Visits to Mosques in Japan
Sameen Ahmed Khan
Salalah, Sultanate of Oman
Recently, I was in Tokyo, the capital of Japan to participate in the 24th Congress of the International Commission for Optics held from 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 Kabah) to perform the Salaat (prayers).
Muslims make up 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 those 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 that now include South Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Koreas and Japan.
Fast forward 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 Indian, Tatar and Japanese financial support. In the year 1938, the capital Tokyo had its first Masjid, known as the Tokyo Camii or the Tokyo Mosque. It was the second Masjid in Japan built by Tatar migrants fleeing 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 principal 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 of Japan is estimated to be about two hundred thousand. There are over a dozen translations of the Holy Qur’an in Japanese, dating from 1920.
For my visit to a 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 Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam to Madinah). It is to be recalled that the Dar Al-Arqam (House of Arqam) served as the center as there was no Mosque in Makkah Mukarramah at that time. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) 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 the wrath of the non-believers in Makkah Mukarramah.
The Daar Al-Arqam in Japan is located in 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 I had expected, the Masjid had a good library.
The second mosque I visited during my stay was Masjid Otsuka or the Otsuka Mosque (http://www.islam.or.jp/) run by the Japan Islamic Trust (JIT). It is very close to the Otsuka Metro Station. The JIT is a vibrant organization and arrangesa variety of activities. It runs an International Islamic School (http://www.iiso-edu.org/) that offers lessons in Arabic and Islamic Studies besides the regular curriculum. Significantly, JIT is doing Dawah 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 a Marriage Certificate. JIT also provides Family Counselling to beginners and others. It 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 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 digging, burial services and maintenance of the graveyard have to be managed by the relatives and well-wishers of the deceased. It is a one-time expense of about twelve hundred US$.
Many Masajid in Japan have arrangements for the ghusl (bathing) of the dead. JIT is also active in Refugee Assistance Programs during the calamities and disasters in Japan and beyond.
The Otsuka Masjid sponsors several social activities like summer camps, an outdoor activity with family and kids,during summer vacations. The Masjid also enables the annual Eid-ul-Adha Qurbani (sacrifice). It is remarkable that the Japan Islamic Trust and Masjid Otsuka help Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations.
Masjid Otsuka is not alone in these endeavors. There are several other Masajid extending similar services. I missed visiting the other Masajid in Tokyo. May be in the next visit, Inshallah I will be able to visit it.
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 succeed in performing this fifth pillar of Islam. Such gifts of Zamzam and literature are heartily welcomed in such remote places.
May Allah Almighty help us to realize the importance of Masajid, particularly in areas where Muslims are in minority, and make us His obedient servants (Amen).