Islamic Culture Forum 5- 28 February 1976-Islamic Culture Society (JAPAN)
the Tokyo Mosque

Some of our readers have expressed surprise knowing for the first time thatthere are Muslims in Japan and that there are also mosques in this country・ 

Perhaps this surprise originates from the fact that although Japan is very we11-known as an economically advanced country to the people of the world,its spiritual image among them is apparently one of non-lslamic,even anti' lslamic.

ln the past, Japan had a very thin or no relation at all with lslam. Until about seventy years ago most of the Japanese did not have any clear idea of the existence of a religion called lslam.0nly recently that many of them came to know about the lslamic world. And the oil crisis gave them the opportunity to know quite wen that a large number of the people of Asia and Africa are believers of lslam because the shock came mainly from the Middle Eastem Muslim countries from where Japan must have most of its on requirements.Yet, though the Japanese people have shown great interest in the oil producing Muslim countries, their lands and their People,very few have shown any interestin these people's religion−lslam. At the same time, the number of the Japanese Muslims is so negligible that they are also not in a position to exert them selves and impress upon their non-Muslim compatriots so far as the religion of lslam is concerned.

 For instance, the oldest organization of the Japanese Muslims, Japan Muslim Association,which has a history of 24 years,has a regular Japanese Muslim membership of not more than one is quite likely that for various reasons hundreds of other Japanese Muslims have not enrolled themselves as members of Japan Muslim Association. ln any case, it is true that its membership has not increased upto the extent as one could expect of it for a period of 24 years.

However,in spite of such unfavour able circumstances,we can see that a Pioneer Japanese Muslim,Mitsutaro Yamaoka, Performed Hajj and became the first among the Japanese Muslims to do so as early as in 1909. From 1920 until today, at least six Japanese translations of the Holy Quran were published,among them, the one rendered by Haji Umar Mita is the only one by・a Muslim scholar,and the rest by non-Muslims. Thus,it can be said that at least several hundred thousand Japanese have had the opportunity to read the meaning of the Holy Quran although not all of the translations can claim accuracy or genumeness.

 Before World War II, many organizations sprang up for the purpose of study and research on lslam. 0ne such organization was “Dai-Nippon Kaikyo Kyokai" (Japan lslamic Association),supported by the then Japanese Govemment with Prime Minister General Senjuro Hayashi (1876〜1943) as its President. But almost all of them were organized by non-Muslim scholars or people interested only in its cultural study.None of them, thus,could be called a part of lslamic call movement by any means. But there were also a few lslamic establishments meant for the religious activities of the Muslims. Among them were the Kobe Mosque established in 1935, the Tokyo Mosque in 1938 and another small place of worship in Nagoya city about the same time.However,since then nearly forty years have passed and during this long Period great many Japanese came in contact with the Muslims or acquaintcd with lslam. Yet the number of Muslims has not increased remarkably.Why? What were the difficulties that stood in the way of spreading lslam in this country?

To answer this question, l want to have close look into the situation some forty years ago when the Tokyo Mosque and other mosques were built, and into the role of the Tokyo Mosque, in particular,in spreading lslam in Japan・

At Present,the Tokyo Mosque is situated in the Oyama quarters of Shibuya Ward of Tokyo. lt was first opened for prayer on 12 May 1938 which was also the Prophet's Birthday.0n that auspicious day of the opening ceremony,apart from the foreign Muslim residents.of Tokyo, Muslim guests from various parts of the world including China,Southeast Asia,lndia,Middle East and others also attended the ceremony on invitation.Among the distinguished guests were Amir Saiful lslam AI-Hussein, the fourth prince of the Kingdom of Yemen attended,representing the lmam of Yemen accompanied by Foreign Minister Hussein Al-Gibsi and Hodeida Governor Qadi Ali Al-Hussein Al-Amri; Sheikh Hanz Wahaba,Minister at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the united Kingdom,representing the King of Saudi Arabia; and Abdul Wahhab Dawood Bey, Minister at the Egyptian Embassy in Tokyo, representing the King of EgyPt .and many others from a number of Muslim countries.
 Holy Quran, first printed in Japan (1938)
 From the Japanese side,Patriotic political leaders like Mitsuru Toyama and General lwane Matsui, the Minister of Education and many other influential personalities attended the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Mosque. From the grandeur of the ceremony through the participation of so many Japanese and foreign dignitaries, it appeared as if a strong lslamic movement is going to take place in Japan.

The fund that was made avaUable for the construction of the Tokyo Mosque amounted to about 120-thousand in the old Japanese yen currency the
present valuation of which could be equivalent to nearly 800-thousand US dollars.lf looked from the present-day circumstances of the Japanese Muslims,this is an unimaginably large amount.

Unfortunately, however,the worldwide connagration of the Second Great War and its end throughthe defeat of Japan, in effect, destroyed what appeared to be the start of a strong lslamic movement in this country. All the institutions and organizations which had hitherto been making efforts for the study of lslam or supporting the Tokyo
Mosque,were disbanded because they were sponsored or supported by the pre-War Japanese Govemment or the Japanese Military authorities throouth providing finance or leadership.

ln spite of all the twists and turns,since about seventy years ago,lslam made its way into Japan, though in a very slow pace, and the People started to know about lslam little by little through the translations of the life of Prophet Muhammad(SAW)as well as the Holy Quran which found their way along the Westem culture. Thus,lslam was introduced in Japan not as a religious belief for the Japanese People, rather as a socio-cultural study. So its diffusion was not possible as a religious belief.

Perhaps it was from around 1920 that lslam became a practiced religion in Japan by both the foreign and the Japanese Muslims when a group of Mus1ims of Tartar Turk origin migrated from the USSR to Japan in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and settled in Japan. The Japanese Government which was strongly anti-Communist-showed great sympathy for these uprooted Russian Muslims, numbering about 600,and helped most of them to settle in this country under its protection. Among them, about 400 settled in Japan mainly in Tokyo,Kansai and Nagoya areas and made their living mainly on peddling woolen cloth. At the same time,they were the first people who established the lslamic life in this non-lslamic land. ln other words, lslamic religious life started in Japan with the immigration of these Tartar Turk refugees from Russia and with this started the intercourse between the local Japanese people and lslam, though in a very insignincant scale.

After their settlement in Japan, these Muslims needed to make contacts with the Japanese Govemment as well as with various other politica1,economic or social cirdes for the purpose of improving their situation, Fortunately, they were blessed at that time with a very resourceful leader in the person of the late Muhammad Abdu1 Hai Kurban Ali.

 Son of a Bashikirit lmam,Kurban Ali was born in 1890 in Orenburg,eastem Russia. He came in contact with the Japanese Army in Manchuria when he was fleeing from the Soviet Russia along with other Tartar Muslims. There he earned sympathy of the Japanese Army. ln 1920, when he came to Japan,he was provided with a job of teaching Turkish and Russian at the General Staff Headquarters of the Japanese Army.
 Late Kurban Ali with Mitsuru Toyama and other eminent Japanese
(standing second from left)
Kurban Ali was a man of great political and diplomatic acumen and possessed other statesmanlike qualities. He was also sociable and personable,the qualities which could influence people. With the help of all these qualities and by dint of untiring zeal and efforts as well as his convincing arguments,he impressed upon the Japanese Government,politica1, economic and military leaders,like Mitsuru Toyama (1855−1944),Tsuyoki lnugai (1855−1932),Shigenobu Okuma(1838−1922),Chosei Ogasawara,Tokijiro Jitsukawa and so on,about the necessity of Japan's having strong ties with the Muslims of the world,By his convincing advocacy, many influential Japanese became sympathetic toward the lslamic cause,though in political sense, and Kurban Ali earned their material and moral support for lslamic activities.Thus,in 1931,with their help and support an office of theTurkish Muslims was established in Tomigaya in Shibuya Ward of Tokyo, not very far from the Present location of the Tokyo Mosque.

  ln this office premises, educational facities for the Tartar Turk children and an Arabic printing press were estab1ished. From this press,Kurban Ali Published a monthly magazine called Yane Yapon in the Tartar language. ln 1938, an Arabic Print of the Holy Quran was brought out from this Press for the first time in Japan. Through the Yane Yapon Mokhbiri he succeeded in drawing attention of People from various parts of the world. Thus,the magazine played an important role in establishing goodwill and understanding between its readers abroad and the Japanese People. As a result, it also earned high esteem and sympathy of many leading personalities in the Japanese politica1, economic and military circles. And also,just this was the time when the Japanese militalism was at its peak and when Japan was trying to establish a policy of cooperation and rapport toward the Muslim countries.
Late Kurban Ali
Kurban Ali had a long cherished desire for building a mosque in Tokyo. With the help and support from various Japanese Patrons, he at last succeeded in collecting necessary funds for the land and building of a mosque. A top shipping magnet of those days, Kamesaburo Yamashita(1867−1944),donated 1,655m2 of his own land for the site of the Planned mosque. For the expenses of construction, the then Mitsubishi Bank President Kiyoshi Seshimo personally donated 20'thousand Pre War Japanese yen. EnterPrises such as Mitsui,Mitsubishi,Sumitomo and many others also made contribution. The total sum thus collected,as mentioned earlier,amounted to about 120 thousand Pre-War Japanese yen (the Present valuation may amount to about 800 thousand US dollars). The whole amount was handed over to Kurban Ali to meet the cost of construction of the mosque bulding. ln October 1937, Kurban Ali initiated the construction designed by architect Yoshimoto and operated by the Morota Construction company. The building was completed、in May 1938. This is what the present-day Tokyo Mosque situated in the Oyama quarters of Shibuya Ward in Tokyo.

As the leader of the Tartar Turk immigrants and also of the Muslims in genera1,Kurban Ali left many achjevements to his credit. 0n the other hand,because of his uncompromising attitude and strongly individualistic manner in the face of any interference, there also occurred some serious troubles involving him. 0ne such example is his confict with Ayas lshaq,a Prominent leader of the Tartar National Movement, who visited Japan in 1933. 1n another example,althoug he did not have any frontal conflict with lmam lbrahim Bey,the Grand Mufti of Tartar, who came to Japan on a second visit (first visit in the turn of the century)sponsored by the Turkish Embassy in Tokyo,Kurban Ali did not find it opportune to cooperate with him, either. When the construction of the Mosque was making rapid Progress toward completion,a fierce controversy arouse on the question who will become the lmam of the Tokyo Mosque. The situation developed into so serious proportion that,out of political expediency, the Japanese Government intervened. The result was that Kurban Ali was deported to Dairen (Lu-Ta),Manchuria. Thus,the man who
was the driving force behind the building of the Tokyo Mosque could not even attend its opening ceremony. He had also to leave his family in Tokyo never to meet them again. After World War ll, the Soviets took him as a Prisoner. ln 1972,Kurban Ali breathed his last in Chelyabinsk,Soviet union.He was then 82.
 Tokyo Mosque: Designers drawing, showing completion,
Under constraction
 When World War ll came to an end,a greater part of Tokyo was in ruins due to air raids. Fortunately,the Tokyo Mosque escaped destruction or damage. But the conditions surrounding lslam or the Tokyo Mosque drastically changed. After Japan's defeat in the War,all kinds of organizations associated with the defunct lmperial Japanese military were disbanded or reorganized appropriate to the new situation. So was the fate of the organizations which were patronized by the military for the study of lslamic culture. The New Law of Japan did not permit the Japanese Government to suport any particular religious group or to help diffuse religious education as a faith in the government institutions. As a result,all sorts of lslamic activities have had to dependsolely upon private support of only the Muslims within and without Japan. The Tokyo Mosque came to be maintained by the Turkish community living in Japan.
  However,even after the War,the Tokyo Mosque continued to be mainly a place of worship for only those who are already Muslims. ln the Post-War years,when many countries with pre-dominately Muslim population became independent and have had ties with Japan, an increasing number of foreign Muslims both for Private or official visits started coming to Japan, and the Tokyo
 Tokyo Mosque: lmam Ainan Safa on the minbar,
 There should not be any language controversy involving a Baitullah. There is also not a single Muslim to raise any question regarding using Arabic in the Salat. But the Khutba given by the Khatib must be understood by all the worshippers present. Specially,the Japanese who generally do not speak or understand a foreign language will extremely welcome the use of Japanese for Khutba and other deliberations in the Mosque.
  Another point is that the Tokyo Mosque’s role also as the Pivot of the lslamic call movement among the Japanese people must be stressed. Because the call movement is aimed at the Japanese,they must also have a feeling of Participation in all the functions of the Tokyo Mosque instead of merely playing the role of onlooker. Unfortunately,there has not been any scope for a feeling of participation among the Japanese Muslims for various reasons. Before the War when the Japanese Government and others supported the establishment of the Tokyo Mosque,they did it for political expediency and meant it for the foreign Muslims. They had nothjng do with the diffusion of lslamic education or spreading lslam in this country. ln fact, one cannot expect of them any such purpose other than expediency. And as a natural corollary,no one could expect much of the Tokyo Mosque playing a vital role in the lslamic call movement in addition to its Providing a place of worship for the Mus1ims,mostly foreign in those days. lt is interesting to note that in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Mosque on 12 May 1938,a large number of non-Mushm Japanese supporters including Japanese military officials together with foreign Muslim dignitaries attended,but it is said that there was not a single Muslim Japanese attending. ln sum,the use of the Japanese language in the Tokyo Mosque, in the situations where it can be or should be used、will raise a sense of participation among the Japanese and, in effect,it will he1p strengthening the lslamic call movement in this country. 0n the part of the Japanese Muslims, they must also play their own responsible role in creating a favourable atmosphere for the lslamic call movement in their country to bund a line of generations of Mulsims. lt is a fact that they did not perform their duties in the past properly, neither are they performing them in the present days. Throwing out any kinds of passiveness,they must come forward and work in a positive manner for the cause in cooperation with their other brethren. 0nly as a result of their own efforts we can look forward to the day when a Khutba will be given also in Japanese also by a Japanese lmam.

The wooden and concrete structure of the Tokyo Mosque is now experiencing the wear and tear of time. And now is the time to make efforts to build a new modern structure with more congenial atmosphere pervading the Mosque as well with better facilities so that it can play its desired role not only as mere a place of worship but also as the centre of lslamic call movement in Japan.