20th centuryThe first Japanese to go on the Hajj was Kotaro Yamaoka. He converted to Islam in 1909 in Bombay, after coming into contact with Russian-born writer, Abdürreşid İbrahim, whereupon he took the name Omar Yamaoka. Both were traveling with the support of nationalistic Japanese groups like the Black Dragon Society (Kokuryūkai), Yamaoka in fact had been with the intelligence service in Manchuria since the Russo-Japanese war. His official reason for travelling was to seek the Sultan's approval for building a mosque in Tokyo (completed 1938). This approval, granted 1910, was necessary as Sultan Abdülhamid II of the Ottoman Empire was the Khalifah of Islam and Ameerul Mu'mineen (the leader of all Muslims).
Another early Japanese convert was Bunpachiro Ariga, who about the same time went to India for trading purposes and converted to Islam under the influence of local Muslims there, and subsequently took the name Ahmed Ariga. Yamada Toajiro was from 1892 for almost twenty years the only resident Japanese trader in Istanbul. During this time he served unofficially as consul. He converted to Islam, and took the name Abdul Khalil, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca on his way home.
The real Muslim community life however did not start until the arrival of several hundred Turko-Tatar Muslim refugees from Central Asia and Russia in the wake of the October Revolution. These Muslims, who were given asylum, in Japan settled in several main cities around Japan and formed small communities. They are estimated at less than 600 in 1938 for Japan proper, a few thousand on the continent. Some Japanese converted to Islam through the contact with these Muslims.
Shaykh Ibrahim Sawada, Imam of Ahlulbayt Islamic Center in Tokyo
The Kobe Mosque was built in 1935 with the support of the Turko-tatar community of traders there. The Tokyo Mosque, planned since 1908 was finally completed in 1938, with generous financial support from the zaibatsu. Its first imams were Abdürreşid İbrahim (1857–1944), who had returned in 1938, and Abdulhay Qorbangali (1889–1972). Japanese Muslims played little role in building these mosques. To date there have been no Japanese who have become Imam of any of the mosques with the exception of Shaykh Ibrahim Sawada, imam of the Ahlulbayt Islamic Centre in Tokyo.
Some Shia Muslim families who were stationed in Tokyo in the 1960s established the first Azadari in Japan http://www.azadarijapan.com/injapan.asp . It was mostly a family affair some family used to gather together and listen to audio tapes. In the 1970s, there was a Pakistan business man Syed Ashiq Ali Bukhari who initiated first and majlis were held in his and his friend Nazim Zaidi's residence on a small scale. They used to have majlis in their home from the 7th Muharram till the 12th Muharram. Initially it was mostly audio tapes and later the video tapes were used. This continued till sometime late '70 s when Shia Pakistanis and Iranian workers started coming into Japan. Then with their help the Muharram / Majlis took a more organized Azadari form in Tokyo. From that time onwards each year during Muharram Azadari is performed.
The Greater Japan Muslim League (Dai Nihon Kaikyō Kyōkai 大日本回教協会) founded in 1930, was the first official Islamic organisation in Japan. It had the support of imperialistic circles during World War II, and caused an "Islamic Studies Boom". During this period, over 100 books and journals on Islam were published in Japan. While these organizations had their primary aim in intellectually equipping Japan's forces and intellectuals with better knowledge and understanding of the Islamic world, dismissing them as mere attempts to further Japan's aims for a "Greater Asia" does not reflect the nature of depth of these studies. Japanese and Muslim academia in their common aims of defeating Western colonialism had been forging ties since the early twentieth century, and with the destruction of the last remaining Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire, the advent of hostilities in World War II and the possibility of the same fate awaiting Japan, these academic and political exchanges and the alliances created reached a head. Therefore they were extremely active in forging links with academia and Muslim leaders and revolutionaries, many of whom were invited to Japan.
Nationalistic organizations like the Ajia Gikai, were 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. Intellectual exchange between the Islamic and Japanese academia was at its pinnacle at this time, only to crumble with Japan's defeat. After the Occupation had begun, the numerous Islamic institutions were dissolved and banned being as they had been at the forefront of academic study and protest in Japan against Western colonialism. Claims have been made of these organisations being mere fronts for the Japanese war effort; however the depth and breadth of Japanese-Islamic studies and academic and political exchange by promiment figures such as Shūmei Ōkawa as well as his student, Toshihiko Izutsu, the volumes of written work produced by these figures and others, their translations of the Qur'an, the conversion of numerous prominent figures in Japanese politics to Islam and their claim and such demonstrate that this was certainly not the case.
Shūmei Ōkawa, by far the highest-placed and most prominent figure in both Japanese government and academia in the matter of Japanese-Islamic exchange and studies, managed to complete his translation of the Qur'an in prison, while being prosecuted as an alleged class-A war criminal by the victorious Allied forces for being an 'organ of propaganda'. Charges were dropped for his erratic behaviour officially; however historians have speculated that the weakness of the charges against him were more likely the true reason for this. While Okawa did display unusual behaviour during the trial such as rapping on the head of Hideki Tōjō, he also stated that the trial was a farce and unworthy of being called one.
He was transferred to a hospital on official claims of mental instability and then prison, and freed not long thereafter, dying a Muslim in 1957 after a quiet life where he continued lecturing, on his return to his home village and his wife, who survived him. He claimed to have seen visions of Muhammad in his sleep
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established in 1935 in Japan
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