A very interesting article on the growth and history of Islam and Muslims in Japan. The Japan Times has an interesting article on an Osaka imam Mohsen Bayoumy who is contributing to Islam’s growth in the region.
Japan’s rich Muslim past and present
In 1970, only two mosques existed in the country, but now more than 200 offer sanctuary to Japan’s Muslims.
By: Samee Siddiqui
Tokyo, Japan – Tokyo Camii, or the Tokyo Mosque, is a curious sight, both stunning and subtle. Despite the grand Turkish design, the mosque hides between apartment blocks in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Yoyogi Uehara.
Construction of the current incarnation of the mosque was completed in 2000, but the mosque has a much longer history. It was in the 1930s when Japan first saw a significant resident Muslim population and the first mosques were established. The Nagoya Mosque was built in 1931 and the Kobe Mosque in 1935 by Indian-Muslim migrants.
Tatar Muslim migrants escaping the Russian revolution were the largest Muslim ethnic group in Japan by the 1930s and established the original Tokyo Mosque in 1938.
Hans Martin Kramer, a professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Heidelberg and an expert on religion in Japan, considers this to be the most prominent mosque in Japan, one that was “not only supported by the Japanese government, but also financed by Japanese companies, most notably Mitsubishi, and its opening ceremony was attended by dignitaries and diplomats from both Japan and the Islamic World”.
While the Tokyo Camii does not have the same support and contacts with Japanese government and large conglomerates in contemporary times, the mosque was rebuilt using funds from the Turkish government and is both a religious venue and an ethno-cultural space hosting wedding ceremonies, fashion shows, plays, exhibitions and conferences.
Marriage and conversion
Away from the tourists, marble floors and ornate interiors in a small alley around the corner from Tokyo Camii is Dr Musa Omer at the Yuai International School. The school is loud, unpretentious, chaotic and teeming with children. It is a Saturday and the school has activities and classes from 10am until 8pm. While the leadership at the school is looking towards offering full-time education in the near-future, it is currently limited to offering Saturday classes ranging from Islamic studies and Arabic, to karate and calligraphy.
The school is run by the Islamic Centre of Japan (ICJ), a post-WWII Muslim institution established in 1966. Omer – an advisor to the Saudi Ambassador and who has twice served as the Sudanese Ambassador to Japan – is its acting chairman.
On this day, Omer is preparing to marry a young couple in his small office – a Saudi man and a Japanese woman. Omer works on the marriage certificate and answers questions simultaneously. Like the atmosphere in the school, the wedding is informal and relaxed with both the bride and groom dressed casually. She is converting to Islam and will move to Saudi Arabia soon.
In a brief interlude, the woman is asked whether this is her first introduction to Islam, and she replies that it isn’t. Her relationship with the Saudi man started online two years ago and they decided to get married. Omer, with long-established links to the Saudi embassy, was contacted to assist the couple in arranging the wedding.
As the Japanese bride converts, she joins a tiny group of Japanese Muslims. In the absence of official statistics on Muslims in Japan, demographic estimates range from between 70,000 to 120,000 Muslim residents with about 10 percent of that number being Japanese, in a country with an overall population of more than 127 million.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the population of foreign workers in Japan has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, and reached more than two million at the end of 2011.
Muslim men in Japan have iftar, breaking of fast meal, during the holy month of Ramadan at Tokyo Camii in June [Reuters]
Yoshio Sugimoto describes how the population of foreign workers, which includes Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh for example, increased in the late 1980s and early ’90s as visa waiver programmes were introduced by the Japanese government to address an ageing workforce and a shortage of labour.