Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post
Many transnational couples feel as though they are adrift far from home in the early years of marriage.
In Jakarta, Japanese married to Indonesian Muslims often turn to the Japan Muslim Association (JMA) for advice.
"Most of our members are mixed couples. In the end, aside from holding religious discussions, we also help them learn about each other's culture," JMA Jakarta representative Shochi Oni said.
Some 90 percent of the 60 members of the association converted because they wanted to marry Indonesian Muslims, he said.
"Those who plan on marrying Muslims will most likely encounter problems with their spouses' extended family," Oni explained. "Indonesians often have fixed ideas about what a Muslim should be like."
Such a view often puts pressure on the newly converted husbands or wives.
Betrothed couples often attend the monthly gathering, which is held in different places, to get an idea of issues they might later face.
Topics of discussion range from religious values to practicing Islam to the everyday sociocultural conditions encountered by members.
"One of them asked if Islam allows corruption," Oni recalled a man naively asking "if not, why is corruption rampant in a country where most people are Muslims?"
The gathering occasionally invites foreign mualaf (converts to Islam) to share their experiences in adapting to both Islam and the local culture here.
Most of the Japanese Muslims in the city are either businesspeople or scholars. With a population of no more than 200 -- as compared to 2,973 Japanese recorded by the Jakarta Japan Club -- they are minorities among minorities.
In Japan, there are an estimated 7,000 Japanese Muslims, most of whom live in Tokyo. The entire Muslim population in Japan, inclusive of non-nationals, extends to 100,000.
"It is not easy being a Muslim in Japan," Oni said. "Sometimes, for business purposes, they hide the fact they are Muslims."
Japan's business culture, for example, requires men to spend late nights with clients drinking sake, which is considered haram (prohibited in Islam).
"The wives complain to their Japanese husbands. These kinds of arguments often end in divorce," Oni said.
And when couples bring their problems to gatherings or personal consultation sessions, the association seeks to bridge the cultural gap.
The divorce rate is higher among couples who choose to live in Japan. "The cultural pressure is so strong the wives would rather return to Indonesia," he said.
Oni himself converted in 1995, the year when he changed his name to Arif Rahman Oni. He later married lawyer Ike Faridah and decided to resign from his position as general manager at Japanese company Marubeni to take care of the JMA.
"I am a businessman, a Japanese and I know about Islam. I feel that it is my duty to provide the service," he said. http://www.thejakartapost.com/detailcity.asp?fileid=20060515.C02&irec=2