An abridged English translation of the Japanese report on Da'wa Workers Training Conference, 1995
Translated by Masahiko Yamamoto
Checked by Syed Murtuza Kurasawa (1)
Outline of the Conference
A conference on the Da'wa Workers Training was held under the auspices of Islamic Center Japan on May 13 and 14, 1995 by inviting delegates from various Islamic organizations in Japan. The conference was attended by sixty-three participants from more than twenty organizations contributing to highly beneficial discussions for two days held at the second floor of the Center.
The purpose of the conference was to make discussions on four areas of concern about Da'wa activity ― i.e. the propagation of Islamic education. The topics discussed were as follows:
(1) Existing conditions and problems of respective organizations,
(2) Practical system of cooperation among the organizations,
(3) The Japanese cultural aspects and perception about Islam,
(4) Support for Islamic identity and religious life of Muslims in Japan.
On the first day, a keynote lecture entitled "Islam and We Muslims in Japan" was delivered by Dr. Saleh al-Samarrai. Continuing to that, activity report from each participating organizations followed. The Regional Director of the Center, Prof. Syed Murtuza Kurasawa served as the chair and facilitator for the sessions.
On the second day, three sub-committee meetings on: (1) the Problems of Da'wa activity, (2) the Ways of Da'wa, and (3) Practicable system of Cooperation for Da'wa, were held followed by a joint-session forum. All delegates and participants provided various opinions followed by lively discussion. A memorandum of resolutions was adopted and it was decided to send the document to all organizations in Japan in the form of ‘Memorandum of the Conference’.
Proceedings of the Conference
Moderator: Assalamo-alaikum wa-Rahmatullah wa-Barakatuhu. I wish to extend my greetings to everyone here.
Some more participants are still expected to arrive. However, since we are already a few minutes past the due time, so please allow me to start the session. First, on behalf of the Islamic Center, I would like to express my hearty welcome to you. Thank you very much for coming to the Da'wa Workers Training Conference.
By the way, my name is Syed Murtuza Kurasawa, and I am serving as the Director for Regional Affairs at the Center. I live in Nagoya and teach at university. I deeply appreciate the efforts of the staff and other directors of the Islamic Center for making this conference possible.
I hope that the two-day conference held today and tomorrow will help improve Da'wa workers training through frank discussion and exchange of opinions by the delegates coming from all over Japan representing various Islamic organizations. The results of this conference will obviously be utilized for Islamic activity, in other words, for Da'wa activity in Japan.
After recitation of the Qur'an by Br. Yahya from Kobe mosque, the Chairman of Board of Directors of the Islamic Center Japan, Mr. Muneer Watanabe will deliver an opening address to you. Thank you.
The recitation of the Holy Qur'an
Mr. Watanabe: Salam alaikum. As I have just now been introduced to you, I am Abdul Muneer Watanabe, the Chairman of the Center. I am pleased to meet you. Please allow me to express a few words of thanks. Thank you very much for your coming all the way to this Center in spite of your busy time. These days, as you probably know, the number of inquiries at this Center, such as, problems related to mass media reportage on Islam, or the regrettable reality of description about Islam in high school world-history textbooks, and furthermore, problems concerning Muslims living in Japan are increasing day by day. So now, it is becoming increasingly necessary to understand Islam.
Under such circumstances, I think, it is very important to discuss problems of Da'wa in Japan through frequent communications among ourselves, the Muslims. Today, we have distinguished guests like Dr. Saleh al-Samarrai from Saudi Arabia, Mr. Abdul Aziz Bidah from the Arab Islamic Institute, Mr. Yahya from the Kobe mosque and many others. So ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to contribute with your frank opinion and esteemed ideas.
This is all of my simple address to you preceding the conference. Now, before finishing, let me also tell you that holding this kind of conference is a new experience for the Center. Therefore, I am afraid that you may find things unsatisfactory to your expectations. However, I would like you to kindly excuse us for our limitations due to inexperience, shortage of personnel and shortage of funds.
Let me finish my address here. Thank you.
Moderator: As per the program, please allow me to give you a short explanation on the purpose of this Da'wa Workers Training Conference.
Considering the changes in various aspects, as you know, surrounding us the Muslims, for example, significant growth of Muslims in various local communities due to their growing number in Japan, it is becoming important to consider about the role of Islamic organizations in these local communities. What we can do or how we can propagate Da'wa, and promote understanding of Islam. We consider, answers to these questions would serve, hopefully, as stepping-stones for effective Da'wa activities in Japan.
Therefore, we planned this Da'wa Workers Training Conference as a forum to discuss these matters. Hopefully, by meeting together at this forum and through mutual discussion we can learn from each other by sharing experiences of various Islamic organizations engaged in respective regional communities. The purpose of this two-day conference is to promote frank discussion, procure advice from you and explore ways for working together for the cause of Islam.
Several sub-committee sessions have been planned for tomorrow morning and afternoon hours. Today, Dr. Saleh Samarrai is amongst us, so first I would like to invite Dr. Samarrai to give a speech on Da'wa activity in Japan. After that, we will have activity reports from several Islam organizations. Then, Insha-Allah tomorrow morning we will hold discussion sessions until afternoon, and hopefully, summarize resolutions of the conference for distribution to various organizations in Japan.
Now, Mr. Salimur Rahman Khan, Director of Da'wa Works at Islamic Center Japan will present you a short speech on the activity of the Center.
Mr. Salim: Bismillah arRahman arRahim. Alhamdulillahi Rabbul Aalamin. Wassalatu Wasslam Rasulallah. Waala-Ilahi waAsabihi Ajmaeen. I know now you are now looking forward to the lecture by Dr. Samarrai, so I will refrain from speaking long and take only a few minutes to talk about Islamic Center.
By the grace of Allah, Islamic Center Japan has so far promoted a number of activities. In order to do Da'wa work in Japan we need stable resource of workers (Da'ee) and money. Last year, when Dr. Samarrai and I talked with an Arabian philanthropist, we told him we needed between four to five thousand dollars a month to hire an employee in Japan. I mean, including the house rent, a two-way air ticket to and from his country and the monthly salary. While in some other courtiers, the same job can be done in one hundred and fifty dollars a month. In Japan, where prices are high, paying a lot of money has become a big obstacle for Da'wa activity.
In the past, this Center had only one full-time staff, Director Abdur Rahman Siddiqi, and occasionally some part-time workers. However, by the grace of Allah, a few months ago two pious Da'wa workers were employed at this Center with the financial support of specially forwarded funds. I think this is a really good addition for future activities of the Center.
Well, let me also explain, what kind of activities we are doing now at the Center. The ability of the Center has limits depending on number of staff and the amount of money. The Center has so far published a series of about thirty books in Japanese language on introductory Islam and basic its tenets, and has sent them inside and out of Japan without any charge. The Center also publishes a quarterly magazine called “Assalam” which is distributed to individuals and institutes including universities in Japan.
Besides publications, the Center holds Arabic classes for different levels and the Qur'an classes on Saturdays that are open to women participants as well. In recent years, the number of women taking these classes has increased remarkably. Further, the Center provides classes twice a month for new converts in Islam. On completing twelve classes and tests, certificates of completion are given. Presently, about twenty-five to thirty new Muslims are eagerly studying in this class.
The Center also holds special lectures at schools, universities, and other educational facilities. Moreover, recently people willing to learn about Islam often come to the Center. These visitors are given careful attention so that they receive true knowledge and perception of Islam and thereby change their misunderstanding and preconceptions about Islam.
We consider that making these steady efforts are important. We hope a day will come when these efforts will result into fruits. Moreover, in recent years people from mass media also visit our center to inquire about Islam. The Center provides information and also participates in special TV programs related to Islam.
The Center also publishes and distributes Islamic calendar, Salat (prayer) timetable, and the Ramadan timetable every year. Further, in order to inform other countries about the Center and Da'wa activities in Japan, with kind cooperation from Dr. Saleh Samarrai, reports are prepared and published in an Arabic magazine: ‘Asshams Mushrika’.
Moreover, Islamic Center Japan provides financial support to a number of Islamic organizations engaged in Da'wa work at various local areas in Japan. The Center strives toward promoting cooperative relations among Islamic groups. Even though the Center is under financial restraints, it hopes to continue support and help Da'wa activity as much as possible.
Finally, for those who want Islamic marriage or all new converts into Islam, the directors and staff of the Center provide detail explanations about Islam every week whenever the need arises.
In brief, this is all about my explanation on activities of the Center. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Br. Salim. Now, we would like to invite Dr. Saleh Samarrai, to give us his insightful comments observations about Islam in Japan. Maybe most of you know that Dr. Samarrai has a deep knowledge about Da'wa Islam in Japan. Dr. Samarrai has worked for the foundation of Islamic Center and devoted himself for development of Islam in Japan.
Lecture: `Islam and We Muslims in Japan'>
-- Presented in English, see the Japanese report for the paper
Moderator: Thank you very much for giving us a very insightful lecture on the progress of Islam in Japan as well as some problems and our duties towards the future. Now we are going to have a thirty-minute coffee break including the ’Asr prayer, after which the question and answer session will follow.
Question and Answer Session:
From the audience: I think, Christianity developed in Europe and entered into Japan when Japanese were in the process of accepting European culture. So, Christianity had an influential advantage. However, today, even after 100 years, there are only one million Christians in Japan. In contrast to that, the number of followers of the so-called new religions in Japan is much higher than the Christians. This shows that, it is hard for Japanese to accept something unfamiliar to the Japanese society. In the case of Islam, I think, to convey the spirit of Islam is more important than to transmit Islam as it is.
It is only in Islam where the Holy Book (the Qur'an) mentions respect for other ethnic people. However, it seems that it has not been adopted in practice. Therefore, we should seek opinion of Islamic scholars to propagate Islam in relevance to the Japanese society. I think nobody can change Islam per se, but there are some customs which could be changed. How do you think about that?
Dr. Samarrai: When I stayed at a hotel in Manila during the month of Ramadan (fasting), I watched a program on TV. It was a broadcast from the Islamic countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei containing recitation and explanation of the Qur'an. There are now over 200 million Muslims in Southeast Asia, so I can imagine, it was not easy to convert such a large number of people into Islam. Their culture is much closer to the Japanese culture than the culture of far-off Arabian deserts.
Islam is not something like a tight-fit cloth but rather similar to a robe. So, Islam is like a cloth that any ethnic group can wear. Islamized Indians, Turks, Afghans or Malaysians have not become like the Arabs. As ethnic groups they keep the human relations, customs, legends, and imaginations of their own culture. However, as Muslims they are the same with Muslims in Arab.
All Muslims in the world become one when they make pilgrimage to Mecca, where they meet and receive each other warmly. The principles and morals of Islam are general, and therefore they contain many factors in common with the Japanese values. The right and wrong, basically, have common points in almost all societies. Islamic, in fact, provides a system to promote the right.
There are several Japanese Muslim scholars familiar with Islamic studies, Islamic law and Islam. In order to facilitate Japanese people to accept Islam, I think it is an assignment given to the Japanese Muslims to explain Islam with Japanese sensitivity or logic. We have some books on Islam published in Japanese, but we are looking forward to more books for Muslims and younger generation in Japan to learn about Islam. We are willing to provide all possible support for such projects.
From the audience: Those who know about Islam find that Islam is essentially a good religion. However, the general people who are exposed to know Islam through the press or newspapers usually do not have a good image of Islam and look at Islam as radical and terrorist oriented. So people in general tend to wonder, while Muslims are telling us such good things while Muslim themselves are terroristｓ.
The Japanese have been educated through modern science and modern ideologies developed in Europe. I think Japanese find a big gap between the knowledge they receive and the realities about Islamic societies. Thirty years ago when I became a Muslim, many people asked whether I had gone out of my mind. Today, those who come to know about Islam directly are increasing in number and are not surprised as before. However, still they have a question ―“why?”― when they are approached to become Muslim.
Dr. Samarrai: Islam is a religion that seeks peace. However, it is unfortunately true that the image of Islam is based on bad impressions influenced mostly by propaganda. Japanese mass media easily follow this trend. Terrorism also occurs where Muslims have no part in it. As you know, terrorism occurring in Ireland, Germany, or other Christian lands, is never reported as “Christian terrorism.” Whereas, while reporting on similar terrorist problem in the Middle East or Algeria or Iran, which should be regarded as regional and political incidents, the Western mass media try, perhaps intentionally, to make distorted image of Islam with their propaganda, and report the incidents as “Islamic terrorism.” Anyway, what is important here is that we must grasp the actions of Muslims and the religion of Islam separately. The essential thoughts and philosophy of Islam should be emphasized. And, I'd like you to know that, unfortunately, there are many people even in Islamic countries who don't understand it.
From the Audience: I think it is necessary to make a guidebook in the form of questions and answers related to Islam. It seems that removing doubts and fears about Islam play an important role in changing the image of Islam. For example, whether a women who converts to Islam must wear hijab (veil). Or, if a Japanese Muslim woman faces the difficulty to find a Japanese Muslim man to marry with, is it possible for her to have friendship with a non-Muslim man and marry him after he accepts Islam? These are a few examples of questions for the guidebook to answer. I would like to know your ideas about it.
Dr. Samarrai: We can never change the contents of Shari’a the Islamic law. So it is hard for me to answer to this kind of problem clearly. But the individual will and reasons are respected in Islam. Belief, or Iman, is more important than any other thing. A conviction arising from belief promotes a life based on Shari’a. So, it is desirable for new Muslims to gradually get used to live following the Shari’a. For example, I cannot find any problems in the case of a Muslim woman who marries a Japanese man after he becomes a Muslim. It's a clever choice. The choice is good from the point of view of her decision; however, nobody can recommend the choice as permitted under the Shari’a.
Mr. Salim: About hijab. I got married with a Japanese woman. But I never asked her to wear hijab. In Islam it is a must for women to wear modest clothes. One day my wife said she wanted to wear hijab and asked how I thought about it. I welcomed the matter as it is part of the Shari`ah, then she decided to wear it.
Moderator: Thank you brothers for the lively discussion. I am sure there are still many more questions to ask. However, today we do not have much time left. We have allotted some time for discussion tomorrow as well. I would welcome you to express your opinions there. As for today we would like to declare the first session closed. Thank you very much.
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