Halal, which refers to food that is cooked and manufactured in accordance with Islamic precepts, means “to be forgiven” in Islamic teachings. In Japan, there is a lack of understanding not just about Halal, but about Islam itself. We visited a mosque named Masjid Otsuka, in Toshima-Ward, Tokyo, and had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Turmuhammed Hashim, a member of the Halal Certification Committee at the Japan Islamic Trust.
The Japan Islamic Trust is involved in granting Halal certifications for food and processed goods that are distributed in Japan. Halal certification is a system that proves that a certain food has been cooked and manufactured in accordance with Islamic precepts like prohibition eating pork. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are approaching, applications for Halal certification are increasing. “For people from Islamic communities, Japan has an image of being clean and secure. I think many of them will visit Japan without reluctance,” Mr. Turmuhammed says. “Entering the market of 1.6 billion Muslim people will be a great business opportunity for Japanese companies as well.
The Japan Islamic Trust is also focusing on exchanges between Muslims living in Japan and local residents. In fact, people from the Muslim community regularly cook for homeless people and actively participate in local festivals. When the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred in 2011, Mr. Turmuhammed quickly visited the affected area and engaged in relief activities. He made efforts to collect relief goods and donations in Japan as well. Mr. Turmuhammed explains that he participates in these activities because it is part of his religion. He says, “In the teachings of the Koran, there is an obligation for ‘redeeming’. When we know that the people around us are suffering, we are told that we should not ignore it to go to sleep that day.
Dozens of Muslims at Masjid Otsuka mosque welcomed us with Halal food, even though it was the first time we had met each other. These included a variety of healthy and delicious items such as flavored rice dishes from Bangladesh and steamed mutton and sweet fruits and drink like lassi. Mr. Turmuhammed says, “Even though religious faiths can differ, I believe that it is good to have a sense of unity with Japanese people since we are the same human beings; diversity is a wonderful thing.”
Finally, Mr. Turmuhammed talks about the difficulties he faces living in Japan. For instance, he works for a company where drinking parties are often held. For Muslims, alcohol is not Halal and must be avoided. Mr. Turmuhammed feels a very strong resistance toward the act of pouring alcohol itself, an aspect of traditional Japanese culture. However, many Japanese people do not know that; it is difficult for Mr. Turmuhammed to say that he cannot participate in drinking so as to not ruin the atmosphere. In this way, it can be extremely harmful for others to be ignorant. In order to understand people from different backgrounds, we should take one step further and learn about cultures, religions and people we do not know much about to further our awareness.
Written by Ayako Morihara, Kosuke Nakano
Edited by Takeru Suzuki