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“Considering the rudimentary understanding that most Japanese have of the faith, I was concerned that my colleagues and others around me would feel uneasy.
Turkish national Muhammet Ali Gerz has just sat down for his dinner break when his wife Yuri joins him at the couple’s restaurant, a small kebab shop they opened in 2016 near Nakano Station in Tokyo.She says negative images portrayed in the press influenced her perceptions of Islam, but that her relationship with her husband has given her a different understanding of the religion. Once, when seeing her about to swat a mosquito, he implored her to wave away the insect instead of killing it.She says he even catches errant flies and releases them outside. It made me realize that Muslims are different from the stories you often see on the news.”Throughout their courtship and into marriage, Ali was careful to keep his faith from dominating the couple’s relationship.In Ali’s view, a person must not let the opinions of others sway the relationship he or she builds with God.Moved by this view, Yuri began studying Islam of her own volition.“There is a tendency to believe that Muslims are forgiving of extremist groups because they share the same faith,” she says.
“Whenever possible, I let people know that this is not at all the case.”A colleague once told Abdurahman that in Japan a person’s religion is of no concern in the workplace.
Yuri says her relationship with Ali has given her a better understanding of the challenges Muslims in Japan face.
When the couple opened their restaurant, Yuri searched for sites that could accommodate a prayer room to give Ali one less thing to worry about when running the shop and to make Muslim customers feel more at home.
Yuri tells how early in the relationship she was unaware that Ali was Muslim. “I finally asked him after noticing that there were some dishes he wouldn’t eat.” She attributes his reticence about his faith to the limited understanding most Japanese have of Islam.
“He won’t even pray in front of other people for fear they will misconstrue what he is doing.”Yuri admits that when she first met Ali the only thing she knew for certain about Muslims was that they abstained from eating pork.
Shopping at convenience stores is also a challenge for her husband, who does not read Japanese well enough to check the ingredients.“He tries to take everything in stride,” says Mari, “but even if he accidentally consumes something forbidden he still considers it a sin.