Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris and numerous others by the Islamic State group have forced Muslim communities around the world, including in Japan, to repeat a familiar phrase: Islam isn’t the problem.
Though none of the organizations in Japan’s Muslim community contacted by The Japan Times on Monday had received threats or other harmful acts of the kind they experienced when freelance journalist Kenji Goto was killed by Islamic militants early this year, they said many people still misunderstand Muslims and their religion.
“Islam’s holy book Quran mandates absolute freedom to all people of the world, not only Muslims,” said Haroon Qureshi, a representative of the Japan Islamic Trust in Tokyo.
He stressed that the Hadith, a collection of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and accounts of his daily practice, also constitute guidance for Muslims.
“It says whoever kills one person is the same as if he killed the whole mankind and even in a state of war, there are rules of war we all shall follow, which prohibit from killing those who are women, elderly, children or civilians,” he said.
The militants call themselves Islamic State, but the way they act shows their lack of knowledge of the Quran’s teachings, he added.
For many, a misconception about Islam began following the Oklahoma City bombing in the U.S. in 1995. Speculation was rife at first that the perpetrators were Islamic fundamentalists. It turned out to be two U.S. Army veterans who were Christian.
“It’s sad that each and every such incident is linked to Islam,” Qureshi said.
The Islamic Center for Japan, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization for Muslims, said that insufficient coverage of conflicts in the Middle East by Japanese media may have caused confusion among people in Japan.
As an example, he suggested that media refrain from describing the militants from Syria and Iraq as Islamic State, saying that a more accurate term would be the Arabic acronym “Daesh,” which means a person who creates disunity.
Following the killings of Goto and self-proclaimed military contractor Haruna Yukawa in Syria, the center received threats targeting followers of Islam.
Despite the scale of the Paris attacks, he pointed out that Japanese TV has continued to broadcast comedy shows with limited coverage of the news in France, showing Japan’s low interest compared with other countries.
When contacted by The Japan Times, Tokyo Camii & Turkish Culture Center, Japan’s largest venue of Islamic worship, refused to comment on the attack.
“Terrorism has no religion,” reads a large banner in black and white posted on the mosque’s official website, along with an official statement condemning the terrorists involved in attacks on Paris and bombings in Beirut on Thursday.
Qureshi of the Japan Islamic Trust said, however, that in recent years Japan’s media and public seem to have gained a better understanding of Islam.
“I hope (that Friday’s attacks) should not affect the Muslim community in Japan,” he said.