My Hijab Story

This article was featured in The New Muslim’s Facebook page on World Hijab Day Tokyo at Tokyo Camii on January 31st, 2016. I delivered my personal Hijab story during the event.

I reverted to Islam two and a half months ago, but it has been 5 years since I was deeply touched by Islam, its practices and cultures.

I was actively participating in international youth programs when I was a student. The life changing opportunity to encounter Islam was during Ship for South East Asia and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP) in 2011. During the program, I spent 53 days with over 200 participants from ASEAN nations, and I saw the real Islam through brothers and sisters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines and Myanmar. This was where I met my Malay-Malaysian fiancé too.

During the program, I learnt that wearing Hijab is by a woman’s own will, not forced by anyone else. When I asked a Bruneian sister (now I know how rude my question was), “Hey, Don’t you ask your sisters to wear hijab?”, and she answered, “No, I don’t. Because it is a thing between individuals and God, no one can force anyone to do so. On the other hand, I think I could try inviting her to pray together instead,” with a smile on her face. I was a little bit confused to see some wearing hijab and others who were not, but her answer made me think that it is by one’s own decision to wear hijab.

After the program and upon finishing my studies, I moved to Malaysia and lived in Kuala Lumpur for a year to see and experience Islamic cultures in society. During my stay, I had the opportunity to attend my friend’s wedding. The bride, she used to reveal her shiny bright long hair but she started to wear hijab after marriage. This was very surprising fact for me, to see how different she looks with and without Hijab and I kept wondering what made her to wear Hijab! Then I asked my fiancé, “Why do you think she started to wear hijab?” and he answered with an easy explanation for me, “It might be with some reasons but I believe the main reason would be that the beauty of the wife belongs to her husband when they get married.” His answer made me realize that women wear Hijab because they are beautiful, respected and protected, not discriminated or oppressed!”

When I returned to Japan and began working in Tokyo, I realise that it is not logical if I became a Muslim only for the purpose of marriage. This made me study Islam for myself and finally I was convinced to revert to Islam. I noticed that wearing Hijab is for Allah and indirectly for myself after I became a Muslim. I started to wear Hijab for the weekend Arabic lessons at Tokyo Camii at the beginning. I put on the Hijab at the station and while heading to the mosque, and I took it off on the way home. I was trying to increase the frequency and length of wearing Hijab outside. One day I was able to put it on for a whole day outside and was happy with my accomplishment. I wondered what made me feel this way and I figured out I was able to do things that Allah likes and Allah wants us to do. It brought me more confidence to wear hijab outside, one of the ways to be a good Muslim.

However, wearing Hijab in Tokyo is not easy. People look at me especially in the train. But when I think carefully why people look at me, I figure that it might be because they would not know about Islam and the reason why women put headscarves, like I did not know about Islam five years ago! I found there is huge gap between those who know Islam and those who do not know. I believe what I can do is by practicing good manners as Muslim, not staring back at those who stare at me, praying that what they see now will influence them to want to understand Islam in future, and also help me explain properly if people ask me why I wear Hijab.

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.