SHAFAQNA – He’s the “face” of Japanese Muslims and he’s got a lot of explaining to do. That’s why Mimasaka Higuchi, despite being 79, is still a very busy man.
“They are violating the teachings of Islam,” he said at a lecture in Osaka earlier this month.
No prizes for guessing who Higuchi was referring to–the Islamic State, which murdered two Japanese hostages earlier this year.
Higuchi served as chairman of the Japan Muslim Association, based in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, from 1990 to 2003, but although he retired, he continues as Islam’s leading voice in Japan.
His ongoing work is explaining the true meaning of the teachings of Islam in various parts of Japan, when overseas, many atrocities are being carried out by Islamic extremists.
“What is important is to recognize differences. By understanding other religions, people can deepen understandings of their own religions further,” he said May 14 at the lecture meeting in Osaka titled “Islam no Genjo–Hikari to Kage” (Current situations of Islam–lights and shadows).
It was part of a series of lecture meetings in the Kansai region so far numbering about 400. They are attended by people from various religious organizations, including many Buddhists.
Higuchi has had other busy periods, too–when Islamic terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, interviews came flooding in from media organizations in Japan.
About 100,000 to 150,000 foreign Muslims are living in Japan, and there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Japanese Muslims here, according to Higuchi.
Due to international exchanges and marriages, the number of Muslims in Japan is increasing and Japanese society’s understanding of Islam is progressing, Higuchi says.
However, due to the many atrocities committed by extremist Islamists over recent years, some foreign Muslims in Japan have been forced to leave their jobs. Some Japanese Muslims have suffered a deterioration in their relationships with family members. Some others have stopped practicing Islam altogether.
So to clear up misunderstandings, Higuchi continues to hold lectures and talks to the media.
“Albert Einstein said in his peace movement that elderly people who have less things to lose should raise their voices instead of young people who are bound by many things. So at my age, I want to do something,” Higuchi said.
FIRST STEPS INTO ISLAM
Higuchi did not empathize with the teachings of Islam at first. After graduating from Waseda University, he wanted to study abroad. The Egyptian government was inviting foreign students over to join an education program. But to join, he had to “become a Muslim.”
He was prohibited from drinking alcohol and eating pork. He also had to pray five times a day.
During the first few months he felt like giving up. And even after he started studying at Al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1965, he was unhappy with the unstable political situation in the country and the gap between the rich and the poor.
As he became accustomed to the daily lives of Egyptians, however, he believed they were warmhearted people who were more than happy to offer a helping hand to foreign students, including him, who had come from distant countries.
Higuchi felt the brotherly love of Islam and believed his disappointment came from his misunderstanding and prejudice.
After finishing his studies at university, he landed a job at Japan Airlines. While he was working in the company’s branch offices in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq, his faith in Islam became unshakable.
TOKYO RELIGIOUS CONFERENCE
In early April this year, an international conference of Japanese and foreign Muslims and Japanese people from other religions was held in Tokyo. As a Japanese Muslim, Higuchi talked about similarities between Islam and other religions, such as Shinto and Buddhism.
Then he asked people at the conference, “Our country is not waging a war. Does it mean that our society is peaceful?”
The annual number of people committing suicide in Japan topped 30,000 until recently. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Japanese society is a kind of battlefield where people are losing their kindness.
Higuchi said that Islamic society keeps traditional values that Japanese people are forgetting, such as offering love to families and supporting the poor.
“If Muslims in Japan live peaceful lives without forgetting the virtues of Islam, (other people’s) understanding of Muslims will spread,” Higuchi said.