Sunday 9 December 2018

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Japan

Islam in Japan is a relatively new religion. The earliest Muslim records of Japan can be found in the works of the Muslim cartographer Ibn Khordadbeh, who has mentioned Japan as the "lands of Waqwaq": "East of China are the lands of Waqwaq, which are so rich in gold that the inhabitants make the chains for their dogs and the collars for their monkeys of this metal. They manufacture tunics woven with gold. Excellent ebony wood is found there.” And: “"Gold and ebony are exported from Waqwaq." Mahmud Kashgari's 11th century atlas indicates the land routes of the Silk Road and Japan in the map's easternmost extent. [1]

From then on, the presence and mention of Muslims is found during the various dynastic rules. Some Portuguese sailors are said to have made a mention of an Arab passenger aboard their ship, who had sailed to the islands in Malacca in 1555 and preached Islam to the people of Japan. The scriptural Islamic made their inroads to Japan in the last quarter of the 19th century when the biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was translated into Japanese. This helped Islam spread and reach the Japanese people. Another important contact was made in 1890 when the Ottoman Empire dispatched a frigate "Ertugrul"  to Japan for the purpose of saluting the visit of Japanese Prince Komatsu Akihito to Constantinople several years earlier. However, the vessel was destroyed in a storm along the coast of Wakayama Prefecture on September 16, 1890. [1]

Tokyo Camii (mosque) in Yoyogi, Tokyo -(Photo WAEDA University - Research Associate Hirofumi Okai)

After the Russian October Revolution,  hundreds of Turko-Tatar Muslim refugees from Central Asia and Russia came to Japan and given asylum. In 1909 the first ethnic Japanese, Kotaro Yamaoka embraced Islam and took the name Omar Yamaoka. He also became the first Japanese to go on the Hajj. During his journey, he also sought the Sultan's approval for building a mosque in Tokyo. This approval was granted in 1910 and the Tokyo Mosque (more on Tokyo mosque a little while later) completed in 1938. However, Kobe Mosque was Japan’s first mosque built in 1935 with the support of the Turko-Tatar community.

Some nationalistic organizations have been instrumental in petitioning the Japanese government on matters such as officially recognizing Islam, along with Shintoism, Christianity and Buddhism as a religion in Japan, and in providing funding and training to Muslim resistance movements in Southeast Asia, such as the Hizbullah, a resistance group funded by Japan in the Dutch Indies. The Greater Japan Muslim League founded in 1930, was the first official Islamic organization in Japan and caused an "Islamic Studies Boom". It was the time when Shūmei Ōkawa managed to complete his translation of the Qur'an.

After the World War II, Turks were the biggest Muslim community in Japan. The Japanese invasion of China and South East Asian regions during the WW II brought the Japanese in contact with Muslims. Those who converted to Islam through them returned to Japan and established in 1953 the first Japanese Muslim organization, the "Japan Muslim Association", which was officially granted recognition as a religious organization in 1968. The economic boom in Japan in the 1980s saw an influx of immigrants to Japan. Today, there are Muslim student associations at some Japanese universities.

As for the total population of Muslims, the estimates are mere speculations as there are no official account available. As per some Japanese scholars, Muslim population is around 70,000, of which perhaps 90% are resident foreigners and about 10% native Japanese. Of the immigrant communities, in order of population size, are Indonesians, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Iranians. The Pew Research Center estimated that there were 185,000 Muslims in Japan in 2010.

The Japanese have started to realize the importance of growing Muslim population in Japan and wish to understand them better which they call the first step in living in harmony starts from taking an interest in the other party:
“By the end of this century, Muslims will overtake Christians to become the world’s largest religion in terms of followers. In fact, it is not uncommon to find Muslim community in our surroundings. It is important for us to first lend a listening ear to better understand them in order for us to live in harmony with the Muslim community,” says Professor Tanada from the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University. [2]
Japan has seen an increase in people converting to Islam. The majority of Japanese converts are believed to enter the faith upon marriage to foreign Muslim spouses. Shigeru Shimoyama, a spokesman for the Tokyo Camii and a convert himself, estimated in an interview with Nippon News in 2013 that around five Japanese enter the Islamic faith every month. Japanese wrestling icon Antonio Inoki famously converted to Islam in the 1990s, changing his name officially to Muhammad Hussain Inoki, a decision he revealed publicly only recently. Besides becoming an emblem of religious tolerance, Inoki continues to make his mark as an ambassador for world peace on the global stage.[4]

Since the beginning of 1990s, there has been an increasing number of mosques being built across the Japanese archipelago, from Okinawa prefecture all the way to Hokkaido prefecture. Even though there are currently over 90 mosques throughout Japan, most Japanese are unaware of it. The Muslims living in Japan come from diverse backgrounds – nationality, ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, clothing, etc. Some Muslims strictly follow customs and traditions such as prayers and fasting, while others enjoy more freedom. As such, people who have never met or interacted with a Muslim might have misconceptions and stereotypes about them. [2]

Saeed Akhtar of NAHA [Photo]

One of the top concerns for Muslims traveling to non-Muslim countries is food. Nippon Asia Halal Association (NAHA) which is one of the halal certification organizations in Japan, sends out its auditors to visit eateries to ensure that the ingredients and equipment used meet halal standards. NAHA chair Dr. Saeed Akhtar, overseeing the certification process, commends Japanese as “sincere and thorough in complying with halal rules.” Dr Saeed Akhtar, is graduate from the University of Agriculture, Rawalpindi and the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. He received his PhD in 1999 from the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo. [3]

The mosque on wheels has the capacity for up to 50 people [Mobile Mosque Executive Committee via AP]

Muslims are given due consideration when it comes to performance of their religious rituals. As Japan prepares to host visitors from around the world for the 2020 Summer Olympics, a Tokyo sports and cultural events company has created a mosque on wheels that its head hopes will make Muslim visitors feel at home. Sakaguchi, the representative director of an Osaka retail company says, "Going forward, I would be so happy if people from Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa, the Middle East and, for example, refugees who are coming from Syria are able to use the mosque as a tool to promote world peace." [6]

However, living in Japan as a foreigner and as a Muslims has its own problems. The main problem arises when one is seen as a non-Japanese, which something instantly known due sharp contrast between the physical appearance. In fact foreigners are known as "gaijin or gaikokujin," literally “people from the outside.” And when it comes to religion, Japanese Christians and Muslims are to a degree seen as somewhat 'different' as they subscribe to what are widely perceived as being foreign ideas. There are many more traditional people who would say that their views make them rather less Japanese. In fact in Japan, one is either Japanese or they are not. [5]

Due to small space available in most of the mosques, the space cramps are felt during larger congregations like during the Ramadan and Eid festivals. “We had to hold the prayers four separate times so all the people lining up could fit in,” explains Haroon Qureshi, secretary-general of the mosque’s Japan Islamic Trust organization. “There must have been 1,000 people waiting to pray.” [4]

The fears over Muslims' presence in the wake of Islamophobia is yet another concern for the Muslims. Although, Islamic terrorism represents no domestic threat in Japan today, and never has in the past, many Muslims feel that while performing their religious rituals in congregations, a cloud hangs over their celebrations and it seems that they are constantly under the ever-watchful eyes of the police. Qureshi, like almost all of Japan’s roughly 100,000 Muslim residents, is no stranger to police surveillance. However, the true extent of the systematic profiling and surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community only came to light in 2010, when over 100 internal Metropolitan Police Department documents were leaked on line. The leak revealed that the police had compiled detailed profiles on 72,000 Muslims and their including personal information. The leak also showed that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques and used undercover agents to infiltrate Islamic nonprofit organizations and halal grocers and restaurants. [4]

Junko Hayashi, 37, a Japanese Muslim who converted to Islam in 2001, has also become the country’s first female Muslim lawyer. Commenting on the leaked police surveillance of Muslims, Hayashi argues “If somebody did something wrong, did something suspicious, then the police have a good reason to watch them. But when you are just being Muslims — acting like a Muslim — it doesn't make sense.” 

A Japanese convert to Islam, who asked that his real name not be used, says that when intelligence officers started regularly visiting him shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he was courteous. “They would come to me at home or at the mosque,” he recalls. “I didn't want to be misunderstood, for them to think I am against them, so I always gave them my time. They always asked me very simple questions about Islam, and eventually I told them they were just wasting time. “There are better ways to use the citizens’ tax money,” he adds with a laugh. He was among those listed in the leaked documents, and was one of the 17 Muslims who took the government to court over the spying.

Herein under watch the video on how ordinary Japanese think about Islam and Muslims:
As can be seen from the video, the general perception about the Muslims is very positive. We do hope, with no case of Muslim terrorism ever taken place in Japan, the life of Muslims in Japan will come to an ease as Japanese authorities start to understand the very peaceful Muslim community of their country.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries.

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.

References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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