Religious tensions in Japan as Muslim population grows

The monotheistic nature of Islam is incompatible with the concept of polytheism in Shinto religion

Cristian Martini Grimaldi

Updated: May 31, 2023 04:27 AM GMT

Muslim residents in Japan gather for a Friday service in Japan's largest mosque, the Tokyo Camii (mosque), in Tokyo on Jan. 30, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

Japan's religious landscape is undergoing a transformative shift, which is all the more evident by looking at the growing number of mosques that have emerged in the country over the past two decades.

The change can be attributed to a lesser degree to increasing intermarriage between Muslims and Japanese citizens (many Japanese converted to Islam through marriage), but mostly to the rising number of immigrants coming from Islamic states.

The number of Muslims in Japan was estimated to be between 10,000 to 20,000 in the year 2000 while the current estimates are of over 200,000. That is a ten-fold increase in less than one generation.

Also, mosques that used to be an uncommon sight in Japan are no longer rare. As of March 2021, there were 113 mosques in Japan, up from only 15 in 1999.

A notorious case is the Masjid Istiqlal Osaka, which came up in Osaka's Nishinari Ward last year. It is housed in a structure that was once a factory. Donations from Indonesians mostly funded the costs of the renovation work, and we know that the largest Muslim population in the world is found in Indonesia.

While this trend reflects a more inclusive Japanese society, it also presents challenges and friction.

Maintaining unwavering beliefs can sometimes blind us to our surroundings and lead to inflexible thinking

An unsettling incident unfolded recently when a man from Gambia vandalized a Japanese shrine, confronting a woman mid-prayer with a chilling declaration: There is only one God, the Muslim God, and here, there is no God. This was all caught on camera and the video went viral online.

The comments from Japanese social media users were not pleasing.

Maintaining unwavering beliefs can sometimes blind us to our surroundings and lead to inflexible thinking. It can make us resistant to accepting other perspectives, leading to friction. Islam serves as a prominent illustration of this phenomenon, read one comment.

Another comment was: In Japan, the basic human right called 'freedom of religion' is guaranteed, and this is based on the idea that 'allowing other people's beliefs' is the basis. Those who attack the beliefs of others cannot share our values, so we cannot live together. The existence of such a dangerous Muslim person endangers also the living environment of all Muslims.

And one more comment read, The goal of Islam is world domination. None of this is compatible with the way of thinking that has been rooted in Japan since ancient times.

I have chosen specifically the least heated comments.

Islam and Shinto are two distinct religious traditions with unique beliefs and practices. While both religions offer guidance and spiritual meaning to their followers, they differ significantly in their origins and core beliefs.

Islam originated in the 7th century, it emerged as a monotheistic religion centered on the belief in one God, Allah, and the teachings of the Quran, considered the holy book of Islam.

This harmonious coexistence becomes inconceivable from the perspective of a Muslim

Shinto on the other hand is the indigenous religion of Japan with roots that trace back to ancient times. It developed organically from Japanese folklore, rituals and animistic beliefs. Shinto does not have a specific founder or a single authoritative scripture but is characterized by reverence for kami, the divine spirits or forces present in nature and various aspects of life.

Also, Shinto does not have a comprehensive set of doctrines or a rigid belief system. Shinto emphasizes purity, gratitude and living in harmony with the natural world.

One notable aspect of Shinto is its inclination to embrace other religions, considering itself as a religion encompassing eight million gods. This inclusiveness is exemplified by the presence of the iconic torii (the traditional Japanese gate that marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine) inside many Buddhist temples.

Although it may seem inconceivable today, for over a millennium Shinto and Buddhism were in fact intertwined, with individuals visiting temples expecting to pay reverence to both Shinto kami and Buddhist deities.

However, this harmonious coexistence becomes inconceivable from the perspective of a Muslim. The concept of polytheism in Shinto is incompatible with the monotheistic nature of Islam. Islamic teachings emphasize the oneness of God and strictly prohibit the worship of any other entities.

This potential clash of faiths and divergent theological perspectives can make the idea of peaceful coexistence between Shinto and Islam difficult to conceive from a Muslim standpoint.

The recent act of vandalizing the Shinto shrine highlights the challenges in envisioning a peaceful coexistence between these two faiths.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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