An Exclusive Interview of a Revert to Islam, Mieko Kobayashi, from Tokyo, Japan, by Bentolhoda Mofakhami
1. Please give us a biography of yourself.
Assalam alaykum. My name is Mieko Kobayashi and Muslim name is Mariya. I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. My family is not religious and like other Japanese, we just followed Buddhist or Shinto style when having ceremonies.
I stayed in New York to study accounting and work as an auditor for five years. During my stay there, my mother who came to my graduation ceremony got very sick and was hospitalized for emergency surgery. Also, 9.11 terrorist attack happened when I was in school. These incidents made me pray for God and feel that I need to have religion supporting my soul, but I could not find the right one.
After coming back to Japan, I met my husband and married at a Shrine. We both believed in God but did not have a specific religion. Through our marriage life, we encountered several hardships, including my husband’s diseases and his mother’s death, and finally we got to know Islam. It took a while until we took shahada on 9 January, 2016 after studying Islam at a mosque.
2. How did you get familiar with Islam?
My husband extensively visited Indonesia on business and he often told me about Muslim friends there. We got closer to Islam through our experiences in Indonesia, where my husband experienced critical situation to his life.
3. What motivated you to convert to Islam?
With my experience in New York, I started thinking of God and religion seriously, but could not get the right answer. One day, my husband got fulminant hepatitis in Indonesia and I flew there to attend him. I could not do anything but praying for God to save his life. I heard the sound of Azaan from a mosque near the hospital every day and I realized that it healed my anxiety and I even felt peace in my mind. The sound of Azaan showed me the vast reaches to universe in my imagination, though I did not have any knowledge on Islam.
Through hearing the sound of Azaan and seeing Muslim nurses caring my husband very well, I was getting interested in Islam and started wondering if the God I have been praying every time I faced difficult situations was Allah (SWT). My husband also started thinking that our lives were given and got interested in Islam through his experience wandering around life and death.
It took a while till my husband completely recovered and resumed his work, but when he got well, we visited several mosques in Tokyo and started studying Islam there. We were inspired by brothers and sisters who welcomed us warmly and figures of doing salat. Also, we were touched by the basic idea of Islam, cherishing parents and others, and found Islam is very beautiful religion through reading Quran.
I started thinking of how I can live as a Muslim in Japan and trying to change my profession. With my husband, I started producing skincare products which are halal so that we can live as Muslim and contribute to Muslimah as well as to Muslim society.
4. What was your family’s reaction after you became a Muslim? Did you have any problem with people who knew you?
My parents are not religious people, but they support us to revert to Islam. They said they are happy if we are happy, so we are so blessed to be guided to Islam by Allah (swt) smoothly.
My sisters and friends also showed respect towards our decision.
Allah (SWT) is a great planner to make a way for us to Islam. Alhamdulillah.
5. How do you see the spread of Islam in your country?
The Muslim population has been increasing in Japan. One reason is due to international marriage, but many people revert to Islam even before marriage with their own wills. I personally think that fundamental parts of Japanese have something in common with Islam and we feel comfortable to return to Islam. At Tokyo Camii, there are many non-Muslim Japanese visitors and students to understand Islam properly. I believe that there will have more Japanese to reverts if they find it in a right way.
-And what is Camii?
Tokyo Camii is a Mosque which is biggest in Tokyo. https://tokyocamii.org/
6. What is the most beautiful Ayah of the Quran in your opinion? And why?
There are many beautiful Ayahs in Quran and, especially, I like Surah Al-Zumar 53 “Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
This Ayah reminds us Allah (SWT) is merciful and generous to accept our repentances, trying to be better for the right path to Allah (SWT). I feel that I can live better for Allah (SWT) when reading this Ayah.
7. What’ your opinion about hijab? did wearing hijab have any effect on your private life? Do you think it is only dedicated to women?
After reverting, I realized how comfortable it is to wear modest clothes, but wearing hijab all the time was difficult at first, to be honest. After attending classes at a mosque, I found wearing hijab is for Allah (SWT) and represents identity as Muslim. It is still hard for me to wear hijab in some occasions in Japan, but Allah (SWT) is generous and knows what I have in my mind. I endeavor to stay in Ummah where I feel most comfortable and live as Muslim wearing hijab. I think hijab does not merely represents covering head, but it represents being modest which is an underlying concept of Islam. Thus, men can also have modest attire and mindset under Allah (SWT).
8. How do you analyze the family institution according to Christianity and Islam?
Japan is not Christian society, so I am not confident to analyze properly, but based on my stay in New York and study at Christian university, I think distinct difference is in that Christianity focuses on individuals, while Islam focuses on Ummah. Islam put high values on family system and connections beyond blood relationships and nationalities.
9. What specifically attracted you to Islam?
The concept that there is the one and only God, Allah (SWT). This is very clear and straight to believe in. Allah (SWT) is the only one Creator and there is a clear line between Allah (SWT) and human being. Under Allah (SWT), we are very small and all equal.
10. What was your religion before converting to Islam?
I believed in God but did not have a religion in which I could find God. Like many Japanese, my family followed Buddhist style for funerals and Shinto style for life time ceremony.
11. What was your feeling when you prayed for the first time? Wasn’t it hard for you to pray 5 times a day?
When I prayed for the first time, I felt that my mind was very peaceful and protected from something that leads my mind astray. In daily life, it could be difficult to pray punctually sometimes, but try to pray even if it is delayed.
12. If you want to say some words about the beauty of Islam, the peace, the calmness you have found in this religion what do you say?
Reading Quran and praying for Allah (SWT) purify my soul and support me to be patient even when I have hardships. Islam reminds us to be humble and care for others, as only Allah (SWT) creates everything and guides us to the right path. Subhan Allah.
13. How do you analyze women’s right in Islam compared to what the West has propagated?
Quran states that all human beings are equal, “to whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, we shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions” (16:97). Having modest fashion and hijab do not represent suppression but complete freedom and protection given by Allah (SWT).
14. Who / what influenced your conversion to Islam?
We met a head of mosque who guided us how we can adopt Islam in Japan. At first, we were not sure if we could change our lifestyle quickly, but he said we can take Islam slowly and naturally without being forced by anything. We were touched by his encouraging words as well as his respectful personality, so decided to convert to Islam.
15. As a convert, what way of inviting to Islam you believe is more effective on non-Muslims?
I have a Muslim friend who is respected by non-Muslims due to her great personality and kindness to others. I am proud of her and happy to believe in Allah (SWT) with her. To have a beautiful mind and care for others regardless of their religions could lead to an invitation to non-Muslims to have interest in Islam.
16. Would you please tell us more about your halal job?
Though staying in Asian countries, we realized that Japanese cosmetics are very popular but some Muslims said they are afraid of trying them without knowing if ingredients are ok. Also, we both have sensitive skins and wanted to have suitable ones for us.
I am the third generation of fruits and vegetables stores founded by grandfather more than 83 years ago and my parents are still healthy enough to operate the store with help by my husband, Alhamdulillah.
My mother always said that Japanese peach is very good to our health and beauty and all of our family members like it very much.
These made us plan to create our own skincare brand, Momohime (=peach princess in Japanese), formulated with peach extracts and selected moisturizers, which are halal and tayyib in all aspects. All of the products are certified halal by Otsuka masjid in Tokyo.
I am still doing accounting consulting job to sustain Momohime with my husband. Some sisters are helping us to expand the brand in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore now.
We are still small but would like to contribute to Muslim society. Especially, we want to construct schools for orphans someday. Insha Allah.
17. How do Muslims supply their own Halal food? Is there a main shop for it? What is its name?
There are many online and offline shop selling Halal foods as well as Halal restaurants in Japan. Due to Tokyo Olympics coming in 2020, Japanese government is trying to accommodate many tourists and they know that Muslim population visiting Japan is increasing, so trying to welcome them. Alhamdulillah.
Thank you for your time
DUA: Allah! please accept this from us. You are All-Hearing and All-Knowing. You are The Most Forgiving. You are The Most Relenting and repeatedly Merciful. Allah! grant us The Taufiq to read all the 5 prayers with sincerity.
(Taken from To Be Earnest In Prayers By Amina Elahi)
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