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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Shinto and Islam in the changing religious tapestry of Japan

Challenges increase in Japan due to the growing Muslim population over the past two decades, sparked debates about peaceful coexistence.

In Japan’s evolving religious landscape, one notable shift has been the emergence of mosques and the growing Muslim population over the past two decades. This transformation can be attributed, to some extent, to increasing intermarriage and the influx of immigrants from Islamic states. While this trend reflects a more inclusive Japanese society, it also presents challenges and friction. A recent incident of vandalism at a Shinto shrine by a Muslim individual has sparked debates about the potential for peaceful coexistence between Shinto and Islam.

Growth of Islam in Japan

Over the years, Japan has witnessed a significant increase in its Muslim population. From an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Muslims in the year 2000, the numbers have grown to over 200,000 in recent years, marking a ten-fold increase in less than one generation. The emergence of 113 mosques, compared to only 15 in 1999, highlights the growing presence of Islam in Japan. This growth has been fueled by intermarriage and immigration, with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia, playing a significant role.

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Indigenous Religion 

Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion, has deep roots tracing back to ancient times. It evolved from folklore, rituals, and animistic beliefs, centred on reverence for kami, the divine spirits present in nature and various aspects of life. Shinto does not have a specific founder or a single authoritative scripture but emphasises purity, gratitude, and harmony with the natural world. Shinto’s inclusive nature is evident through its acceptance of other religions, as symbolised by the presence of torii gates within Buddhist temples.

Islam: Monotheism and Rigidity

Islam, which originated in the 7th century, is a monotheistic religion centred on the belief in one God, Allah, and the teachings of the Quran. Islamic teachings emphasise the oneness of God and strictly prohibit the worship of any other entities. This fundamental difference in theological perspectives poses a potential clash with Shinto’s polytheistic nature, making peaceful coexistence between the two faiths challenging from a Muslim standpoint.

Challenges and Friction

The recent act of vandalism at a Shinto shrine, carried out by a Muslim individual, highlights the challenges in envisioning a peaceful coexistence between Shinto and Islam in Japan. While this incident is an isolated case and does not represent the entire Muslim community, it has sparked discussions on social media, exposing concerns and prejudices. Comments from Japanese social media users reflect a fear of the unknown and a resistance to accepting other perspectives, with some questioning the compatibility of Islam with Japan’s traditional values.

Potential for Peaceful Coexistence

Achieving peaceful coexistence between Shinto and Islam requires open dialogue, mutual understanding, and respect for each other’s beliefs. It is essential to recognize that both religions offer guidance and spiritual meaning to their followers, albeit with distinct origins and core beliefs. Emphasising the shared values of peace, compassion, and harmony can create a foundation for dialogue and cooperation. By fostering interfaith initiatives, cultural exchanges, and educational programs, Japan can cultivate an environment where diverse religious communities can coexist and thrive.

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The transformation of Japan’s religious landscape, marked by the growth of mosques and the Muslim population, presents both opportunities and challenges. The clash of theological perspectives between Shinto and Islam, exemplified by the recent act of vandalism, underscores the need for understanding and dialogue. By embracing the principles of inclusiveness, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence, Japan can pave the way for a society where different religious traditions can thrive side by side, fostering harmony and enriching the cultural fabric of the nation.