Islam in Japan

Islam in Japan |Abdullah Taqy: the only native Japanese Imam in Tokyo

Muhammad ‘Abd al-Haqq

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Abdullah Taqy is the only Japanese Imam in Tokyo. A chance meeting with a foreign Muslim 12 years ago in Tokyo’s Shibuya district and a life spent studying various religions led him to convert to Islam 3 ½ years ago. He completed the Hajj, the worlds largest annual religious pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia 2 ½ years ago at the invitation of the Saudi Arabian government. Shortly after, a meeting with the man who started him down his path to Islam 12 years previously led him to becoming the Imam at a small mosque in the Kabukicho area of Tokyo.

Population of Japan – 127,000,000
Population of Tokyo – 13,000,000
No. of Muslims in Japan (estimate) – 100,000
No. of Japanese Muslims (estimate) – 10,000
No. who converted to Islam NOT for marriage(estimate) – 2 or 300
No. of Japanese Imam’s in Japan – 5
No. of Japanese Imam’s in Tokyo – 1

A talk by Imam Abdullah Taqy Takazawa, the only native Japanese Imam in Tokyo. He is the Imam at a Small mosque in the Kabukicho area of the city. Oxford University Islamic Society was fortunate enough to hold this unique event where the Imam gave a talk on Islam in Japan – past, present and future. He also talked about his own fascinating journey to Islam.

Early history

Altough the few and isolated records of contact between Muslims and Japan  are doubted before the opening of the country in 1853 to foreigners,  some Muslims did arrive in earlier centuries. The first modern Muslim contacts were reportedly with Malays who served aboard British and Dutch ships in the late 19th century. In the late 1870s, the life of Prophet Muhammad(saws) was translated into Japanese.

Another important contact was made in 1890 when Ottoman Turkey dispatched a naval vessel to Japan for the purpose of saluting the visit of Japanese Prince Komatsu Akihito to Istanbul several years earlier. This frigate was called the Ertugrul, and was destroyed in a storm along the coast of Wakayama Prefecture on the evening of September 16, 1890.

20th century

The first Japanese person to go on the Hajj was Kotaro Yamaoka. He reverted to Islam, after coming into contact with Russian-born  Muslim writer, Abdürreşid İbrahim, and he took the name Omar Yamaoka.  His official reason for travelling was to seek the Sultan’s approval for building a mosque in Tokyo (completed 1938). This approval was granted in 1910,by  Abdülhamid II. 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.

Turko-Tatar Muslim refugees from Central Asia and Russia arrived 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. 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. 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 Abdullah Taqy and the Shi’a Shaykh Ibrahim Sawada, imam of the Ahlulbayt Islamic Centre in Tokyo.

According to our favorite source, wikipedia:

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”.[4] 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.

Interesting fact:One Shūmei Ōkawa completed a translation of the meaning of the Qur’an in prison.

A World War II Story

The Turks have been the biggest Muslim community in Japan until recently. Pre-war Japan was well-known for its sympathy and favour towards Muslims in Central Asia, seeing in them an anti-Soviet ally. In those days some Japanese who worked in intelligence circles had contact with these Muslims. A few converted to Islam through these contacts, and embraced it after the war ended. There were also those who went to Southeast Asia as soldiers during the war. The pilots were instructed to say “La ilaha illa Allah”, (“There is no God but Allah”, the Muslim declaration of faith) when they were shot down in these regions, so that their lives would be spared. It was reported that one of the pilots was actually shot down and captured by the inhabitants. When he shouted the words to them, to his astonishment they changed their attitudes and treated him well.


According to

There are currently between 30 and 40 single-story mosques in Japan, plus another 100 or more apartment rooms set aside, in the absence of more suitable facilities, for prayers.

Muslims in Japan seem to face the same difficulties as Muslim in the West and other parts of the non-Muslim world with respect to communication, housing, child education, Islamic identity issues, community (mis)perception, dawah, and the availability of authentic Islamic knowledge and even halal food. Alhamdulillah they are not facing the same Islamophobia.

Japanese Children Reciting Qu’ran

Native Reverts

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3 Responses to Islam in Japan

  1. Pingback: imam suhaib webb « Abgrara’s Weblog

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