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.


UmaSeven said...

As salaamu alaykum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh Brother Haque.

Masha Allaah. Jazakum Allaahu Khayran for your post. My family (homeschoolers) are doing a project on Japanese Muslims and I find the information that you have provided very helpful.
I was wondering, is it possible to contact Br Taqy to ask him some additional questions regarding his embracing Islaam?

Jazakum Allaahu Khayran for your help.

Ramadan Mubarak

Uchujin said...

There is a short film that I made about Abdullah Taqy.

rahul sarkar said...

Buddhism Is The best Religion- Buddhism is the best religion in the world. It is the only religion which is based on philosophy and not on rituals and myths. Other religions are more ritualistic and mythological or more imaginative than philosophical. Ritualistic religions are full of superstitions while mythological or imaginative religions are unhistorical and unscientific. That is why now a days many people are accepting Buddhism as their faith. Accepting Buddhism is very simple. No formal conversion is necessary in Buddhism. One needs only to follow the path of Lord Buddha. Learn Buddhist philosophy and do practice in life. Do meditation in Buddhist temples. You will get peace in your life.

mohamed samir said...

masha allah jazak allah khairian