be a joyful dinner with them at home like at the Masjid.  Also, I basically pray alone at office or home during the daytime and I had to breakfast alone when I was not able to drop by Tokyo Camii. As it seems gratitude and enjoyment were all over the place among friends and families from my experience to observe Ramadhan in Malaysia couple of years ago, these were something missing for me. However, thankfully I have revert Muslim friends who struggle similar situation around me to cheer up each other. Also thinking of Muslims around the world who fast under difficult circumstances socially and politically,  Allah made me think that I am not alone. This drove me to do my best in this holy month rather than being pessimistic on my situation. The solution was to pray and make Dua for Muslims around the world to get more blessings from Allah. It kept my firm ties to Allah for the rest of month.

Positive outcomes

This first Ramadan for me definitely contributes to growing my Imaan (faith) to Allah as I become to pray 5 times or more spontaneously in a day. This is one of the greatest progress compared with myself last few months. Therefore, there were more Doas and wishing to Allah not only for personal wishes but also for Muslims around the world and even for non-muslims such as our family, friends too. When I make wishes and prayers for others, Allah surely reminds me he is the one we seek for our help and he is the one has the answer and it makes my heart calm and warm during the prayers.

As a Japanese point of view, fasting seems to torture people by training themselves severely and looks something not enjoyable but I found out fasting in Islam is not supposed to be. It turns out more rewards come after sunset with the joy of the day by meals and prayers at night. This mental satisfaction and united atmosphere in Muslim community make me feel happy to be part of the big one family and gratitude for every single thing Allah provides us. Throughout the fasting experience in a month, I’ve got self-confidence that I archived what Allah wants us to do for the sake of him. This makes me feel simply I want to do more to get closer to him.  I also saw a positive result in my health condition. I lost weights with healthy and proper portions of meals to keep fasting days smooth. As my weight got lighter it encourages me to raise productivity during daytime activity to focus on what do to. Simply I found  I ate too much previously. It was good change to review and improve my diet for keep myself health for Allah.

For next Ramadan

Throughout the holy month,  I was able to see what I should improve by next Ramadan. For me especially learning Arabic for reciting Quran and good deeds in Islam is the essential things to archive. I’ve learned that reciting Quran is one of the things will be highly rewarded because Ramadan is the month which Quran was given from Allah, yet my current Arabic language level is still not enough for reciting. Even I read Quran in Japanese, I got motivated to recite in Arabic in the near future when I saw brothers and sisters reciting Quran beautifully at masjid. Delivering good deeds also will be highly rewarded in the Holy month. I did what I’ve learn to do good such as being kind to my family, parents and others. etc. I found that my knowledge covers very basic (yet important) things of good deeds. I often got a moment to think “What should I do?” when I try to do good, so that I want to learn more about what is good in Islam.  Inshallah I will be able to welcome my second Ramadan next year and get ready myself on my way towards it.

Beauty in the difference

My weekend Tokyo Camii visit always provides me a chance to meet brothers and sisters from different countries. Last Saturday, I met Muslims from India, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. I guess there would be more people from various regions as I saw lots of people during prayers. I was about to forget that Japan is called homogeneous society.

One of the beauty in Islam I found on my way to revert is believing in same religion regardless of nationality or race. The beauty got brighter when I noticed we have no differentiation under Allah when I saw how Muslims lining up for their prayers for the first time.

At the same time, the beauty is in the difference. Each one of Muslims is carrying their own culture with geographic or historical backgrounds, as you might see their difference in the language, traditional costume, food, architecture and in any other elements for example. Also, none of us is the same as their gifted personality, talent, and character are given by Allah. Indeed our world and society are full of diversity and difference.

A couple of days after the weekend Tokyo Camii visit, I found one verse of The Holy Quran in chapter 49 and verse 13.

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) (49:13)

Reflecting back my personal experiences, understanding the difference brought me meaningful personal developments. I learned to be patient with people from different background especially during international youth programs and my work experiences in the diverse environment as I found out what I think good is not always same to the others. At the same time, I got to know there will be better for everyone when we understand each other in many ways.

Subhanallah. Allahuakubar. The Holy Quran clearly mentions the reason why we are different. It is for knowing each other rather than fighting or hating. Also, I believe this is the lesson we should apply to all human even when you encountered non-Muslim people because we are all beautiful creation by Allah. This reminds me the friendly, kind and warm attitude by my Muslim friends even during the time I was not Muslim but they are good Muslims to everyone around them.

As my life passion is to create opportunities for mutual understanding, this verse of the Holy Quran was powerful and convinced me that to understand each other is key to be a good Muslimah and to establish the better society. Alhamdulillah.

2016 New Year in Japan

First Japanese New Year as Muslimah.

“Akemashite Omedetou!”
This phrase means “Happy New Year! in Japanese.

In Japan, we follow the normal calendar. As school holiday starts around the 4th week of December till 2nd week of January, the end of the year towards new year bring us special holiday occasion to reflect the previous year and wish for a great new year coming with friends and families.

This year was my second new year after I came back from Malaysia, I feel conformable with Japanese new year atmosphere which I used to it since childhood. ( I was surprised for Malaysian people the new year according to normal calendar is not special thing as each race has their own calendar and day for new year celebration) I was having a relaxing time with family, TV showed people were cueing for new year prayer towards shrine or temple when we were about to welcome the new year and it made me wonder about the prayer.

“Japanese people pay a visit to shrine or temple for a special prayer. Yeah, I used to do sometimes. Then I know some go for pray only this occasion but I can pray five times a day.  Oh they seems so cold outside and yeah even I go to the mosque but basically, I can pray anywhere I am! Plus I do not have to pay when I pray. Every time I went to shrine or temple I was always worried about how much I should pay for the offertory box.”

I was totally feeling lucky this year. Because for me as grow up non-religious family, when I had tried the new year prayer previously I didn’t feel the existence of god it rather cultural event for me. But now as Muslim, I feel secured that I reverted to Islam belief in one only God without any doubt. After that, I did pray before I sleep and wishes as I do in the daily prayer, I felt the beauty of Islam again.

After welcomed the new year, my friend visited and brought Japanese traditional new year dishes called “Osechi” which is with different kind of delicacies in the beautiful boxes wishes prosperity and health for a family. The surprising thing for me was her hospitality to care about my food restriction. She said, “I was not sure about your religious food restrictions so that I wrote the list of ingredients for every menu for you.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Osechi” Japanese traditional new year food with handwriting ingredients list by my friend

Alhamdulillah! I was so touched she gave me a small piece of paper listed up all the name of the delicacies and what she used to cook for those. It was very easy for me to pick up what I can eat, because of her kindness I was able to enjoy the traditional Japanese food.

It can not make me happier when I feel Japanese and Muslim identity at the same time. It was totally Alhamdulillah! And I noticed that there are always ways to develop my identity as Japanese and Muslim and I will find the beauty on my way. This new year experience brought me a believe that Allah will provide chances for me to be better Japanese Muslimah, Inshallah.

Staring Eyes on Hijab in Tokyo

What I faced during my first Hijab experience in Japan

When I go back home from Tiara Koto Hall after Dr. Zakir Naik lecture where I made Shahada, I was able to wear Hijab until I got home. Alhamdulillah. It was my first experience to go out with hijab in Tokyo. I got starting eyes on hijab inside the train on the way home.

There were fewer people due to late night and weekend so I took my seat and waiting the train will depart. After train departed, I was thinking about the day and wondering how I would tell about my big day to my fiancé, he knew that I was going to Dr. Zakir Naik lecture but he never know that I reverted to Muslim. (I did not know the day was for me neither!)

Then I realized there was a young man sitting down the left side in front probably same age around me gave his glance at me. Once I saw him, he looks down on his smartphone with his hand. I did not mind what just happened rather than that I kept thinking about from where do I start to tell about my shahada, and I send him text says “Can I talk to you once I got back to home?” When I looked up, I saw the guy was looking at my hijab and he looked down again. I sensed that he is curious about my hijab.

I stopped my hand texting for a while, thinking what just happened. I would be terrified if I experience the same before revert, I would think it negatively how people around judge me by my appearance. But I got to think the reason why he was looking at hijab positively, “maybe because he was surprised to see Japanese Muslim in Tokyo?” or “maybe it was the first time for him to see woman wearing hijab?” then I pray what he saw in train will encourage him to understand Islam without misjudgments in future.

I was sure the similar experience will come while I go out with hijab in Tokyo and I know I will be just a tiny example out of billions of Muslim brothers and sisters but I do wish what people see from me will be opportunity for Japanese people to know and learn about Islam to see what is Islam and its practices. Honestly I myself was surprised to notice how I think differently than I would and I feel Allah always provides the way ease things on life.

Later I reached home, I was able to see my fiancé happy face when I told him what happened on the day.

Muslim life in Japan is not easy?

It has been a month since I reverted. So far good things were coming, host family visit from Malaysia, best friend’s wedding ceremony, and meeting up again with precious friends in Tokyo. As I was wondering how do I tell to my Japanese friends about my revert, it turned out when my friends know that I reverted to Islam through Facebook or seeing me with hijab, they respect my decision and wishes me all the best like they did to me with other life choices on our friendship. Together with it, my friends ask me about how is my Muslim life in Japan.

When I was able to meet my Malaysian friend in Tokyo, she is like my sister (kak in Malay), and it has been almost two years since we had met last time. She is also the one congrats my revert and asks me about life as Muslim in japan.

Kak: Risa, How is life as Muslim in Japan?

Me: Hummm. It is not easy. I would say.

What I meant during the time was the appearance as Muslimah with Hijab is outstandingly different in the homogeneous society in Japan catches people’s eyes on it which I feel difficult somehow.

After the talk with her, however, I kept thinking “is it really not an easy life as Muslim in Japan?”  so I try to remember what was not easy for me.

1, Hijab: Mostly I do concern people’s eyes on me especially when I take a train. I am afraid people will disturb me from my appearance but so far I don’t have a negative experience. Also, I realized that I feel good about the fact I was able to keep my faith after I completed my day with Hijab. I simply feel great that I do things that Allah likes. Surprisingly, unlike my expectation, when I meet my Japanese friends they say “Kawaii!” on my hijab. Even they are curious on hijab ask me how do I wear it and so on.

2, Prayer: Now it is hard for me to recite Al Faatiha in Arabic during prayers also follows five prayers in a day as I am not used to it yet. But this frustration leads me to study Arabic alphabet every day for improving reading even just short time like fifteen minutes in a day and try to figure out my lifestyle and changing behavior to fit myself for prayer times.

3, Eating: It is true that I have limited choices when I am outside as I need to concern what I eat in this non Islamic city, Tokyo. But we do have choices as the number of halal certified restaurant is increasing in Tokyo. Also ever since I officially become to be a Muslim my mother suggest to my dad to eat Halal together with me, previously I was only one eating Halal at home, and they start buying Halal meat not only for me but for my family to enjoy the same meal together.

Try to think logically what exactly was not easy for me always brought me solutions or positive learning process to be patient and how I can keep my faith. Yes, I do have the not-easy experience as revert Muslims in non Islamic country but I do gain something meaningful as I think hard what I can do to one step closer to Allah.

This made me realized that I  had labeled the life as Muslim in Japan is not easy unconsciously and it turns out it was too early to judge like that.

Life as Muslim in Japan is amazing for me.

Power of Pink Hijab in Tokyo

What the bright color Hijab made me think

Since I revert, I got a lot of gifts from brothers and sisters. Alhamdulilah. Those were Islamic books, CDs, clothes, Hijabs and pins and there was one time I got lots of Hijabs when my Malaysian host family, 4 years of relationship with them, came to Japan to see me to celebrate my revert.

When I saw them, host mother opened the box and showed me a full of colorful Hijabs inside, telling me “I got this from my best friend and this one from my another best friend…” I was so happy to see each hijabs has own stories to tell all the way from Malaysia to Japan. When she showed me various Hijabs, the brilliant pink color hijab with crystal stones caught my eyes. When I took it in hand she told me “this is my best friend as well, I asked her to make the special one for you” it turned out the stones are sawed by hand. Of course, other hijabs are beautiful too but during the time I really wanted to put the pink one on me so I ask her help to wear it nicely then we went out for sightseeing in Shinjyuku, Tokyo.

While I was walking with them, thinking, “I chose pink to wear by myself. What a surprise…” As I usually prefer to wear a dark color like black, dark blue and gray for an outfit, I guess this is my typical Japanese fashion taste, and I never wear bright color especially pink with cloth or accessories as I felt it might look too feminine unlike my character and does not fit on my appearance. When I glanced at the shop windows to see myself, it was really pink! Apparently, that was the outstanding pink color in Tokyo surrounded by autumn leaves.

Interestingly compare with the occasion when I go out with wearing dark color hijab, I did not feel staring eyes on me with the pinky blight hijab. People might consider me as foreigner directly so they do not try hard to figure out who I am from my appearance. It does not mean I want to hide the fact that I am Japanese Muslim revert at all but it was easier for me when I feel fewer eyes. Another surprising feeling with the pink hijab was that I simply felt good as for wearing beautiful color on me like I put my favorite colors on my lips. It makes me feel I am proud of myself as I wear hijab to express who I am too.

Then I realized I tend to choose dark colors to avoid eye-catching in Tokyo. Even it seems logical enough to avoid people’s eyes on me but I found myself consider wearing hijab as with negative attitude somehow, try not too outstanding among people for catching their eyes. The pink hijab, however, brings me to think wearing hijab is a truly good thing, is the way I carry out my belief. It encourages me to be proud of myself as well. Now I am getting a little confidence to try to wear hijab more often in Tokyo to keep my faith and proudly express myself as Muslimah. Inshallah

How do I tell my revert to Japanese friends?

For three weeks as Muslimah, I got an occasion to catch up with my close non-Muslim Japanese friends in Tokyo. Surprisingly I found difficulties to talk about my revert to them in our native language which I never felt when I talk with my family or with Muslim friends after the revert.

Recently I had an occasion to meet up with my close friends, the batch mate from SSEAYP, to have lunch together. It was usual catch up by talking about work, boyfriend or girlfriend sort of stuff. When we go back home I was with one of the closest friends in the train then finally I got a chance to tell her that I became to be a Muslim as I was not able to touch the topic in front of everyone. Fortunately, she said, “That is very good for you” since she knows me from where I touched Islam. Alhamdulillah. I do appreciate her attitude to who I am now meanwhile I found myself difficult to talk about Islam in my native language to non-Muslim Japanese.

I notice that I tried not to give her negative image on my revert or Islam by saying “I am who I am even after I become to be a Muslim.” Although I strongly believe that I will be a better person as Japanese Muslim revert, it seems somehow I am afraid people judge me with the misconception of Islam.

After I got back to home I thought harder why I felt difficult to talk about Islam and myself as Muslim in Japanese since I never feel that way when I talked with my family or Muslim brothers and sisters. Then I found out as Japanese identity, we might think “religious” is sensitive talk in public, probably too private to share with friends. (In Japan sometimes what religion to belong reveals their political view or other social position.) It turns out this is unconscious mind roots deeply inside me as I raised and grown up in Japan.

Another reason I realized is my knowledge on Islam in the Japanese language is less. In most of the opportunities, I learned Islam in English through experiences in Islamic countries and interaction with Muslim friends from abroad. Also, it was only recently I started to go to classes to learn Islam held in Japanese and reading Japanese translated Quran more often for better understanding so talking about Islam in English is much easier for me now.

I became to wonder how do I tell my Japanese friends the fact that I became to be a Muslim then? Do I post on Facebook say “Hey guys, I am Muslim now”? It sounds wired. Or when I meet them, should I say “Hey! I become to be a Muslim!” That looks even weirder.

Then I realized that rather than I explain them with words it would be great if I explain Islam by showing who I am through lifestyle, practices, deeds and cultures based on my believe as I have been showing them how I stop drinking and avoid eating non-halal food etc… Who knows in near future I will meet them with wearing hijab or meeting up to enjoy dinner together at Halal restaurant? Only Allah knows.

Of course, if they ask questions why I follow the practices and cultures I will try all my best to provide explanations or examples for better and correct understanding of Islam to my beloved Japanese friends in proper Japanese. Inshallah. This thought encourages me to learn Islam continuously, it is for Allah and indirectly for myself and benefit others too.

 

3 changes for two weeks as Muslimah

It has been amazing weeks after shahada. For two weeks as Japanese Muslim revert, I found out there are some outer and inner changes to share.

 1. More learning opportunities on Islam

Since reverting to Muslim, I got kind supports from brothers and sisters. One of those is an invitation to join classes for Islamic studies at Tokyo Camii on weekends. Because of it, I got to join several classes, Basic Islamic lecture for Muslimah, Lecture of an important lesson from hadith and Arabic class for reading Quran.

Previously even I was learning Islam by reading related books or asking questions to my Muslim friends but I know that I was just a Japanese who is interested in Islam.

But when I actually reverted to Islam, they treat me as a real family like family want to provide good education to their child. The great thing about learning together with family is simply I can keep my motivation not to give up on learning the universal topics can apply to all individuals in our lives.

It is from A to Z and it cannot be done all by intensive course, so it will take time. But I do find myself enjoy learning what I find interested in for my life.

Learning more on Islam
Opportunities come to learn more about Islam

2. Better attitude to talk with people

As part of one big family in Islam, I have got to know lots of brothers and sisters after the revert. Once they met me and knew that I am new Japanese Muslim revert, they always congrats me with saying, “welcome back to Islam, sister”.

Every time I go to Tokyo Camii to study or pray, brothers and sisters Salam me and I found out it does not matter we have known each other. After that I learn giving salam first is better than that you are waiting for it so I try to say “Assalamualaikum” when I meet brothers and sisters.

Some sisters talked to me and asked, “Are you Japanese?” and I say yes they ask more about me. Previously I was not good at talking about myself and socializing with people due to less confidence in myself but I realized I talked to them with relaxed and calm attitude than ever. I guess it’s all because now I know we are family to take care each other and also I do feel appreciation for the opportunity Allah provide me to meet siblings in Tokyo.

3. More spontaneous decisions

As baby Muslim, I have a lot of things to learn. It is literally a lot! Unfortunately, I heard some of the reverts gave up their learning due to pressure to follow and focus the Dos and Don’ts as soon as possible or perfectly. I feel sad when I listen to those stories.

I believe in any things either studies or working, the important is willing to do rather than forced to do. If I willingly try something new it leads me to find out what is difficult or what is easy for me and it promotes spontaneous learning process.

Now after I became to be a Muslimah, the spontaneous willingness became more than before. Especially I found out the importance by addressing “it is by my will” for example to clean up myself for prayers and when I initiate praying. Not only for those situations but also in other daily decisions on what to do or not do, I try to choose the decisions which Allah likes us to do in our life with my own will.

Alhamdulillah. I can’t wait to see how I will change more throughout my journey as Muslimah. Accept whatever I have or receive and keep moving forward.