Amna, one of my best friends in Japan, was my constant go-to confidante, iftar buddy and we always found our home in Tokyo Camii during the weekends. She is one strong willed character that has overcome societal judgements and self-consciousness to focus solely on submitting to Allah alone… and for that, Alhamdulillah.
I was born muslim, but…
I grew up in a place where culture is often misunderstood as Islam.
Although I was a Muslim since birth, I didn’t know the depth of Islam before I rediscovered Islam. I did everything out of fear of people (teachers, elder family members etc) and with no understanding. I’d pray just to avoid getting scolded, cover myself up and not befriend the opposite gender because it’s “disgraceful” and like “what will the neighbours say?”
There was a period of time when I’d put on the scarf from home just to take it off in the elevator. I also wore short sleeves, befriended the wrong company. I guess I’ll call it all a part of growing up. But the fear of people’s view of me always kept me in check, and i never crossed the line. Alhamdulillah.
Apart from that, I was emotionally damaged. I used to dwell a lot on the past, to the point that I lost focus over every other aspect and I thought my life to be the most miserable, the most pathetic of all. “Why is it always ME?” was a constant question hanging in my mind.
My school held Islamic lectures once every fortnight which used to shake me, but not hard enough. Although, that made me feel horrible about myself. Made me realize that I’m now how I should be.
How I began to rediscover Islam
One day, I came across one of Nouman Ali Khan’s videos. His lectures really got to me, and I ended up watching one after another. Soon I found myself looking into Islam, into things I couldn’t be bothered about before, and things I was ignoring till then.
What I learnt was that Islam is so much more than just finishing the Quran at a madrasa 10 times or starving from dusk to dawn for a month annually, or going to hell .
I got myself into Islamic talks and lectures by Nouman Ali Khan, Dr. Zakir Naik and Mufti Menk. Before long, I was seeing things differently. I started to focus of the positives, keeping in mind that everything is planned by Allah, the Best of planners. I wasn’t patient with people before, but I started becoming patient and appreciative of people. I was also no longer missing my prayers. Sure, I was tested. With people, my patience, my anger. And I failed to keep up uncountable times. I’m still working on it.
Struggling with the hijab
After I finished high school (in Malaysia, I returned to Japan. I had started to wear my hijab in Malaysia. Although, I visited Japan a couple of times after the change, I was neither confident, not courageous enough to walk on the streets of Japan with my hijab on so I’d put it on from home to the boarding gate, take it off in one of the washrooms. But this time, I was determined to not take off my hijab. Not at KLIA. Not at Narita. Not in the bus back home. It was quite a challenge because I could already feel the eyes on me when I entered the waiting room before boarding. My mom met me at the airport and was surprised to see me with my hijab on. While we were on the bus, she said the colour (white) of my hijab suits me. I thanked her and told her I plan to wear the hijab from now on, in Japan. Her response was very dull, and so was my reply to her response.
“Why? You didn’t wear it until now,” she said, followed by the “hmmm” she does when she doesn’t approve of something.
“So I’ve decided, that’s why,” I replied. I could have been kinder.
I made it home with my hijab. But the real challenge was putting on my hijab and walking the streets, malls, stations of Japan everyday. The looks from people made me so uncomfortable that I spent most of my days at home for the first month. I tried to dash out everywhere I went, kept my head down, avoiding eye contact with people.
Then gradually my thinking changed. It’s not a bad thing to stand out, to be different. In Japan, everyone is expected to be the same or similar. If they’re not, they’re looked weirdly at (or at least that’s how I or most of us feel). I reminded myself that I’m wearing the hijab for Allah and not to care about what others think. Before long, the stares weren’t as uncomfortable as before. The whispers weren’t as bothering.
Now, If I find someone staring at me, I’ll look at them and give them a smile. Try it. They will either look away, or smile back.
I cannot in a hundred pages express about the things I love about Islam. However, what I find extremely beautiful is the bond between Muslims. Whether you speak the same language or not, whether you’re the same ethnicity or not, whether you have the same skin colour or not, whether you’re the same age or not, you don’t have to worry about how to start a conversation with someone. A simple “Assalamu’alaikum” with a smile does the trick and you’re bonded forever.