You didn’t think there were any Muslims to speak of in Japan? Neither did I. I could imagine a small community around the embassies of Islamic countries, and some Muslim businessman, but not much more among the famously insular Japanese.
But Islam in Japan is more substantial than that, and goes back many years, to before the Second World War.
I discovered these facts after reading yesterday’s article about the Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in Jakarta. The following caught my attention:
The freedom of expression that Muslims enjoy in Indonesia is a luxury compared to most other countries, said Hassan Ko Nakata of the Japanese Muslim Association.
That made me search for information on the Japanese Muslim Association, and led me to various web sources about Islam in Japan. According to the International Religious Freedom Report (pdf format) issued in 2005 by the State Department:
A small segment of the population, predominantly among foreign-born residents, attends Jewish or Islamic services. The Japanese Muslim Association reports there are roughly 100,000 Muslims in the country of whom 10,000 are citizens.
Other sources give somewhat different numbers. Most of the Muslims depicted in the various group photos I came across were of a Middle Eastern appearance, although quite a few of them appeared to be ethnic Japanese.
The most interesting account of Japanese Muslims came from an article published last year in Asharq Al-Awsat about an event in Saudi Arabia:
Dr. Satoro Nakamura spoke to an audience of intellectuals last week about Islam in Japan as part of the 6th annual al Qatif cultural forum. He said that the first accounts of Arabs and Islam in Japanese were written by Arai Hakuseki and that the first Japanese Muslim who converted whilst on a visit Turkey was Torajiro Yamada. Bumpachiro Ariga also converted to Islam under the influence of local Muslims when he went to Bombay for trading purposes.- - - - - - - - -
The first mosque in Japan was built in 1931 in the city of Nagoya and, with the help of Muslim refugees from Asia, another mosque was built in Kobe in 1935. It remains standing today. The lecturer also said that Islamic associations were formed prior to WWII and a Japanese Muslim Association was established after the conflict ended. It sent a number of student to al Azhar in Egypt, between 1957 and 1965, and to the Persian Gulf in the 1970s, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia.
With the 1970s dominated by a global oil crisis, Arabic began to be taught across Japan and a number of Japanese women married foreign Muslim businessmen who were attracted by the country’s booming economy in the 1980s.
Nakamura indicated that Muslims in Japan faced two main problems, a lack of education and burial grounds. He also pointed out that the Saudi government had founded the Institute for Arab and Islamic studies in 1983, which is affiliated with the Imam Mohammed Ibn Saudi University.
Islam is taught in Japanese schools from a historical perspective, but students needed to understand contemporary political issues better, Nakamura said. An estimated 70 thousand Muslims lived in Japan, according to statistics compiled in 2005, and worshiped in more than 15 mosques and 16 prayer rooms. The largest community of Muslims resides in Kobe.
The issue of burial grounds is an important one. The plots of land where Muslims are buried are considered to be waqf, or religiously endowed property. As we have seen with the issue of the Taj Mahal and many other sites in India, Muslim cemeteries become issues of bitter contention, with local Waqf Boards fighting via all possible legal means to gain control over the real estate involved and declare it part of the Ummah.
Whether waqf is an issue in Japan is not clear, but it’s interesting that the subject is being mentioned.
There are countries in the world in which virtually no Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists can be found — all of them Islamic countries.
But are there any countries in which there are no Muslims? Greenland, maybe? Antarctica?
Even a country as ethnically homogeneous as Japan has a Muslim Association.
It seems that the inclusive tolerance extended to Islam is a one-way street, and is never reciprocated. We welcome them into our midst, but we are never welcomed into theirs.
The infidel is to be suffered only until the opportunity arises to change his status.