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When they began to discuss matrimony, Yuri asked whether she should give up eating pork.
To her surprise, though, Ali insisted he had no say in the matter, telling her that she should put her own lifestyle first.
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.
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.
Though she has converted to Islam, she does not wear the head covering commonly donned by Muslim women.
He knows that few facilities offer dedicated prayer rooms and keeps an eye out for suitable locations, noting that on occasion he has had to unroll his prayer mat in a convenient stairwell and have Yuri stand at the bottom of the steps to explain the situation to startled passersby.
Such uncertainty, he explains, can make it tough for Muslims to casually step out of the house.
While Mari largely attributes this view to a general lack of understanding about Islam in Japan, she has also come to see it as astute advice for Muslims in the country.
There are many challenges to living in Japan, not least of which is food.