Japan-Malaysia Cultural Exchange Program (CEP)

Japan-Malaysia Cultural Exchange Program (CEP) Updates

Japan-Malaysia Cultural Exchange Program (CEP) 2024

Third Batch

Official Organiser: Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre (CICC), Japan

Click here to apply as host parent CEP 2024

 

TENTATIVE AGENDA CEP 2024

 

Day 1. Friday 2nd August 2024
Location: KLIA/Putrajaya
Remarks
 Arrival at KLIA1 or KLIA2. All participants to rest and familiarize with host parents and surrounding.

Day 2. Saturday 3rd August 2024
Location:
KLIA/Putrajaya
Remarks
1 p.m. – 5.30 p.m.
Zuhur prayer at Masjid Putrajaya with MTG (Masjid Tour Group), CEP update & welcoming &  students’ introduction (3
photos – about  me, my family & my expectations).
Finish by ‘Asr time with Potluck hi-tea.

Day 3. Sunday 4th August 2024
Location: Kuala Lumpur
Remarks
9.30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Islamic Arts Museum. Targeted galleries based on GORAP i.e. God, Oneness, Revelation (Qur’an) And Prophethood

Location: Kuala Lumpur
Remarks
12.30 p.m. – 2:00pm
Walk  to National Mosque  & lunch. Zuhur prayer.

Location: Kampung Janda Baik, Bentong, Pahang
2:00 p.m.
Depart & overnight at  Janda Baik
Tentative Program: Slaughter lamb and BBQ. Chillax at river.
Students stay at Anjung Janda Resort, Janda Baik.
Parents stay at Dua Pintu.

Day 4. Monday 5th August 2024
Location:
Kampung Janda Baik, Bentong, Pahang
Remarks
9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Teambuilding at Anjung Janda Resort, Janda Baik.
Lunch for students & participants.

1:00-1:30p.m.
Closing ceremony for teambuilding, students’ ta’aruf & feedback (Host parents to join)
Return to KL (host parents’ homes)

Day 5. Tuesday 6th August 2024
Location:
Semenyih/Sendayan
Remarks
9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Visit  Dr Zainol’s chicken factory at Semenyih. Briefing & slaughtering (only slaughtering is optional) of chickens by
participants.
12:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m.
Depart to Masjid Sri Sendayan. Practical wudhu’ & prayer session. Solat Zuhur & lunch.

Day 6. Wednesday 7th August 2024
Location
: Kuala Lumpur
Remarks
9:00 a.m.
UM Engineering Faculty
9.30 a.m.
“Astronomy in Islam” talk
10.30 a.m.
Briefing UM courses & tour UM engineering facility
12.50 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Lunch at Ambang Asuhan Jepun with  students
Pray Zuhur & ta’aruf at Surau with Ambang Asuhan Jepun (AAJ) students

Day 7. Thursday 8th August 2024
Location: Kuala Lumpur
Remarks
1.00 p.m.
Zuhur at Masjid Wilayah.
2:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Visit NGO Pertiwi Soup Kitchen. Prepare food  for homeless & deliver food to asnaf.

Day 8. Friday 9th August 2024
Location: Gombak
Remarks
9:00 a.m.
Visit International Islamic University (IIUM), briefing and tour campus.
12:00 p.m.
Lunch at mahallah & Friday prayer at IIUM Masjid, Gombak (men & women)
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
Engagement with IIUM students

Day 9.  Saturday 10th August 2024
Location: Putrajaya
Remarks
1.00 p.m. – 6.00 p.m.
Solat Zuhur at Masjid Putrajaya
Briefing on janazah (burial process), Farewell ceremony, student sharing  experiences  (3 photos – my best moments,
my host family & my biggest learning. Potluck hi-tea.

Day 10. Sunday 11th August 2024
Remarks
       KLIA airport. Students to return to Japan.

Host Parent’s Critical Role

To qualify as a host parent, you must be a practising Muslim. The long-term goal of this program is to start and eventually establish a lasting relationship between incoming Japanese students and members of the host family. Host parents and families play a critical role in shaping the experience of the participants. To allow optimum interactions between host parents and hosted students, the students you are hosting must stay at your family home. As you get to know each other better, the students will become more comfortable to ask questions especially about your lifestyle as a practising Muslim.

Host parents need to ensure the safety and security of the students they are hosting. Activities expected include: bringing the students to the local masjid or surau, providing accommodation (bedroom, bathroom), food, transport to related CEP activities. Please note that host parents will NOT be compensated for any said costs incurred.

NOTE: The Japanese students are expected to cover their own medical costs in case they fall ill during the CEP.

Click here to apply as host parent CEP 2024

Past CEP Highlights

Click on the links below to see the above photos:

Photos by Ahmad Fakhri Hamzah CEP 2023

Photos by Puan Roslinah Daud CEP 2019 

Photos by Ahmad Fakhri Hamzah CEP 2019

Photos by Puan Shazlinda Md Yusof CEP 2019

 

The Story Behind The CEP: A Case Of Confidence In Identity

 

When Ahmad Fakhri and I first embarked on this project, we had no idea what to expect. We did not foresee ourselves organising a cultural exchange programme for a group of second generation Japanese Muslim youths in response to an urgent call for help by the Japanese Muslim parents but in the end, we did. If you’re interested in how an immersive Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) works, and how it can potentially affect a young person’s worldview, we urge you to continue reading.

This case study involved second generation minority Japanese Muslim Youth. First Batch 2019. It’s the story of  nine Japanese youths discovering Malaysian Muslim culture through an Immersive Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP). This story is now available in the book, RAISE ME RIGHT, as the bonus chapter.

 

Looking For Something That Works

It’s 10 a.m. in Kuala Lumpur. Ahmad Fakhri and I were sitting hunched together in the car, straining a little to catch every word. The midmorning sun shone brightly. Caught in traffic in Kuala Lumpur city, we decided to make the scheduled call rather than wait.

The faraway voice crackled through the line. “I don’t know if having a youth conference is a good idea. For that matter, I brought my son to conferences in the past . . . even to New York. All he could recall were the food and games.” The voice at the other end was calm but insistent. My mind raced as I digested Sugimoto San’s words. If a youth conference is not a good idea, what else might?

The thought of delicious food and games combined gave me an idea. “What about a cultural exchange program?” I blurted out. “The youths come to Malaysia for a period of time, stay with Muslim families. Take them out from Japan, immerse them in a different environment. They experience first-hand what living as a Muslim means here in Malaysia.”

The first time Ahmad Fakhri and I met Sugimoto San was at the Shizuoka Mosque. We had tagged along with a group of educators who were keen to explore the Japanese way of raising children. Halfway through, the visit brought us to the mosque to do our noon prayers. At the end, a tall man stood up to brief us on the tiny Muslim community in Japan. What he said towards the end of his speech shocked me. “Nine out of ten Japanese Muslim youths opt not to practice the Muslim faith as adults,” he said.

As someone who has children living in different parts of the world, I understood his concern. Like the Japanese Muslim parents, I too want my children and grandchildren to consciously choose to lead the Muslim way of life.  As a student in America years ago, I had witnessed and heard of Godless lives gone awry. Drugs, substance abuse, sexual orgies, unwed pregnancies, alcoholism are just some of the issues some youths fall prey into without a solid grounding in values.

For practising Muslims, leading a God-centred life means you believe in One God, The Most Merciful, Most Compassionate Supreme Being who knows you inside out. Muslims believe in the Afterlife, where you will live eternally with your loved ones. Life on earth is transient, the purpose of life is to please God by doing good on earth, taking care of oneself and others, honouring and balancing your rights and responsibilities versus those of others.

 

Tremendous Pressure To Conform

Japanese youths typically experience tremendous pressure to conform to a certain way of living, by virtue of being Japanese born and bred. By age five, Japanese children begin to attend elementary school. The homogeneity of Japanese culture continues; they are taught that it is better to be just like everybody else – eat the same food, talk the same language, wear the same attire. Being Japanese means one must assimilate culturally, socially, systematically.

Thus, Japanese Muslim children would find it difficult to be practising Muslims and identify themselves as Muslim every step of the way. Some children even ask their parents at which point in their lives could they become real Japanese. Some concerned Muslim parents have expressed the need to build Muslim schools to create consistency between the values taught at home, at school and within the community.

Muslim Japanese parents, though, desire to see their children lead God-centred lives in particular because being Muslim means you can be your unique self and contribute to the world in your unique way. Have a strong relationship with God, you can be who you are.

To discerning Japanese Muslim parents, being a good Muslim does not make you any less Japanese. In fact, it makes you a better Japanese, since you can be your authentic self. At all times, God the Divine knows your thoughts, intentions, actions. No need to worry about what people think, so long as you know you are doing good, you are doing the right thing. Leading a God-centred life is a source of comfort, confidence and well-being.

The Qur’an is loaded with values that the Muslim parents want their children to live by, which seems to be eroding in Japan. For example, prioritising family which includes deep and abiding love and respect for parents and elders. In Japan, more and more parents and the elders are left to fend for themselves as adult children move elsewhere in search of greener pastures. Then, there is the element of striking a balanced life even as one strives to pursue excellence, whereas in Japan, working hard is numero uno, even at the expense of self and family. Hope and trust in God is also central in the Muslim faith. No matter what happens, having faith that God has the big picture comforts and soothes the soul, especially when things fail to work one’s way.

Despite what these Muslim parents want for their children, it is estimated that nine out of ten second generation Japanese Muslim youths opt not to practice Islam by the time they become teenagers or reach young adulthood for various reasons:

  • Widespread syncretism (adopting parts of religious beliefs and/or practices that they like and discarding what they do not  like such as celebrating Christmas without becoming Christians).
  • General indifference towards religion (not concerned about the concept of God and/or religion)
  • Absence of Islamic education. Educational policies in Japanese schools do not allow for any kind of religious teachings or activities within the syllabus and school grounds.
  • Islamophobia (proven by leaked documents).
  • High social expectations to fit in. Many second generation Japanese Muslim youths are born into mixed marriages. They do not look like other Japanese. The negative term used is gaijin, which literally carries the meaning “outside-person”, a “foreigner”, a lower class “other”.
  • In Japan, one must do everything he can to not stand out, not to be different, to avoid being “the nail that sticks up(a pervasive Japanese proverb), or be prepared to be hammered into conformity, or be treated as an “other”.

 

All these factors cause identity confusion among second generation Japanese Muslim youths. At some point, they realise that if they do decide to live as Muslims, it will be very easy for them to be treated negatively by those around them.

 

Three Options

So here we have three options: The first option is to do nothing, which puts these youths at high risk of leaving Islam. Second option is to send them to seminars and conferences. But not everybody loves to sit and listen for hours to learn about anything. The “sit and listen” option is not for everyone. The third option is to enrol them in a Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP), where they immerse themselves in the daily life of a practising Muslim family – known as the host family. They observe and see first-hand, what it is like to live as a Muslim.

The CEP made its debut in 2019, with the Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre (CICC) as the official organiser. Totally immersive in nature, 80% of the CEP’s content was experiential and 20% theoretical. Over eight days, participants saw how their host families lived as Muslims.

 

The CEP In Action

 The full itinerary throughout the Cultural Exchange Programme is as detailed below.

Table 1: Itinerary Of Cultural Exchange Programme

Day/Date Time Purpose Location Activity
Saturday
Day 1
Before Noon KLIA

/KLIA2

·    Arrival at host family house

·    Rest and Easy

5:00 p.m. Programme Overview

 

Ampang ·    Welcoming Dinner

·    Programme Briefing

Sunday

Day 2

 

10.00 a.m. Cultural Experience & Local

Networking

Develop Leadership Skills

 

Rawang,
Selangor(1.5 hoursfrom KL)
·    Cook local dishes & lunch

·    Serve the poor folks

Monday
Day 3
10.00 a.m. –

12.00 p.m.

Understandin g of Islamic

Knowledge

Dr Zainol’s Halal Chicken Factory, Kajang ·    Briefing on halal industry and tour of organic factory plus lunch

https://azzainmart.com/ayam-dr-zainol

1.00 p.m. – 5.30 p.m.  

Leadership and Academic Institution

 

USIM (Islamic Science University Malaysia, Nilai)

(1 hour from KL)

 

·    Islamic Centre, Japan Cultural Centre, Faculty of Leadership & Management, USIM

·    Friendly zakat board game with USIM

https://www.usim.edu.my

 

 

Table 1: continued

Day/Date Time Purpose Location Activity
Tuesday
Day 4
9.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. Develop Basic Leadership Skills Janda Baik, Pahang

(1 hour from KL)

·    Local village: Event cofacilitated by Radiant Retreat (obstacles, fishing, crazy golf, archery, puzzle games)

http://radiant-retreats.com/

2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. Cultural Experience & Local Networking ·     Fig Farm (Benefigs) https://www.facebook.com/benefigs.official/

·    Janda Baik homestay

 

Wednesday
Day 5
10.00 a.m. –

12.00 p.m.

Cultural/
Isla micKnowledge
Kuala Lumpur ·    Islamic Arts Museum https://www.iamm.org.my/
1.00 p.m. –

5.00 p.m.

Academic Institution & Networking & Local Culture with Japanese

lecturers

Malaysia Japan Internationa l Institute of Technology (MJIIT),

KL

 

·    Lunch and Pray Masjid UTM (next to MJIIT)

·    Highlight on Japanese learning institution, collaboration with Malaysia. https://mjiit.utm.my/

Thursday
Day 6
9.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. Cultural/ Islamic

Knowledge

Kuala Lumpur ·    Islamic Arts Museum https://www.iamm.org.my/
National  Mosque ·    Visit Perdana Leadership Foundation
http://www.perdana.org.my
5.00 p.m. –

7.00 p.m.

Multicultural Experience Surau Dagang Avenue, Ampang,

KL

·    Breaking fast & dinner with locals at surau https://www.facebook.com/suraudagangavenue/
7.00 p.m. –

8.15 p.m.

Present Japan & Networking

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1: continued

Day/Date Time Purpose Location Activity
8.15 p.m. –

9.30 p.m.

Develop Basic Leadership

Skills

 

·    Japanese youths share their culture with the local community
Friday

Day 7

11.00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m. Academic Knowledge International Islamic  University Malaysia (IIUM), ·    Overview of IIUM and enrolment requirement

·    Friday Prayer

http://www.iium.edu.my/institute/istac

2.30 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. Multicultural Experience KL ·    Free and Easy
5.00 p.m. – 7:30

p.m.

Programme concludes

 

Post

Evaluation

 

Selected
Host Parent’s House
·    Farewell dinner & post- mortem
Saturday

Day 8

Various timings KLIA/
KLI A2
·    Return to Japan

 

Approximately 80% of the sessions were activity based. For the Japanese youths in this Cultural Exchange Programme – getting their hands on food preparation and distributing it to the poor, seeing for themselves how a halal factory operates and slaughtering chicken with their own hands, playing interactive outdoor games together with Malaysian youths, and experiencing the hospitality and kindness of  their host parents and families – were very different from sitting down in a classroom and listening to someone lecturing them. The Cultural Exchange Programme was deliberately designed to be highly experiential in nature and that made all the difference.

 

Why the Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP)?

First reason:

Allah says in the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most  righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Al-Qur’an. Al-Hujurat. 49:13). Allah created men and women, nations and tribes, so that we can observe and learn from one another about our different cultures. There are things that  we can benefit from one another. It is a divine injunction for us to interact with each other at the cultural level.

Second reason:

The concept of intercultural experience is not new within the Muslim tradition. During the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) time, the Muhajirin (Muslims who moved from Makkah to Madinah) moved from Makkah to Madinah following intense persecution in their motherland. These Muslims were welcomed with open arms by the Ansār (Muslims in Madinah) and this experience cemented the positive relationship between the Ansār and the Muhajirin.

Third reason:

The narratives of eminent, ethnic Japanese Muslims proved that, yes, the CEP is a viable option to strengthen the confidence of Japanese Muslim youth. Let us now look at three eminent, ethnic Japanese Muslims, namely: Umar Mita; Sulaiman Hamanaka; and Kyoichiro Sugimoto.

 

Story of Umar Mita and the Chinese Muslims:

Umar Mita lived for some years among Chinese Muslims in China. Umar Mita observed the simplicity and intricacies of what it meant to be Muslim. Umar Mita later became the first ethnic Japanese Muslim to translate the Arabic Qur’an into Japanese.

Story of Sulaiman Hamanaka and Muslims in Singapore/Indonesia:

The late Sulaiman Hamanaka traveled to Singapore and Indonesia, lived among Muslims for short periods, and was really impressed with how the Muslims lived, how much they cared for each other, in particular the family bond. Upon his return to Japan, Hamanaka became a Muslim and later built a mosque in Niihama.

Story of Kyoichiro Sugimoto in Bangladesh:

The Chairman of the Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre (CICC), Hajj Sugimoto’s case deserves particular elaboration as his experience was most recent. At 19 years old, Sugimoto accepted a personal invitation from a good friend of his to visit the latter’s village in Bangladesh. Sugimoto stayed there for about a week. “They were poor but so warm and welcoming. Everyone invited me to their homes and served me the best food they had, despite having so little,” said Sugimoto.

Friday came. Sugimoto’s friend disappeared for a few hours without any explanation. When Sugimoto enquired where he went, his friend said that he went for Friday prayers. Sugimoto asked if he could follow him the following Friday, to which his friend consented. During Friday prayers, Sugimoto followed the prayer movements without understanding a word or action, but the warm brotherhood and the ambience he felt in the masjid interacting with other Muslims left a powerful, positive impression on him.

The villagers were so hospitable that by the end of his short stay, the kindness and generosity of the Muslim villagers in the neighbourhood had left an indelible impression in his heart. “Later, I began to read a copy of the Qur’an. I read about Jannah (Paradise) and Jahannam (Hell) and I began to think: ‘What if these are true?'” Thus began Sugimoto’s introduction to Islam.

 

Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre (CICC) as the Official Organiser

According to the NPO homepage, the purpose of the Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre as a corporation “is to contribute to the realization of international peace and security by carrying out projects to promote cultural exchange and friendship between Japan and Islamic countries, mainly for residents in Chiba Prefecture and its surrounding areas”. This is in line with the purpose of the Cultural Exchange Programme.

 

The Concept of Al-Ta-’arūf: What It Looks Like

In a nutshell, the Japanese youths were removed for a period of time from an environment in Japan where neither religiosity nor spirituality was the norm in society. They were then introduced to an environment in Malaysia where religiosity and therefore, spirituality, could be seen, heard and felt consistently by the common presence and practices of Muslims. This was deliberately done so that the Japanese youths could experience for themselves the difference between these two environments, and what it would mean to them as Muslims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grounded on Surah Al-Hujurat:49:13, the Concept of Al-Ta-’arūf  contains seven steps:

Step 1. Tahāwur (dialogue): The Cultural Exchange Programme kicked off with a dialogue between the Malaysian side (the researcher and her spouse as co-organisers) and the Japanese side (Chiba Islamic Cultural Centre as official organiser).

Step 2. Ta-’arūf (mutually knowing, mutually interacting): Upon arrival, the Japanese students were introduced to their host parents and other family Thus began their week-long journey communicating and interacting with their host parents and other family members.

Step 3. Ta-’āyush (to coexist): Over the course of the week, the Japanese youths would learn to coexist with each other and their host parents and families under the same

Step 4. Tasāmuh (tolerate each other’s differences): The Japanese Muslim youths and host parents and family members learned to tolerate each other’s living

Step 5. Tabādul (exchange of ideas): Throughout the week, the Japanese youths, despite language issues, communicated their thoughts and ideas to each other, and to their host parents and family members, and vice-versa with the help of

Step 6. Ta-’akhī (to associate as brother): The Malaysian host parents and family members treated the Japanese youths with kindness and care to ensure that the Japanese youths felt welcome and appreciated, planting the seeds of a lifelong relationship of brotherhood (ukhuwwah). All these honest and open conversations, as well as how the Japanese youths were treated throughout their 8-day stay in Malaysia, led them to associate one another as brothers and sisters. The intercultural exposure created a positive experience in the Japanese youths such that they felt, “Yes, it is possible to be Muslim and Japanese at the same time.”

Step 7. Al-ta’ayush Al-silmīyy (to live in peace and harmony, with mutual respect and consideration): By the end of the programme, it was hoped that the Japanese youths would feel accepted by their new host families and more comfortable of their Muslim The positive outcome would need to be verified by their feedback. The new-found confidence was hoped to create peace in their hearts, motivate them to practice Islam, and enable them to contribute positively in the Japanese community back home.

The Cultural Exchange Programme was about building human-to-human relationships, in particular, planting the seeds of a successful long-term relationship between host parents and incoming Japanese youth. Ta’arūf, root word for Al-ta’āruf, is about taking the time and initiative to understand each other at a deeper level, where host parents and families and Japanese youths take the time to understand each other, especially their needs and interests.

Prior to welcoming the youths, the Malaysian host parents were briefed about the circumstances leading to the present study. The host parents understood the issues and challenges faced by Japanese Muslim families in raising their children. They were fully aware that they must support these youths wherever possible, making them feel at home despite the language barrier, as most of the Japanese youths were not proficient in English.

None of the host parents could speak Japanese. They only spoke Malay and English and some of them, a bit of Arabic. At first, several of the Japanese youths felt uncomfortable and were not at ease, given their  low level of English proficiency. But the host parents made sure that language did not become a major issue. At the farewell dinner, all the Japanese youths without hesitation raised their hands when asked if they wanted to return to Malaysia. As participant Tokuda’s host mother said, “I was very concerned. Tokuda was very quiet . . . I was not sure if he was comfortable . . . but on the third day, suddenly he was taking out  all kinds of presents. . . He was more relaxed, more at ease, smiling . .  . My husband and I were surprised.”

After the Japanese Muslim youths left, although the feedback given was that the programme was too packed, the host parents reported that they still succeeded to slot in  pockets of time available to bond with their Japanese youth. Host mother, Sabariah, said at the end of the programme, “I certainly want to visit my son (the Japanese youth she hosted) in Japan. . . Felt like sending my own child to college.” Host mother Ani echoed the same sentiment, saying, “The house is so quiet now.” Host mother Rosila said, “I miss everyone, especially the Japanese youths.”

Why The CEP Focused On Youths

Adolescence is the time when boys and girls begin to take a closer look at themselves, trying to comprehend what is seen and what is unseen. This is the time when the tawhīd concept, the oneness of God, must be discussed and taught to them, with the objective of raising them to become strong and confident Muslims.

Having said that, a part of the growing up process to become confident is a need to be liked and accepted by others, the desire to belong. At a younger age, a child’s need to be accepted and to belong is fulfilled by the immediate kith and kin, especially parents and siblings. In the adolescent stage, the need to be accepted by peers is stronger.

Not only that. Feelings of attachment to the community where one is raised is a powerful human emotion. Any  Japanese youth is likely to feel a strong desire, a longing to be as Japanese as they can, since this is part of their national identity, having been born and raised in Japan. However, the second-generation Japanese Muslim youths are perceived and treated as gaijin (meaning “strangers”, “undecideables”, “outsiders”, implying “You don’t belong  here”) at two levels: race and religion. All of the second generation Japanese Muslim youths who participated in the Cultural Exchange Programme were born into mixed   marriages where one parent was Japanese, and the other parent a non-Japanese. Physically they did not look Japanese.

For the second generation Japanese Muslim youth, to be practising Muslims, the  desire to be Muslim must be significantly stronger than the desire to be accepted as a Japanese. The Cultural Exchange Programme is an intervention which attempted to create a sense of acceptance and belonging among the second generation Japanese Muslim youths.

Essentially, the programme was designed to help them realise that they can choose to identify with the Muslim heritage. That it is alright for them not to embrace the Japanese way of life where it conflicts with the Muslim lifestyle, for instance, drinking saké, an alcoholic beverage which is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition. Through the Cultural Exchange Programme, they learned that there is an alternative way to be accepted and have a sense of belonging.

Epilogue

Naturally, after a time lapse following completion of research such as this study which was intended as an intervention programme, there would be concerns over how the  participants might be getting along. Have the effects of the intervention worn off? Have    the participants changed in any way? I was able to follow up with a few parents of the Japanese participants about a year after the CEP.

According to participant Riku’s mother, “Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), my son Riku has changed a lot . . . He  has been reminding his younger siblings to listen to their mother . . . The thing that makes me so grateful is that he often goes to the mosque to perform jama’ah (congregational) prayers especially for Maghrib, Isha’        and Fajr. Imagine how a mother feels . . . when a child wakes up earlier  to pray at the mosque, while the mother herself needs to be awakened.”

I also followed up with the father of another participant, Yuta. According to Yuta’s father, “After joining the Cultural Exchange Programme last year, my son became quite confident.  Before the programme he was below average as a Muslim. Now Yuta is above my expectations. Most of the tasks I give him, he can do it well. The programme built his confidence towards Islam. I do not push him, he does it willingly.”

Participant Tatsuki had doubts  whether Islam was the right path for him;   he was not too sure if he would continue with his YouTube Channel that featured Islamic matters. Upon completing  the Cultural Exchange Programme, Tatsuki declared that he would “. . . live a little more dignified as a Muslim.” Indeed, he is now back to working on his YouTube channel which he originally created to raise awareness about Islam.

It must be mentioned that participant Riku, Yuta and Tatsuki all came from practising Muslim families. Having a practising and supportive family, the researcher believes, is a strong factor in helping these youths to sustain their interest and commitment to live as Muslims for the rest of their lives.

The CEP worked. It broadened the worldview of the participants so they would feel less pressured to conform. It had been designed in such a way as to incorporate all five domains of human connection: 1) physical; 2) intellectual; 3) emotional; 4) cultural; and 5) spiritual, an innovative way to reach out to minority youths beyond seminars and classes. The CEP created a safe environment for learning; participants felt they could ask anything they wanted. The Japanese youths enrolled in the CEP mainly spoke Japanese and hardly spoke English, but this communication gap was dealt with by the presence of several full time interpreters. From the CEP, we knew that, given certain circumstances, minority communities might need to reach out to get assistance in raising their youths.

About Jamilah Samian

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