Japan ‘keeps Islam at bay’? The evidence is incorrect

“Japan keeps Islam at bay by putting restrictions on Islam and ALL Muslims,” says a meme shared on Facebook in South Africa.

It then lists 10 ways it claims the Asian country is doing this.

The meme has been widely shared online for at least four years, a reverse image search reveals. The first search results include fact-checks from 2015 by Snopes – which rated it “false” – and PolitiFact, which rated it “pants on fire”, or worse than false.

Africa Check looked into the 10 claims.

‘Japan is the only nation that does not give citizenship to Muslims’ and ‘Permanent residency is not given to Muslims’

There are native Japanese citizens who are Muslim, because they or their ancestors converted to Islam. 

For “non-Japanese” Muslims – and any other religion – who have immigrated to Japan, the Immigration Bureau of Japan publishes the requirements for applying for permanent residency.

These guidelines do not mention any restrictions based on any religion. The application form for permanent residency also does not ask for applicants to specify their religion. 

Japan’s Nationality Law also does not say that Muslims are banned from becoming Japanese citizens. The law does not mention religion at all.

‘Propagation of Islam in Japan is banned’ and ‘In the University of Japan Arabic or any Islamic language is not taught’

In Japan there are several operating mosques

The regular programmes in these mosques include Islamic lectures, prayer sessions, Qur’an classes and religious services. So the claim that the “propagation of Islam” is banned in Japan is also incorrect. 

There is no “University of Japan”. There is an institution called the International University of Japan, a graduate school offering courses in English. It does not offer language classes in Arabic. 

What is meant by an “Islamic language” is unclear. But Japan has not banned the teaching of Arabic. 

The Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo, for example, offers an Arabic language course and an Arabic-Japanese translation course. And the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies also offers language classes in Arabic.

‘Japan is the only country in the world with negligible number of embassies in Islamic countries

The meme does not make clear what a “negligible” number of embassies might be.

The term “Islamic countries” is also not defined. According to World Atlas the term could refer to three different aspects: geography, religion or culture.

Geographically, the term refers to “the countries and other political regions where Muslims make up the majority of the population”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan maintains a number of embassies in Islamic countries defined like this, such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Tunisia and Yemen. 

Out of the 20 countries that World Atlas defines as “Islamic”, Japan has embassies in 18. 

‘One cannot import a “Koran” published in the Arabic language’

The Qur’an, or Koran, is the holy book of Islam.

Certain items cannot be brought into Japan, according to customs regulations. These include: “Books, drawings, carvings, and any other article which may harm public safety or morals (obscene or immoral materials, eg, pornography).”

Africa Check asked the Customs Counselor’s Office of the Tokyo Customs if the Qur’an in Arabic falls under point 9. They replied that it does not. 

The Qur’an in Arabic can be imported into Japan.

‘Muslims must follow Japanese Law and language’

Generally, a person is subject to the regulations and laws of the country they are in.

So yes, everyone in Japan, including Muslims, has to follow Japanese law. 

As for language, on 1 April 2019 Japan introduced new visa regulations. These allow more migrant workers to enter the country, to help Japan solve its serious worker shortage.

The regulations say applicants must have “proficiency in Japanese language used in daily life and at the workplace, confirmed by tests to measure proficiency”.

At the same time as Japan introduced this new visa system to allow more foreign manual labourers into the country, a law on Japanese-language education was compiled. 

The language law was passed in June 2019. It says foreign residents “who wish to study Japanese must be guaranteed as much as possible of the opportunity to do so, in a way that would match their needs, abilities and circumstances they are placed in”.

This means the government has to support foreign residents wanting to learn Japanese. But it does not make it compulsory for them to learn it.

So it’s not true that all Muslims “must follow Japanese language”. 

‘Muslims cannot even rent a house in Japan’

Article 14 of Japan’s constitution states: “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” 

And in 1995, Japan signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

But a 2018 report found it wasn’t illegal in Japan for property owners to refuse to rent to people on the basis of nationality or race. 

News sources report that non-Japanese foreigners in general face discrimination and rejection when searching for rental accommodation in Japan. 

According to a 2017 survey by the Japanese justice ministry, almost 40% of non-Japanese respondents said they had experienced rejection when searching for a home to rent in the country. 

Religion is not mentioned among the reasons for rejection. The government has said there are support services for people facing discrimination.

‘There is no Sharia law in Japan’

Sharia law is the religious law of Islam. In some Islamic countries it forms the basis for government, social norms and laws. But its interpretation differs widely among Muslims. 

Article 20 of Japan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

It also says religious organisations can’t exercise political authority: “No religious organisation shall receive any privileges from the state, nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite, or practice. The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.”

Everyone in Japan has to follow non-religious law. But Muslims in Japan are still able to privately follow sharia law. 

The Japanese government does not recognise sharia law. But many other countries that allow freedom of religion and have secular legal systems don’t recognise it either. The claim is trivial, and incorrect as evidence of one way Japan “keeps Islam at bay”.

Claims in meme incorrect

We checked nine of the 10 ways in which Japan is supposedly “keeping Islam at bay”. Eight of the claims are incorrect. 

The claim about Japanese law and language is partly correct, because everyone in Japan must follow the country’s law, and partly incorrect because it is not compulsory for foreigners, or only Muslims, to learn Japanese. 

Africa Check did not check the claim that the “Japanese government is of the opinion that Muslims are fundamentalist, and unwilling to change their Muslim laws”, because we don’t fact-check opinion. (Note: See our section on submitting a claim to check.)

But Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is on record saying that “a fundamental aspect of the spirit of Islam is harmony with and love for others”. – Eileen Jahn

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