Monday, 30 May 2011

Islam and Muslims in Japan

Islam and Muslims in Japan
Based on talk and interview with Imam Taqy

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Islam reached Japan towards the end of the 19th century, much later as compared to her neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines or even China.

Japan is an exonym while her official name is Nippon, also referred to as Nihon. Both Nippon and Nihon literally mean “the sun’s origin” and are often translated as the Land of rising Sun. This Island country is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. Administratively divided into 47 prefectures, Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku are four major Islands and taken together account for 97 percent of land area. The densely populated country has a population of12.74 million.

The basic information about the population of Japan is as follows: The total population of Japan is 127,000,000 out of that 13,000,000 live in Tokyo. The estimated Muslim population of Japan is 100,000, the majority of whom are non-Japanese people. The estimated number of Japanese Muslims is 10,000. The number of Japanese Imam in Japan is 5 and number of Japanese Imam in Tokyo is only one.

Abdullah Taqy Takazawa is perhaps the only native Japanese Imam in Tokyo. He is the Imam at a small mosque in the Kabukicho area of Tokyo. Imam Abdullah Taqy gave a series of talks in Japanese language on “Islam in Japan – Past, Present and the Future” translated into English by Ms. Kieko Obuse, in London, Birmingham and Oxford between 20 and 23rd of May, 2011. Imam Taqy accompanied by Ms. Kieko also met Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, “Timothy Winter”, University Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge on Tuesday, the 24th May in Cambridge.

During his lecture tour, Imam Taqy was accompanied by Ms. Kieko Obuse, the researcher and translator who made a bullet-point presentation on Islam in Japan: Past, Present and Future solely based on her doctoral research on the history of Islam in Japan prior to Imam Taqy’s talk.

I had the opportunity to meet Imam Abdullah Taqy and Ms. Kieko Obuse both in London and in Oxford and had a long discussion. I interviewed him about Islam in Japan. The following is based on his talk and Kieko’s slide presentation as well as my research and interview with him.

Basic overview of religions in Japan
Religiously speaking, Shintoism and Buddhism are the two major religions of Japan. Shintoism is the indigenous traditional religion of Japan; 90% of the Japanese people registered themselves through the local shrine to Shintoism. Many of them are followers of Buddhism found by Gautam Buddha of India, introduced in Japan during the 6th century. 70% of the Japanese people affiliated with the Buddhist religion. “Back in history, Shintoism and Buddhism were brought together as one tradition and they were forced to be separated after the opening up of the country. Followers of both these religions form between 81 to 96 percent of total population,” said Imam Abdullah Taqy.

Christianity reached Japan in 1543 A.D. in the 16th century. Christian missionary activities in Japan were started by a Roman Catholic priest, Francis Xavier and since then missionaries have been propagating Christianity vigorously, however, the total Christian population still remains less than one percent. Abdullah Taqy said, “1% population of Japan are Christians; they are normally accepted as Japanese religion and socially recognised option for the Japanese.”

Islam is considered as one of the new religions. As mentioned earlier, Muslims in Japan are estimated 0.1 % of the population. “Primarily Islam is a ‘foreign’ religion,” said Imam Abdullah Taqy.

History of Islam in Japan
The history of Islam in Japan can be classified into three categories: i) contact of Islam with Japan; ii) Presence of Islam in Japan and iii) Islam in Modern Japan. Renowned historical sociologist, late Professor Hajime Kobayashi, said there was no record of any contact between Islam and Japan in Pre-Meiji era (1868). It was only during Meiji Era in 1877 when the biography of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was translated into Japanese that Japanese people came to know about Islam. However this contact of Islam with Japan was limited to study of culture and history mostly by intellectuals.

i) Contact of Islam with Japan
According to Imam Abdullah Taqy and Ms. Kieko’s slide presentation, Japanese long relied on Chinese and European sources for the information on the Islamic world. First official involvement with the Islamic world began in the late 19th century, after the end of national seclusion. Delegations to Egypt, Turkey and Persia. Ertuğrul incident (1889) strengthened tie with Ottoman Turkey.

During Meiji era started in 1868, Japan and Ottoman Empire, two independent country in Asia, established friendly relations besides exchanging friendly delegations. On one such goodwill mission Sultan Abdul Hamid sent a Naval Vessel, Ertugal, to Japan in 1889. The ship with 609 persons on board reached Yokohama port of Japan on June 7, 1890. The ship was capsized in Oshima Isles on her return journey and sank with 609 people aboard drowning 540 of them, including the commander of the mission Admiral Osman Pasha, the brother of Sultan, dead.

According to Dr. Salih Mahdi S. Al-Samarrai, the present Director of Islamic Centre, Japan, who spent fifty years of his life in Japan, a young Japanese journalist, Shotaro Noda raised donations in Japan for the martyrs families, handed those donations to Turkish authorities and even met Sultan Abdul Hamid II who asked him to stay in Istanbul and teach Japanese to Ottoman officers. During his stay, he met Abdullah Guillaume, an English Muslim from Liverpool and embraced Islam and chose to be named Abdul Haleem Noda.

According to research by late Abu Bakar Morimoto, a Japanese Muslim writer, Japanese government sent with relief a 24-year old well read Torajiro Yamada to Turkey who stayed there for two years and later embraced Islam and adopted Muslim name Abdul Khalil. Abubakar Morimoto describes Torajiro Yamada as the first Japanese Muslim; whereas Dr. Samarrai said Abdul Haleem Noda the first Japanese Muslim and Abdul Khalil Yamada the second. That’s why; Imam Abdullah Taqy told me in reply to my question, “There are two theories about who was the first Muslim. I won’t say his name.” In any case it was only during the last decade of the 19th century that a few Japanese embraced Islam.

During this period (say the last decade of the 19th century) a small group of Indian Muslim merchants lived in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kobe. They are considered to be the first Muslim community in Japan.

ii) Presence of Islam in Japan
Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese war (1905) attracted the passionate attention of Muslims, especially those in the Middle East. Collaboration started with the Pan-Asianists and Pan-Islamists, eg. Abdur Rasheed Ibrahim (1857-1944), mentioned by Kieko in her presentation.

According to Dr. Samarrai, a number of Muslims went to Japan, published Islamic magazines and managed to convert a large number of Japanese people into Islam during 1900-1920. Abdur Rasheed Ibrahim, a Muslim traveller and a noted caller of Islam from Russia, came to Japan in 1909; Muhammad Barakatullah from Bhopal, India visited Japan and was the first to teach Urdu in the University of Foreign Languages in Tokyo and issued Islamic Fraternity, an Islamic Magazine for three years (1910-1912). Ahmad Fadli, an Egyptian officer, stayed in Japan, married a Japanese lady in 1908 and wrote The Secret behind the Japanese Progress in Arabic in 1911.

The real Muslim community life however did not start until the arrival of several hundred Turkoman, Uzbek, Tadjik, Kirghiz, Kazakh and other Turko-Tatar Muslim refugees from central Asia and Russia in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution during World War I. These Muslims who were given asylum in Japan settled in several main cities, i.e. Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe around Japan and formed small Muslim communities. A number of Japanese converted to Islam through the contact with these Muslims.

iii)Islam in Modern Japan
During World War II, an "Islamic Boom" was set in Japan by the military government through organisations and research centers on Islam and the Muslim World. It is said that during this period over 100 books and journals on Islam were published in Japan. The mere purpose was to let the military be better equipped with the necessary knowledge about Islam and Muslims since there were large Muslim communities in the areas occupied in China and Southeast Asia by the Japanese army. As a result, with the end of the war in 1945, these organisations and research centers disappeared rapidly.

Kieko’s slide presentation also mentioned, “Japanese collaboration with the Islamic world abandoned at the end of the WWII and their tradition of ‘Islamic Studies’ forgotten. Post-war Japanese interest in Islam has been opportunistic and general level of awareness low, despite immigration.”

Another "Islamic Boom" was set in motion this time in the shade of "Arab Boom" after the "oil shock" in 1973. The Japanese mass media have given big publicity to the Muslim World in general and the Arab World in particular after realizing the importance of these countries for the Japanese economy. However, with the end of the effect of oil shock, most of those who converted to Islam disappeared from the scene.

First Qur’an Translation in Japanese Language
As for Qur’an in Japanese language, Imam Abdullah Taqy said, “There have been a few translations and the major one back in the day of the one done by Islamic scholar and also the Japan Muslim association have accomplished the official translation of the Qur’an for the followers Muslims.” The first translation of the Qur’an in Japanese language was done by Umar Mita, a native Japanese Muslim rather than non-Japanese Islamic scholar. “Umar Mita was actually at this time in a makeshift Muslim but he later became a devout Muslim. Many books on Islam were written during this political collaboration between Japanese authorities and Islam. And the major topic wrote on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Umar Mita, the well-known translator of the meaning of Holy Qur’an into Japanese, embraced Islam in China.

First Japanese Pilgrim
The first Japanese pilgrim is Kotaro Yamaoka (1818-1859); whose Muslim name is Omar. He was actually serving as a Russian translator; he embraced Islam in Bombay, India, I think, on his way to Makkah; he was travelling with Pan-Islamists in wartime., said Imam Taqy.

First Japanese Mosque
Lot of Pan-Islamists came to Japan to collaborate with the Japanese politicians and officers and then they together built the first Mosque and there is no specific date for the First mosque. Imam Taqy said, “There was one in Nagoya and we don’t know where it was but the one we know about there is two : one in Kobe built in 1935 and the other in Tokyo, the Tokyo Mosque built in 1938; but it was replaced by the beautiful Ottoman building we have now. The replacement was at the war-time. So that was quite earlier on, 1930s we have three big Mosque building in hand. So that was the second one.” Kieko’s slide presentation also agreed with this information.

According to Dr. Samarrai, the first Mosque was built in Osaka for Russian Muslim prisoners in 1905. Indian Muslims founded a Mosque in Kobe in 1935. Late Firoozuddin of Calcutta, also known as “Firooz Japan Wala” made a handsome financial contribution towards its building. Abdul Hay Qurban Ali, religious leader of Tatar Muslims, with the support and assistance of Japanese authorities built first Mosque in Tokyo, in 1938.

Mosques in Japan
There are about 50 Mosques across the country. “But those one which has full-fledged Islamic decoration, architecture; they are quite very few; they are 15; and others are converted into musalla from former houses,” said Imam Taqy. Mosque is the meeting point for people with the same linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Still Islam is a very much a ‘foreign’ religion. There are a handful of native Japanese Imams as I mentioned earlier.

Knowledge of Islam and Islamic literature
Imam Taqy said, “Knowledge about Islam is very low. Information about Islam is not unavailable; it is not very accessible. And many of the Japanese converts embraced Islam; they have not many studied Islam; what they are doing they are researching Islam studying Islam. As for literature on Islam, there are books. These books are not easily accessible or simply not enough to know about Islam.”

Japanese Muslim Association
There are two major Muslim associations to note. “One is Islamic Centre, Japan; funded by Saudi Arabia; it has seen some difficult time; but it has been the centre for missionary work and distribute literature and leaflets and the other one is almost little bit of tentative role for Japanese Muslims; it is called the Japan Muslim Association and they don’t represent the whole Japanese community; they do a little bit for the Japanese Muslims. Apart from these, there are lots of lots of activities popping up Muslim collaboration with native Muslims and foreign Muslims. That is quite promising and that we organised events called mosque meetings, to bring together leaders of the mosques and talked about the strategy, grassroots awareness Islam in Japan,” said Imam Taqy.

Halal Food in Japan
There are very very few Halal Restaurants in Japan. As for Halal shops there are more; if you want to have Halal food for your family consumption, it is really possible to get them and these are normally located close to the mosque. Imam Taqy mentioned, “There are two Halal slaughter houses in Japan and one is in Saitama, Tokyo but majority of Halal meat that is available in Japan, we imported from abroad.”

Muslim Cemetery in Japan
Imam Abdullah Taqy said, “I think there are two Muslim graveyards in Japan. But it takes a lot of space. It is really important matter for Muslims as they grow in size to secure more lands for the graveyards. But it is being done. I believe funerals are conducted by mosques.”

About Imam Abdullah Taqy
Imam Abdullah Taqy was born into a typical Japanese family. In reply to my question, Imam Taqy said, “As I said, as I born I was already a Muslim. I am now 39 years old. For 35 years I was sleeping Muslim and then four years ago I woke up. I would like to ask you when you woke up in the morning what makes you woke up. I officially converted to Islam four years ago. It is the gradual process; something happened, I became Muslim. Of course, four years ago, it is not somebody forces me to wake up; it is not that I did use my alarm clock. It was very nice waking.”

Abdullah Taqy met a foreign Muslim, Sheikh Niamatullah, 12 years ago in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. He spent his life studying various religions which ultimately led him to convert to Islam four years ago. He performed Hajj in Makkah al-Mukarramah at the invitation of the Saudi Arabian government around three years ago. 12 years ago the man who started him down his path to Islam, Sheikh Niamatullah appointed him to become the Imam at a small mosque in the Kabukicho area of Tokyo.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam

Islam in Europe and
Euro-Islam Conference

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The one-day British-German Conference on ‘Beyond Multiculturalism: Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam’ organised jointly by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in London and the Democracy & Islam Programme at the University of Westminster, was held at the Westminster University recently, in the Boardroom of the University of Westminster, London.

These are challenging times for Europe’s Muslim communities. From one perspective, an increasing number of voices have been calling for the fashioning of a new Islamic consciousness in Europe, so-called ‘Euro-Islam’, which could both Muslims preserve their identity and fully integrate into Europe. It could even become an exportable commodity, inspiring Muslims elsewhere to adapt and embrace democracy and pluralism in more viable and adaptable forms.

Simultaneously, the multiculturalist environment which these voices want to embrace and celebrate has been under attack in Europe and the United States, precisely because some allege that it permits Islam and other ‘alien’ cultures a space for free self-expression, not always with welcome results.

In order to explore questions of ‘Islam in Europe’ and ‘Euro-Islam’, this conference brought together political decision-makers, academics and practitioners from Britain, Germany and elsewhere and, besides engaging with the negative experiences of European Muslims, plans to explore the more optimistic scenario: that of Muslims in Europe and the West contributing actively to the European pluralist experience, rather than being seen as a problem for multicultural pluralism, or at best, as (undeserving) beneficiaries.

This is the third German-British Conference on the subject of Islam organised in the last few years on the initiative of the German Embassy and in cooperation with political foundations and British universities. In May 2009, a conference took place at SOAS on ‘Integration of Muslim Communities in Germany and Britain – Success or Failure?’ In March, 2010 A Conference took place at King’s College on the theme ‘Political Islam and Public Policy.’ This year, 2011, the conference was titled: Beyond Multiculturalism: Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam’.

The welcome address was delivered by HE Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Another welcome address was delivered by Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Coordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme, University of Westminster.

First Keynote address was delivered by Baroness Kishwer Falkner (Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Office and for Home Office). Another Keynote address was delivered by Armin Laschet, Member of the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, former Minister for Integration of North-Rhine-Westphalia and member of the German National Islam Conference)

First Panel
There were four panels. The first Panel was on “Muslim communities in Europe: Multiculturalism vs. integration.” The multiculturalist environment has come under attack in Europe. An increasing number of voices have called on Muslim communities to better integrate and engage. The key questions addressed were: How much integration can be legitimately asked for, and where are the boundaries between integration and assimilation? Do Muslims have to choose between their own and a Western identity perceived as ‘other’ – or can the two blend into a Muslim Western identity?

Under the chair of Olivier McTenan, Director of Forward Thinking, Professor Tariq Modood, Director of the Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol, spoke. The panel examined the debate on “Multiculturalism verses Integration”.

Second Panel
The Panel 2 was on “The image of Islam and how to objectify it?” The image of Islam has deteriorated since 9/11. Sometimes the understanding Europeans have about Islam is distorted or lacks adequate knowledge. In order to inject more objectivity into the debate, there has been, for example, a recent campaign promoting Islam as a faith which contributes positively to British society. The key questions addressed were: How can biased perceptions about Islam be countered? How can the media and the general public in Europe acquire a more balanced and comprehensive knowledge about Islam and the Muslim world?

Under the chair of Dr. Abdulwahab El-Affendi, coordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme, University of Westminster, there were following speakers: Jorg Lau, Journalist for the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit; Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain; Yousif Al-Khoei, Director, Al-Khoei Foundation. The panel was concerned with the Image of Islam and how to objectify it.

Third Panel
The Panel 3 was on “Aspects of radicalisation and how to counter it?” Violent and terrorist incidents in Europe with Islamist background have – albeit isolated – not been rooted out altogether. The key questions addressed were: Why do some apparently well-integrated European youth become attracted to extremist views? Why and when do some people cross from violent talk to violent action? How can European Muslims and non-Muslims as well as state and society cooperate in order to counter extremism? The panel was concerned with aspects of radicalisation and how to counter it?

Fourth Panel
The Panel 4 was on “‘Euro-Islam’: Contextualising Islam in secular societies.” ‘Euro-Islam’ has become a buzzword to describe a new Islamic consciousness in Europe, which could both help Muslims preserve their identity and fully integrate into Europe. It is directed against both ‘ghettoisation’ and assimilation. The key questions addressed were: Could ‘Euro-Islam’ be the way out of the stalemate between multiculturalism and assimilation? Could ‘Euro-Islam’ become an exportable commodity inspiring Muslims elsewhere to adapt and embrace democracy and pluralism in more viable and adaptable forms?

Under the chair of Kristiane Backer, author of the book From MTV to Mecca – How Islam Inspired My Life, the following were the speakers: Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, University of Oxford; Lord Professor Bhikhu Parekh, and Fiaz Moghul, Director of Faith Matters. The panel was concerned with “Euro-Islam in Secular Societies”.

Welcome Address by the Ambassador of
Germany in the United Kingdom
The German Ambassador said, “Today, about 4 million Muslims form Germany’s third-largest faith community, making up about 5% of the total population. This is significantly more than Britain’s 2 million Muslims, who make up about 3% of the British population.”

The German Federal Government set up the “German Islam Conference” in 2006 to improve integration. “The key issues are these: How can the different Muslim traditions and customs be brought into harmony with German law? How can the economic conditions of Muslims in Germany be improved? And how can prejudices on both sides be broken down?” said German Ambassador.

The very existence of the Conference is also a positive sign, said German Ambassador and added, “A sign that Islam and Muslims have become part of Germany, a part of German society.”

The German Ambassador said, “A study commissioned by the German Islam Conference on the integration of German Muslims has shown that Muslims are better integrated into German society than is often supposed. This is also confirmed by a Gallup survey of 2009, which found that Muslims in Germany (as in Britain) identify much more strongly with the state than the average population. Moreover, half of German Muslims – significantly more than the average population – were satisfied with their circumstances.”

Speaking about the image of Islam and Religious tolerance in Germany, the German Ambassador said, “last year a German opinion research institute conducted a survey on religious tolerance in several European countries. This found that over 80% of Germans were in favour of respect for all religions. However, only a third of German participants had a positive attitude towards Muslims, compared with over 50 per cent in France, the Netherlands and Denmark.”

The Ambassador also mentioned, “80% of participants in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark associated the word “Islam” with discrimination against women, about 70% with fanaticism and about 60% with violence. Only in France were these negative associations significantly lower.”

“This difference in public opinion is contradicted by a survey published in January, conducted by the French opinion research institute Ifop and commissioned by Le Monde newspaper,” said the German Ambassador and mentioned, “This found that 42% of French and 40% of Germans see the presence of Islam in their countries as a “threat to national identity”. This negative attitude has, according to the survey, increased strongly in the last ten years.”

German Ambassador said that what is needed is more contact, getting to know each other. He also mentioned, “In Britain, it was Baroness Warsi who – likewise in January – publicly lamented that Islamophobia has become acceptable in society and sections of the media. Thus in both our countries we face similar questions and problems, which will be looked at by the second Panel.”

Speaking about Islamic organisations in Germany, the Ambassador said, less than 1% of the 4 million Muslims living in Germany – that is, only about 30,000 people – are members of Islamist organisations. Most of these organisations are legal. “In Germany associations can be banned if their aims or activities violate criminal law, or if they are directed against the constitutional order or the idea of international understanding,” said the Ambassador and added, “Islamist associations currently banned in Germany are Hizb-ut-Tahrir (banned since 2003, when it had about 300 members) and the Turkish “Caliph State” (banned since 2001, when it had about 1,100 members).”

German Ambassador said Islam is “historically not new. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have shaped Europe and the Middle East for over 1000 years.”
Euro-Islam or Islam in Europe
In the Panel 4 on “Euro-Islam” the chair Kristiane Backer kicked the discussion by saying there is no European Islam; there is no Indonesian Islam; there is no Arabic Islam; Islam is Islam; but perhaps there is different experience of Islam. Then she asked Professor Tariq Ramadan to clear up this confusion. .

Professor Tariq Ramadan:
Professor Ramadan started by saying, my starting point: for all the European governments and for all the Western governments and for all the Muslims is to say, “In fact, if we come to the essence of Islam, there is only one Islam. As for principles or set of principles, or references, we have the Qur’an, the Prophetic Traditions, and then you have principles which are all the same, same prayer in Germany as we prayer in Pakistan; or in Egypt. We fast in the same way.”

Principle only one Islam; accepted diversity
“So as for the principles, there is only one Islam and now no one can deny the fact that there is an accepted diversity in Islam and the accepted diversity we have to be quite clear.”

Universality of Islam
“European Islam is to me Islamic as to the principles, European as to the culture, we have British Muslims are Muslims as far as the principles and British as for their culture,” said Professor Ramadan and emphasized, “we have to be assertive: the universality of Islam is to accept the universality of the principles and diversity of the culture.”

Beyond multiculturalism
Professor Ramadan spoke about multiculturalism and integration. He said, “Over the last few years we have this discussion, the rhetoric; multicultural failed, integration has failed; we have rhetoric of failure; saying that it does not work. I think that once again, here, we have to be consistent and clear what we are here talking about? What multiculturalism we are talking about? What we are actually addressing?”

“Now what we are facing, believe it or not, is the reality of the pluralistic society in Europe. We have common citizenship and different religious cultural backgrounds,” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “The only thing that we have now, we have to deal with it is pluralistic society. People are coming with different cultural backgrounds; different religious backgrounds and they have the same status. Now how we are going to deal with this? Are we serious about equality? Are we serious about taking into account diversity? Because all our Constitutions and when there is not clear constitutions, are all saying that we have to respect freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and the diversity of culture.”

Mentioning the problem Professor Ramadan said, “What should we do to be accepted as complete citizen when we have a Muslim background and a religious background. So there is a discourse, a rhetoric beyond culturalise, to religionise, to Islamise all the questions that we have.”

Monday, 16 May 2011

ICC London and the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs sign a MOU to promote real Islam

ICC London and the Saudi Ministry of Islamic
Affairs sign a MOU to promote real image of Islam

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC), London, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for cooperation and coordination with the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Daw’ah and Endowment on Tuesday, the 10th of May, 2011 in the presence of Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, Kuwaiti Ambassador Mr. Khaled al-Duwaisan and the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates and the Muslim community leaders and media personalities.

The MOU agreement was signed by Sheikh Khaled al-Suwailem, head of Daw’ah (Overseas) on behalf of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Daw’ah and Endowment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kuwaiti ambassador Mr. Khaled al-Duwaisan, on behalf of the Trust of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, as the vice-chairman of the Trust, to promote the real image of Islam.

After the signing of the MOU, the Kuwaiti ambassador, who signed the MOU as vice-chairman of the ICC Trust, gave a brief speech in Arabic expressing his gratefulness and thanks to Sheikh Khaled Suwailem, Dr. Fahd Ali Slihem and to all the members of the delegation from Saudi Arabia and to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “for giving us this support”.

According to the terms of the agreement, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs will cooperate to serve the Muslim community in the field of education, teaching Arabic language and training teachers and training for anybody who is dealing with the Muslim community especially in the field of education. Under the MOU, there will be cooperation and coordination in organising seminars, holding conferences and meetings and visit of delegation.

MINAB Vice-Chair. Seyyed Ferjani
On behalf of the British Muslim Community as well as on behalf of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), Mr. Seyyed Ferjani, the vice-chair of the MINAB, expressed thank and gratefulness for the agreement between the ICC, London and the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs and said, the Muslims here and the Muslims in the Muslim majority countries should play the role of a bridge between this country and other countries. “The minority here wishes to bring a lot of good and benefit to this country as well as to the Muslim world and to the other Muslims,” he said.

Mr. Ferjani is also the President of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).

Mr. Ferjani also expressed his gratitude and prayed for those countries and individuals who played a major role in establishing mosques in almost all the major cities in the West. “We are grateful to those who helped for building the infrastructure for the Muslim community specially for this Mosque. I specially pray for those countries and individuals who really played a major role in establishing those mosques, we see, in almost all the major cities in the west. These mosques played a great role for the Muslim community. We wish and pray to Allah Almighty and thank them,” Mr. Ferjani said.

Saudi Ambassador Prince Mohammad
Prince Mohammad reminded that the most important thing is, not to forget Allah the Almighty. He said, “This is our duty, at the end of the day, the duty of all of us, not only Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. All of us are doing what we have to do to help our brothers in Islam. The most important thing: not to forget Allah the Almighty. If you forget Allah, Allah will forget you. We are doing what we have to do as a duty of Muslim to our brothers. We think we are not doing enough. We have to do more.”

Thanking Kuwaiti and Emirates Ambassadors, the Saudi Ambassador said, “I am here with my colleagues my friends and my brothers the Kuwaiti Ambassador and the Arab Emirates Ambassador along with others to demonstrate that we are committed to help as much as we can our Muslim brothers here as long as they always put the God in their eyes. And as a part of the community here, they should obey and abide by the laws and take part in all their works and activities and this is very important for our works also.”

Ambassador Khaled al-Duwaisan
As the Kuwaiti ambassador Khaled al-Duwaisan spoke in Arabic earlier, I interviewed him after the signing of the MOU agreement and he told me, “We are grateful to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are always doing the great job for Islam. The MOU agreement for cooperation between the Ministry of Islamic Affairs of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, is a step for more cooperation so that we can preserve the right Islam; the Islam that we wanted to show the West that this is the real Islam and the ICC is taking the lead for giving all the Muslims their essence of Islam. This cooperation will help us to increase our activities here, in the Centre and we hope to reach to every city of the United Kingdom to give the real Islam what the Centre is doing.”

Dr. Fahd Ali Slihem
Dr. Fahd Ali Slihem, Director of Daw'ah for Europe at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Daw’ah and Endowment, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who was present at the time of MOU agreement, told me we take good care looking after Islamic centres, supporting them whatever they need; supplying them the translations of the Qur’an and Islamic materials that they do need. He also mentioned about the support and care of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for the Muslim community worldwide. Dr. Slihem said, “Our Minister Shaikh Saleh bin Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh takes special care and asking us to move on to sign an agreement with the Islamic Centres around the world first and then to be good Muslims.”

“It is our duty here to encourage the Muslims through our activities, lectures and giving translations of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic literature. All theses activities are taking place all over the world and we are taking good care of the Islamic centres in Europe especially in London. We are happy to sign this agreement which is to support. This is the first and right step to encourage and help Muslims in the right way by signing this kind of agreement. This is the right way to give push to Muslims in their community work,” he said.

Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan
Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, Director General of the Centre, described the signing of the MOU as “one of the great achievements.” “Today it is one of the great achievements we have. We manage to sign this Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation and coordination with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Daw’ah and Endowment of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“The MOU has come in the field of serving the community and the society at large. It is, of course, one of our aims and objectives to serve in the education sector in this country, especially for the Muslim community; Islamic education, teaching Arabic language and training for teachers, training for anybody who is dealing with the Muslim community especially in the field of education,” Dr. al-Dubayan said.
Under the MOU, the cooperation and coordination comes in the area of organising seminars, holding conferences and meetings; visit of delegation. “This agreement will really open more doors, more horizons, for our work to serve the British society and the Muslim community in the UK,” said Dr. al-Dubayan and mentioned, “This is actually we are building bridges with different countries to bring all these more ideas, more funds for activities and more experience to have it here.”

Speaking about future programme, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “We are going to move to have Memorandum of Understanding with other Muslim organisations, such as ISESCO in Morocco; then we are going to have soon with the Hasan Foundation in Morocco; another one with Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt. We are going to have one each with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Kuwait, Qatar and Arab Emirates.”

Background of the MOU Agreement
It is more than two years the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Daw’ah and Endowment has been studying about this sort of cooperation. The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs is concerned about spreading the real message of Islam to the West and everywhere among the Muslim communities. “They would like to establish relations with the main organisations, helping them in correcting the image of Islam and building more bridges among the Muslim communities and other faith communities and others, supporting more tolerance. All these things are actually the aims and objectives of the Ministry itself and also that of the Centre itself, as a western Islamic organisation,” said Dr. Al-Dubayan.

“Since the two institutions have the same concern, have the same objectives; we come to this cooperation and coordination Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to sit together and to sign it. Hopefully, we are going to suggest to the Ministry some activities to be done in the UK; some services to be rendered to the Muslim communities, giving chances also for the Muslim communities for more bridges, supporting, what you call it, integration in the society both as Muslim and British at the same time,” said Dr. al-Dubayan in an interview with me and mentioned, “This is the extension of the message the Ministry is really trying its relations to serve and to do with us. This is also our message here, of course, supporting Arabic language; since it is the language of the Qur’an; supporting the classes of the Qur’an, and supporting more awareness for the youth. This is very very important for the new generation and that’s why we come to this Memorandum, Insha Allah, trying together to reach this target.”

In this connection, it should be recalled that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has given a call for interfaith initiatives and dialogue in 2007 and continued his journey of interfaith dialogue in Makkah and Madrid, Spain. Accordingly, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs continues this approach to build bridges with Muslim communities worldwide.

Dr. al-Dubayan said, The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has this interest. We are working together and may be arranging for training for some people working in the field of charity. The ICC Director also mentioned that the Centre “gets support from the Ministry” regarding its activity in the centre.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Dialogue: The best way for peaceful co-existence among nations

Dialogue: The best way for peaceful co-existence
among religions and civilizations

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Although it is claimed that the world has reached a high-level of development and modernisation, greater economic booms, technological advances, scientific break-through and more comfortable life-style, yet humanity not seem to be happier than before. The world is marred with wars, conflicts, poverty, starvation, malnutrition as well as sectarian religious and racial clashes. The humanity is suffering from economic disparity, environmental pollution, communicable diseases, social injustice, pollution explosion and migration, massive consumption of energy and resources and most of all the immorality in greed. The humanity is also suffering from a loss of moral values and is going through critical stage where tension and crime are on the rise and the poor are being increasingly exploited,

These are the threatening challenges to human existence, said Dr. Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani, at a Seminar on “Inter-religious and Inter-cultural dialogue: building faith and preventing conflict” organised by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, London, in conjunction with the London Conference administration held at the London Book Fair 2011, in Earls Court, London, in the second week of April, 2011. Dr. Ahmad Turkistani believed there is an opportunity for peaceful co-existence among the religions, cultures and civilizations of the world and dialogue is the only medium that is available to us.

Dr. Ahmad Turkistani is a professor at the University of Imam Saud in Saudi Arabia. He has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication and founding member of the National Society of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He is also a chief editor of Amal Magazine and host of a number of TV programmes, particularly in English language.

Talking about Islam, Dr. Turkistani said the Qur’an includes major events of the Torah and the Gospel; stories of Moses, Pharaoh, and the Exodus, David and Goliath and Joseph and his brothers, Mary and the Immaculate Conception and Jesus and his disciples – God’s peace and blessings be upon them all. “Muslims, Christians and Jews share a common history,” said Dr. Turkistani.

Historical background of inter-religious
initiatives and dialogue
Tracing the historical background of inter-religious initiatives and dialogues throughout the ages, Dr. Turkistani mentioned about Mughal India, Muslim Spain and Balkans under the Ottoman Turks. “Emperor Akbar the Great encouraged tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation of people of various faith backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. Muslim Spain is a clear historical example of a great religious pluralism. Another example of historical co-existence between people of different religions has been in the Balkans under the administration of the Ottoman Turks from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Muslims and Jews lived happily for hundreds of years in that region with some small incidents,” mentioned Dr. Ahmad.

Inter-religious initiatives and dialogue
In the 20th century
In the 20th century dialogue started to take place between the Abrahamic faiths, i.e. Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Dr. Turkistani mentioned in 1965 the Roman Catholic Church issued Vatican II documents Nostra Aetate, which instituted major changes in the Catholic Churches’ policy towards non-Christian religions. “Pope John Paul was a major advocate of interfaith dialogue promoting meetings in Assisi in the 1980s. Pope Benedict XVI has taken a more moderate and cautious approach stressing the need for interfaith inter-cultural dialogue but asserting Christian theological identity in the revolution of Jesus the Nazareth in a book published in Marcello Pera in 2004,” said Dr. Turkistani.

Moving into the most recent period and the Saudi involvement in the interfaith dialogue which started in the early 1970s through exchange of meetings and visits by Saudi religious scholars and Cardinals representing the Vatican Church. The historical movement in this regard was taken by King Abdullah four years ago. Dr. Turkistani mentioned, “The King Abdullah who is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madina, paid an historical visit to the Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican in November 6, 2007. During the meeting King Abdullah emphasized that dialogue among religions and cultures was essential in order to promote tolerance, get rid of violence and achieve peace and security for all peoples.”

King Abdullah’s interfaith initiatives and dialogue
King Abdullah continued this journey of interfaith dialogue in Makkah in June 2008 which was attended by more than 500 Muslim scholars and intellectuals throughout the world to set an agenda for building better relations between Muslims and the followers of other faiths. “The King addressed the gathering: ‘We are the voice of justice and moral values. We are the voice of rational and just co-existence and dialogue; the voice of wisdom and admonition and dialogue with the best way possible as. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an Call unto the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in a way that is best,” mentioned Dr. Turkistani. .

Dr. Turkistani continued, “King Abdullah said also that it is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the whole world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation and state that tragedies which have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion but were the result of extremism with some adherence of every divinely revealed religions and of every political ideology have been afflicted.”

The second conference on dialogue was held in Madrid on the 16th of July 2008 which was attended by 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well as representatives of oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations. Among the attendees were the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, Michael Sonaida and the Cardinal Jean Louis Toran in charge of dialogue between the Vatican and the Muslim world and representative of the Pope and he is the representative of the Pope. King Abdullah told the Madrid conference that if we want this historical encounter to succeed we must look to the things that unite us; our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions.

Dr. Turkistani mentioned, “The participants issued the final statement pointing to the agreement among the followers of religions and prominent cultures regarding the value of dialogue as a best way of mutual understanding and cooperation in human relations as well as peaceful co-existence among nations. The conference noted that terrorism is one of the most serious obstacles confronting dialogue and co-existence. Terrorism is the universal phenomenon that requires universal unified international efforts to combat it in a serious responsible and just way. This demand and the international agreement on defining terrorism and addressing its root causes and achieving justice and stability in the world.”

Referring to the recent revolutionary uprising in the Arab world, Dr. Turkistani observed, “Saudi Arabia has had its success in so far as focusing more specially of religious dialogue. Today many countries in the Arab world are going through a revolutionary uprising seeking more freedom and social justice, better life conditions and above all dignity and integrity of the governing system. Dialogue was and is being called upon to help resolve this conflict and save life sufferings and tearing these countries apart.”

King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious
and Inter-cultural Dialogue in Vienna
Last January, the three Kingdoms, the Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, have agreed to establish King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria, to help serve the cause of dialogue in conflict resolution. “Early this year Saudi Arabia has agreed to pay the cost of headquarter building and other founding expenses. King Abdullah believes in this cause wholeheartedly,” said Dr. Turkistani and observed, “One good example of the success of dialogue is which took place in Sudan. The South has chosen to separate, ending war and seeking better future for both parts of the Sudan based on understanding and cooperation.”

Saudi Arabia promoting dialogue at home
Saudi Government started promoting dialogue at home before taking all these international activities, mentioned Dr. Turkistani and said, The King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue was established in 2003 under the care of King Abdullah himself when he was the Crown Prince. The aim of the Centre lies in dissemination of the cultural dialogue as well as the basis for all dialogue-related activities and programmes building under technology, communication and scientific critical knowledge which have broadened the scope of human communication. Special emphasis was put on mass media and information flow as well as educational institution to utilise them as centres of co-existence and dialogue in the fields of thoughts, science, arts, and culture through all the centres to enhance the unofficial dialogue among the different religious sects in Saudi Arabia and to ensure the rights of religious minorities.”

Training Saudis to reinvent dialogue
The Centre imparts training to Saudis in dialogue as a life style. Referring to the training, Dr. Turkistani mentioned “of the project of training more than 40,000 influential trainers every year. The total number of trainers has exceeded 200,000 people. These include teachers, youth leaders and imams of Mosques. The idea behind the project rests on convening sessions to qualify trainers on dialogue, team-mates and communication skills. So far the centre has trained over 500,000 Saudis for different regions of the country and how to train students and members of their own local communities on dialogue techniques and communication skills.”

These initiatives have been stepped in the right direction in building religious harmony in the country, said Dr Turkistani and observed, “By empowering religious political leaders in their unique roles we can further King Abdullah’s quest for common values and respect for differences and foster pluralism both inside Saudi Arabia and around the world.”

Dr. Turkistani quoted the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner the editor of Tikkun Magazine in New York City, It may be hard for many of us to imagine a world in which Islam becomes identified with these values of love, generosity, kindness, tolerance, social justice and peace. Such a development for Islam owe for that matter for Judaism, Christianity with certainly be incredibly wonderful development. Dr. Turkistani said, “He continued saying the notion that Islam might be the spark that generates a new dialogue revival based on mutual respect and spiritual intensity could dramatically expand our understanding of the endless potential for God to surprise us and to undo our perceptual certainties and to open our hearts for each other.”

“Then he continuing saying, As for myself, he said, I would like to warn, however, that inter-religious dialogue can easily become an illusive exercise which scholars and religious leaders create among themselves clubby brotherhood across religious lines to perpetuate and in the worst case, justified the economic and social status quo.”

Dialogue is a noble mission
Dr. Turkistani observed, “Dialogue in its full acceptance is a noble mission distinguishing man from all other creatures on the basis of reason, language and communication which are qualities God has bestowed upon man for the benefit of mankind and the whole universe. The series of wars with which the world have been afflicted, the human toll of which exceeds the large deaths caused by natural disasters and catastrophes are real mark of disgrace for modern technologically developed humanity.”

Dr. Turkistani said, “We are today more than any other times in the past in dire need of formulating a new regulatory set of ethics for communicator actions or what the influential German philosopher Jurgen Habermas called, discourse of ethics. It is imperative for humanity at large to restore justice and to make up for food, culture and technological gaps.”

“There should be a fair distribution of resources and knowledge between countries and within nations and only by establishing peace and joint cooperation and solidarity and disseminating the culture of peace and justice can such objectives be attained. It is indeed high time to move from dialogue to devising plans and programmes, from theory to practice, from words to deeds and from knowledge to effective implementation,” concluded Dr. Turkistani.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Grand Mufti of Ghana in the United Kingdom

National Chief Imam of Ghana
in The United Kingdom

Dr. Mozammel Haque

His Eminence the National Chief Imam of Ghana, Sheikh Dr. Osman Nuhu Sharubutu came to the Islamic Cultural Centre and performed his Friday Jumah prayer at the London Central Mosque last Friday, 22nd of April, 2011. After having lunch, the Chief Imam of Ghana met Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, who welcomed him saying in Arabic Ahlan wa Sahlan Marhaba to the Islamic Cultural Centre.

Sheikh Dr. Osmanu met with Director and staff

of Islamic Cultural Centre London
“It is my great pleasure to receive and welcome His Eminence the National Chief Imam of Ghana Sheikh Dr. Osman today for many reasons; one of the reasons, is whenever any scholar or any Mufti comes from any Muslim country or throughout the world he brings with him new knowledge and new experience. His presence with us is great addition to our experience and to our knowledge and I am sure, Insha Allah, Muslim community will benefit from your stay in this country.”

Dr. al-Dubayan said, “We need at this time to work together more than even before; everybody in his field, in his way to present the right image or the right picture of Islam which is the faith of tolerance, the faith of dialogue, and the faith of good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Tracing the history of Islam in West Africa in General and Ghana in particular, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “I am sure the history of Islam in Ghana, in West Africa has a lot of experience of this brilliant picture about Islam. I hope your speech tomorrow after Asr prayer (afternoon prayer) will be really invaluable speech, will really give very good spiritual benefit for Muslim and Muslimah, male and female who are going to attend Insha Allah tomorrow.”

The National Chief Imam of Ghana said we thank Almighty Allah for all the very valuable statements presented by the Director of the London Central Mosque, the most popular and the most representative mosque of the United Kingdom, Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan.

The Chief Imam also said we are very thankful for the warm reception that we received from the London Central Mosque. “You have really practically demonstrated by your deeds, by your reception, the perfect example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, the truly happiest heart of a believer of Islam is truly sincere Muslims should honour his guest and then you have proven this and you have received us with smile, with joy and thereafter you fed us so satisfactorily,” said the Chief Imam.

“The aims and objectives of our everyday life in Ghana are to establish educational institutions whereby several children would attend the privilege and opportunity to acquire knowledge,” said the Chief Imam of Ghana.

Chief Imam of Ghana led Asr Prayer and
Lectured at London Central Mosque
On Saturday, 23rd of April the National Chief Imam of Ghana gave a lively valuable lecture on the Unity of Muslim after leading the Asr prayer (afternoon prayer) at the London Central Mosque.

Earlier, the National Chief Imam of Ghana, Sheikh Dr. Osman, also attended an event jointly organised by the Christian Muslim Forum, the London Interfaith Centre and the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) at the London Interfaith Centre at London on Monday 18th April for a round table discussion on the role of faith leaders to defuse intolerance, hate and twisted ideologies. Chief Imam of Ghana spoke on his experience in Ghana, and Africa.

Sheikh Dr. Osman came on a visit to the United Kingdom during this month of April to interact and meet with the Muslim Community leaders, other religious sects and government bodies for establishing deeper ties and relationship between the Ghanaian Muslims and British Muslims and promoting religious tolerance and understanding.

Sheikh Dr. Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu
His Eminence Sheikh Dr. Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu was born in Accra Old Fadama in mid-April, 1924 and studied first under his father, late Sheikh Nuhu Sharubutu and his uncle, late Sheikh Mohammed Mazawaje Abbas, who was the National Imam at that time. His parents taught him Qur’anic recitation and reading with the correct intonation as well as essay writing in Arabic.

In 1974, after lengthy debates and consultations among the country’s traditional Muslim and tribal chiefs, scholars and other religious leaders, it was agreed by consensus that Sheikh Osman should be appointed the Deputy National Imam of the Republic of Ghana. In 1993 Sheikh Dr. Osman was appointed the National Chief Imam of Ghana , succeeding his cousin, Sheikh Mukhtar Abbas, the then National Imam who was ill and physically weak.

Throughout his life, Sheikh Osman has a reputation for promoting Islamic education and encouraging the establishment of educational institutions. He has been involved in the establishment of institutions and organisations for providing services that address the humanitarian needs and empowerment of the Muslim youth in and outside Ghana. He personally sponsors over hundreds of needy Muslim children mostly from the disadvantaged and vulnerable Muslim communities in Ghana presently.

Sheikh Dr. Osman has, over the past 40 years, sponsored, established, built and run over 10 Islamic institutions that produced over 10 per cent of the current Islamic scholars in Ghana and in some neighbouring countries. These institutions are today run and managed by distinctive Islamic scholars all of whom have not known and not been taught by any other teacher or professor but him alone.

Sheikh Dr. Osman is currently financing a multi-million dollar educational complex at Kasoa central region with plans to replicate similar projects in other nine regions, it is learnt.

His mutual understanding, peaceful relationships and cooperation with other religions have culminated into him being a member of the National Peace Council of Ghana and twice (2006-7) been awarded by the President of the Republic of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufour (2000-08) as a member of the Star Award.

Owing to his degree of knowledge and experience, length of teaching, benevolent activities and his particular support for the needy he was in 2009 decorated and awarded a Doctorate Degree by the University of Ghana, Legon.