A Buddhist temple in Oita Prefecture is hosting a series of learning opportunities on Islam to give people a chance to learn about one of the world’s most practiced religions.

Amid an increase in the number of Muslims studying in Japan or visiting as tourists, exchange activities are expanding.

During an April meeting, attendees heard speeches from Daido Jikaku, deputy chief priest of Zenryuji, a Zen temple in Nakatsu, and Altaf Khan, imam of Beppu Masjid, a mosque in Beppu. Longtime Japan resident and practicing Muslim Sayeed Zafar also spoke during the meeting. Attendees learned about Islamic teachings and customs and asked questions about the faith, such as whether it is acceptable to invite Muslims to hot springs.

Jikaku, 43, organizes exchange activities with Beppu Masjid, which became the first mosque in Kyushu when it was established nine years ago, and delivers speeches on Islam at local festivals. He started such activities after an Afghan Muslim colleague, who worked alongside Jikaku at an international nongovernmental organization for educational support, apologized for the destruction of the famed Buddha statues of Bamiyan by the Taliban, an Islamist extremist group.

Realizing that he did not know much about Islam despite the fact that Muslims had protected the Buddhist statues for more than 1,000 years, Jikaku decided to learn more about the religion. After returning to the temple four years ago, Jikaku felt anxious that people around him might believe that Islam is tantamount to terrorism.

“I’ll continue grass-roots efforts so people do not consider ordinary Muslims to be the same as extremists,” Jikaku said.

Sayeed, who came to Japan from Pakistan 18 years ago as a student, runs a used vehicle sales business in Beppu.

He feels that living here now is easier than when he arrived, thanks to an increasing number of places for prayer and supermarkets offering halal foods.

Muslims are often “isolated” in communities, Sayeed said, and People may feel fear when they see Muslims with beards and wearing turbans, but the meetings can lead to “mutual understanding.”

The meeting in April was joined by some 20 local residents, including Buddhist supporters of the temple.

The participants talked to the speakers after the study session, viewing the meeting with Muslims as a rare opportunity.

“I feel that Muslims and Japanese people may be similar in their sincerity and ways of living,” Rumiko Suga, a 68-year-old business owner in Nakatsu, said.

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