To bow or not to bow-Muslim problems in Japan

I once asked a reliable source if it was allowed to bow down to people as a form of greeting. He told me that as long as it wasn’t a form of worship. So I went away happily bowing around in my Japanese classes and such. I was happy because I thought that in Japan that I wouldn’t face the same problem as I do in Canada with rejecting handshakes from men.

My initial reaction when someone told me that it was not and actually quoted a hadith, was sadly not the best. I was actually mad because I thought that if I couldn’t bow( just partially) then my whole trip to Japan was ruined. Not only that, but even here in Canada, I wanted to sign up for a martial arts class, but since I can’t bow I can’t participate in the sport.

One thing I should mention is that once long ago I loved drawing. When I found out it was haram, I eventually stopped. This was when I was 14 or so. It felt like something I liked was taken away from me. Which is why I was devastated when I found out bowing was not allowed, because again it felt like something else was taken from me.

After thinking things through, I realized that Allah mentions in the Quran that:

The only statement of the [true] believers when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them is that they say, “We hear and we obey.” And those are the successful.

It’s always a struggle to give something up for the sake of God, at least for me it is. I’m still sad, as you can see I haven’t reached that state of iman. Giving up in something isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is getting your own personal feelings in check.

Then comes the fear of people. If I can’t bow, how will I explain that to the people without looking rude? Then the quran’s response to that:

[ Allah praises] those who convey the messages of Allah and fear Him and do not fear anyone but Allah . And sufficient is Allah as Accountant. (39:Al-Ahzab)

So what am I to do now? It kinda does seem silly now that I thought my whole possible trip to Japan is ruined by not being able to bow. When I think about it no as I write this, I don’t think it’s any different from my situation now, it the whole Not -shaking- hands -with -men thing.

Felt better to write it out.

For anyone actually out there reading this, please don’t treat Islam as one whole religion of Halaal and Haraam. Don’t use my post to say it is. This was just one particular incident in my life. I’m still not knowledgeable enough, but I’m really trying to understand this deen as best as I can because I’m curious about what the sahabas and all other who love Islam, see . What are they seeing that I can’t? I hope with knowledge I’ll get insight.

Here’s the link where I found out bowing is not allowed:


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mazhar
    Dec 12, 2017 @ 07:06:11

    Assalamu alaikum!!!

    The same question is going on in my mind past few years i dont know what to do. I am learning Japanese Martial Art (karate), and we have to bow to each other. According to japanese tradition it means giving respect to your partner/opponent/teacher.


    • zarodazoro
      Dec 12, 2017 @ 16:08:19

      Honestly it is very tough. I wanted to participate in a traditional japanese dance class but that involved bowing. I was really torn so I spoke with the sensei. She obviously couldn’t understand but I explained to her how bowing was really important religion wise even though the reason for bowing is different . She didnt completely understand but they accommodated for me so that I could still participate without having to bow. I personally am not here to make a judgment call on other people who do or don’t. The thing is that there’s a chance that I could have committed shirk, which is what I tried to avoid. I’m not knowledgeable and even as I explained to my teacher , I kept saying things like “I don’t think I can….” I never said “I’m not allowed to bow” because I was uncertain.


    • zarodazoro
      Dec 12, 2017 @ 16:08:38

      Waalaikum salaam BTW!


  2. Swiss Muslim
    Jun 19, 2018 @ 03:59:13

    As-Salamu ‚alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu

    This is indeed a little struggle, but I would‘ve loved to read how your trip without bowing went!


    • zarodazoro
      Jun 19, 2018 @ 12:28:29

      Hi Swiss muslim. I wrote the article a while back but I do have more recent stories of how I deal with it…in fact I wrote a whole speech about it in japanese! Recently I was trying to get into this traditional japanese dance group and bowing was something really important for that. Before the class started I reached out to my teachers and expressed my mixed feelings in wanting to participate and experience japanese culture respectfully, while still being respectful to my own cultural/religious upbringing. The saying do what the Romans do is hard because you have an upbringing that makes up a good portion of your upbringing….and basically your identity that you can’t easily ignore. The teachers were u Der standing from that point on. Explaining my situation allowed for accommodation to take place. That being said I still have more work to do in order to understand bowing in Islam and how japanese Muslims go about it.


    • zarodazoro
      Jun 19, 2018 @ 12:29:09

      Waalaikum salaam by the way


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