Islam in Japan: The story goes back over 300 years

History Contributor
Islam in Japan
© Tawatchai Prakobkit |

The history of Islam in Japan is brief and unique compared to the profound presence of this religion in other countries. However, at present, the Muslims in Japan are established and well settled. About 10% of the Islam population in Japan is native. The history of Islam in Japan dates back over three centuries. The historians and theologists believe that the first Islamic people settled in Yokohama and Kobe during the rule of the Meiji.

Initiation of Islam in Japan

The light of Islam reached Japan towards the end of the nineteenth century. Before that, some strayed records of connection between Islam and Japan. For example, some Muslims did arrive at the 1700s. But these are not so impactful. Nowadays, Japanese Muslim community consists of immigrant people and a small ethnic Japanese people.

Japan reached out its hand of friendship in the early Meiji period, the timeline of it was 1868-1890. The main aim was to build a sustainable relationship with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. At that time, only Ottoman and Japanese rulers enjoyed independence amidst the conquered countries of the Western World. But slowly, they understood that the West is planning to invade their countries. Therefore, Japan and Ottoman Empire decided to establish a friendly relationship among them.

Sultan Abdul Hamid, who reigned between the year 1876 and 1909, sent an imperial warship to Japan in the year 1890. The name of the ship was Ertugal. There were 600 sailors aboard and this ship was a gift to the Emperor Meiji of Japan. Uthman Pasha, the admiral, led the ship.The Ertugal was welcomed in Japan with much enthusiasm. The reception was friendly and generous. Unfortunately, a shipwreck occurred due to an unexpected typhoon. All but 70 of its crew died in that wreck.

Although the ending was tragic, this goodwill mission was impactful for both the Empire. With the initiative of Japan, the sailors were buried near the accident site. Moreover, a museum was set up nearby of it. The Japanese and the Turks visit the museum every five years till these days. From this time, a number of Indian Muslim traders started to live in Kobe and Tokyo. They are said to be the first Islam community in Japan.

The spread of Islam in Japan

The Islamic world became more interested in Japan after the year 1905. The Japanese had defeated the Russians in Russo-Japanese war. The Muslims were fascinated as they saw that a tiny country defeated the huge Russian imperium. In this way, some Muslims took an initiative to go and settle in Japan. Some Arab and Egyptian officers joined the Japanese army and married Japanese women. Similarly, the Japanese became interested in Islam due to its expansionist and economic reasons. Moreover, the peace-loving nature of Islam attracted the Japanese. Hence, the growth of Islam started. The Holy Quran was translated into Japanese. Other works of Islamic scholars were also translated. In the year 1952, Japanese Muslims established the ‘Japan Muslim Association.’

Islam continued to spread even more after World War II. At that time, Japan became fascinated by the Middle East. The oil crisis of 1973 made Japanese more interested in befriending Islamic states. At that time, the Al Azhar University of Cairo began a student exchange programme and Islam scholarships with Japan. Therefore, we can say the blending of two cultures was profound.

Present-day Islam and Japan

The actual size of the present-day Islamic population in Japan is actually a matter of speculation. There is an estimation that in 2010, Japan had a growing population of 180000 Muslim migrants. Along with the second generation of Japanese Native Muslims.

The Pew Research Center projected that by 2030, the Islamic population of Japan will decrease to 171000.

According to Dr. Salih Mehedi Al Samarrai, who is the chairman of the Islamic Centre- Japan, the present generation of Muslims in the country is suffering from a lack of Islamic Educational system. That is why they are becoming more and more secular day by day. We must remember that Islam is a noble religion. Therefore, we must help our Japanese Ummah to sustain the religion and follow the path of Allah. Ameen.