Visiting the Japanese Mosques
A fascinating first-hand account of the small Muslim community and its Mosques in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, from SAMEEN AHMED KHAN who was on a visit to that country recently.
Recently, I was in Tokyo the capital of Japan to participate in the 24th Congress of the International Commission for Optics held during 21-25 August 2017 (ICO-24, http://ico24.org/). During the brief visit, I had the privilege to visit two Masajid (Mosques) in Tokyo. This enabled me to interact with the Muslim Community comprising of both locals and immigrants/ visitors. Before reaching the Masajid, I relied on the website http://www.qiblaway.com/ to know the Qibla (direction of Ka’bah) to perform the Salaat (prayers). Muslims constitute a very small minority in Japan. In this article, I shall outline my experience in Japan along with some historical notes.
The history of Islam in Japan is recorded in isolated documents. The oldest records mentioning Japan in this context are that of the celebrated Persian geographer Abu’l-Qasim Ubaydallah ibn Abdallah ibn Khordadbeh (820-912 CE). He is also known as Ibn Khordadbeh and Ibn Khurradadhbih. In the years 846/847, Ibn Khordadbeh wrote Kitāb al Masālik w’al Mamālik (The Book of Roads and Kingdoms). This encyclopedic work covers the vast geographic areas now including: South Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Koreas and Japan.
Leaping into the modern times, we note that the first Masjid (Mosque) was built in Japan in the city of Kobe (http://kobe-muslim-mosque.com/). The Kobe Mosque was built in 1935 with the contributions of Indian, Tatar and Japanese financial support. In the year 1938, the capital Tokyo had its first Masjid, which is known as the Tokyo Camii or the Tokyo Mosque. This was the second Masjid of Japan and was built by Tatar migrants escaping the Russian revolution. The Tokyo Masjid was rebuilt by the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey in the year 2000.
These two Masajid were the principle mosques in Japan till the 1970’s. Now, there are over two hundred mosques across Japan (see http://www.masjid.jp/ and http://muslim-guide.jp/ for details). The Muslim population in Japan is estimated to be about two hundred thousand. This is to be compared with the total population of Japan, which is 126 million. There are over a dozen meanings (translations) of the complete Holy Qur’an in Japanese, dating from 1920.
For my visit to the Masajid, I had to choose from over a dozen Masajid in Tokyo. The name of Daar Al-Arqam caught my attention due to its name and landmark significance in the early Meccan period [before the Hijrat/ Migration of the Holy Prophet (saws) to Madinah].
It is to be recalled that the Dar Al-Arqam (House of Arqam) served as the centre as there was no Mosque in Makkah Mukarramah at that time. The Holy Prophet (saws) used to meet his Companions at Dar Al-Arqam and teach them the essential tenets of Islam. The Companions used the Dal Al-Arqam to perform the prayers in secret fearing wrath of the non-believers in Makkah Mukarramah.
Coming back to the Japan, the Daar Al-Arqam is located in the locality of Asakusa. Hence, this Masjid is also known as the Asakusa Masjid/ Mosque (http://www.icoj.org/) and is not far from the well-connected Asakusa Metro Station. It was founded in 1992 by the Islamic Circle of Japan. Like most Japanese Masajid, Daar Al-Arqam is multistoried with one floor exclusively for the ladies. And as expected the Masjid had a good library.
The second Masjid, I visited was the Masjid Otsuka or the Otsuka Mosque (http://www.islam.or.jp/) run by the Japan Islamic Trust (JIT). This Masjid is very close to the Otsuka Metro Station. The JIT is vibrant with a variety of activities. The JIT runs an International Islamic School (http://www.iiso-edu.org/) covering Arabic and Islamic Studies along with the regular curriculum. Significantly, JIT is doing Da’wah activities and provides a Muslim Certificate to the reverts (converts). JIT holds regular classes for both Arabic and Japanese languages. The latter is of immense help to the immigrants and visitors. JIT also conducts Nikah and provides the Marriage Certificate. JIT also provides Family Counselling to beginners and others.
JIT remarkably supervises the burial services at the Yawara Muslim Graveyard, which is about 53km from the Otsuka Masjid. This Muslim Graveyard has a capacity of about four hundred and fifty Muslim-style graves and was originally financed by the late King Fahed of Saudi Arabia. The Yawara Muslim Graveyard has an office and prayer room. The graves are available absolutely free of cost. But the costs of the digging, burial services and maintenance of graveyard have to be managed by the relatives and well-wishers of the deceased. This is a onetime expense of about 1200 US$.
Many Masajid in Japan have arrangements for the ghusl (bathing) of the dead. JIT is active in the Refugee Assistance Programs, during the calamities and disasters in Japan and beyond! Otsuka Masjid has several social activities like arranging summer camps as an outdoor activity with family and kids during summer vacations. The Masjid enables the annual Eid-ul-Adha Qurbani (sacrifice). It is remarkable that the Japan Islamic Trust and Masjid Otsuka are able to cover all the facets in the lives of Muslims. Masjid Otsuka is not alone in its endeavors. There are several other Masajid doing similar services.
I missed visiting other Masajid in Tokyo. Maybe in the next visit, Inshallah. Those visiting the Masajid in such remote areas are requested to carry some gifts for them. The ideal possibilities are Zamzam, Literature, scarfs, abaya/ burqua and prayer mats. The costs of Hajj are enormous and the schedules are extremely busy. So, very few end up performing this fifth pillar of Islam. Such gifts of Zamzam and literature are heartily welcomed in such remote locations.
May Allah Almighty help us to realize the importance of Masajid particularly in areas where Muslims are in minority, and make us its obedient servants, Aameen.
* Dr. Sameen Ahmed Khan works at the Department of Mathematics and Sciences, College of Arts and Applied Sciences, Dhofar University, Salalah, Sultanate of Oman. He receives his mail at email@example.com, http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1264-2302
Masjid Daar Al-Arqam, Tokyo
Masjid Otsuka, Tokyo, Japan.