This month Fukuoka Now reports on a significant landmark of internationalization in Fukuoka: the opening of Kyushu’s first mosque, Fukuoka Masjid and Al-Nour Islamic Cultural Center in Higashi-ku. The mosque’s opening ceremony last month marked the culmination of more than ten years of work by Kyushu’s Muslim students and residents towards a center for worship and a focal point for relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the area. The center is now fully open to the public, and Fukuoka Now was taken on a tour inside and out and spoke to some of the leading figures in Fukuoka’s Muslim community, who were eager to illuminate us on the work of the masjid and its position in the community.
Fukuoka Masjid is a purpose-built three-story building with a capacity of around 300 worshipers. In Arabic mosque means any place of worship, while a masjid a center for the community. As such Fukuoka Masjid is a sacred place which is alsohosts events for Muslim festivals, and also holds a library of materials about Islam in English, Japanese and Arabic for those who wish to learn more about the religion. The center is two minutes’ walk from JR Hakozaki Station and was sited to be convenient for Kyushu University’s Hakozaki Campus, as Kyushu University has around 150 students from Islamic countries. The building is faced with the Arabesque geometric patterns distinctive to Muslim architecture, and is adorned with a dome and a miniature minaret or tower, both important common features of mosques all over the world. As of writing, the athan or call to prayer is announced via loudspeaker for the midday prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day.
The building has separate entrances for men and women, as in Islam men and women pray apart. The men’s prayer room on the first floor and the women’s on the second are spaces where devotees and non-Muslims are welcome to spend time in conversation or contemplation, except during the prayer ritual or salat, where five times a day worshipers use the individual spaces marked on the carpet to perform the movements of salat. These prayers, performed at first light, noon, afternoon, dusk and sunset, incorporate a washing ritual, and so the mosque has washing facilities for men and women. The basement houses a kitchen for men and a meeting room which can be used as a prayer room at busy times, and on the third floor are classrooms for Arabic lessons and Koran studies.
Although the mosque is open for the dawn prayer or fajr, which in the Spring is around 04:00, its official opening hours are 10:00 ~ 21:00. The mosque welcomes visitors and those who wish to take part in lessons or observe prayers, especially during the Eid-ul-Fitr Festival on Sept. 20, and FN particularly recommends Islamic Week with its Food Festival, to be held in July or August! For those interested, one of the mosque’s guiding principles is the peaceful and successful meeting of cultures, so if you want to sort the fact from the urban fiction when it comes to Islam there’s no better place to start.
Fukuoka Masjid, 3-2-18 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
Tel: 092-641-7022 / www.fukuokamasjid.org.
AN INTERVIEW WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS
FN spoke with two of the mosque’s devotees about the Muslim community and the challenges it faced building the mosque. Ali Gamal is a Ph.D. candidate in Kyushu University’s Dept. of Computer Science and Communications Engineering. Nakamura Umar is a representative of Islamic Cultural Center Kyushu and a tea ceremony master.
First, congratulations! How long did the Mosque take to build?
Ali: The process began in 1998: an organization called KUMSA, Kyushu University Mosque Students’ Association, started to collect donations towards building a place for students and resident Muslims to pray. By the end of 2004 we’d raised enough that we could start searching for the land to buy. In September 2005 KUMSA decided to form a legal body to deal with land issues, called Islamic Cultural Center Kyushu. They’re the owners of the land and the mosque. In 2006 we contracted the Nagata architects’ office to design the building, and we started another campaign for donations. In 2008 we got a donation from the Red Crescent organization in the United Arab Emirates of about ¥200 million, and then we were finally ready to start building.
Who else donated money?
Other than the Red Crescent the majority was from inside Japan. The Muslim Students’ Association of Japan (MSAJ) organizes donation campaigns to build mosques around Japan. During the campaign we had some members go to Kyoto and Tokyo, and collect money from mosques there. Some money did come from outside Japan: if a Muslim has finished their study in Japan and returned home, he’ll often donate money to build a place for future students.
How many mosques are there in Japan?
It’s difficult to say. There are around 40 places used as places of worship: office spaces and the like. There are around 20 that were not purpose-built but which are dedicated buildings. And there are perhaps five purpose-built mosques: in Tokyo Camii (Shibuya) and Otuska (Tokyo), and in Kobe, Hokkaido and Gifu.
Why is is important to have a mosque nearby?
In Egypt, or in any other Muslim country, mosques are everywhere. If a person has a dilemma, a family problem, and so on, the best place to go is a mosque, where he can have some peace of mind and speak to his God. He can do that anywhere, of course, but the mosque is a religious place, so in a way it can give him more relief. It’s very important to all Muslims to be near a masjid, a place of worship which is also center for community support. Of course, a Muslim can do his prayers anywhere, but in our culture prayer is better inside a masjid, where there is more of a sense of community.
What kind of community work does the masjid do?
Well, before we had a masjid there were many activities in kominkan [neighborhood community centers] and in the International Student Center in Kashihama, and Kyushu University also let us use the International Student Center for our activities. Now all year round we have weekly activities like Arabic classes, Koran classes, and every two weeks we have firkhla classes, where people study Islamic law. Twice a year MSAJ invites a scholar from another country to speak, and during the month of Ramadan, when we fast during the daylight hours, we have iftar breakfasts at sunset.
How many attendees do you get?
For Friday prayers nearly everybody who can will attend, so about 100. Most people are there with their families, and I think about 30% are Japanese. At Eid, which is a festival twice a year, people come from very far away to attend, about 200-300 people. Since opening we’ve had two converts, one during the opening ceremony, and one woman just this week who became a Sister. To convert all you need to do is say the Shahada, that is, to say “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”. So you can do it by yourself. It’s up to the individual. If they want to tell everybody then they can come to the mosque, and we’ll have some kind of welcome party.
Why do you think Islam might be attractive to Japanese people?
Umaru-san: People turn to religions in search of calm in troubled times, people in a state of change, people who are looking for answers. Islam is particularly attractive because people can gather at the Mosque any day of the week and enjoy a sense of community and support. In contrast, Japanese rarely congregate at shrines and temples. Japanese people have a choice of bukyo, shinto, Christianity, and they make their choice. Here there’s a warm community, so people who enjoy that would make the decision to join.
Do you have any events to introduce the mosque and its activities to the public?
Ali: There’s a Japanese Muslim scholar, Ahmad Maeno, who came to our opening ceremony, and who speaks fluent English and Arabic. We’re hoping to invite him to speak every two months or so, and invite people to listen to him. He’s very highly educated and he’s very good at explaining what Islam is about to Japanese people and to foreigners. We also have an Islamic Week every year, and invite Brother Selim, who’s a member of the board of the Kyoto mosque, to speak. We also plan to take part in indokaitoka, and we invite the group to all our events. For Eid festivals and for every Friday prayers non-Muslims are free to visit and watch, there will be a place put aside for them so they can watch what we do. During the Eid celebrations, after prayers every family gets some food and desserts, and visitors are welcome to share. Our doors are open to the public.
What challenges were there in building the mosque?
The main problem, of course, was money: that’s why it took so long. The other important issue, as anywhere in Japan, was to talk to the neighbors, who have to accept the idea of having a mosque in their neighborhood. The people in the neighborhood here have accepted the situation and they help us out sometimes: during the opening ceremony we asked people whether we could make the athan announcement before prayers, which lasts for about a minute and a half. In Islamic countries we do it publicly by loudspeaker. Of course we asked before we did and people were happy for us to do it. The main concern of our neighbors is to have peace in front of the mosque: no illegal parking, no groups of people gathered outside, so during Friday prayers when it can get crowded we have people outside the mosque making sure our worshipers park properly.
What’s the future for Islam in Japan?
We hope one day to have a masjid in every city. The first question for any Muslim when they go to a new place is “where’s the masjid?”. An association in Beppu recently purchased a building which will be converted into a mosque, insha’Allah [God willing]. As for the mosque here, one of our jobs is daiwa, advertising for Islam. We hope this masjid will be an active point to open a path to Islam. Our seminars are a good start for re-thinking your feelings on religion. But it can take time, it can take a person twenty years to choose to become Muslim. We understand this. We’re not in a hurry. We do as much as we can, and for those who are going to convert, it’s up to them.
Anything else for our readers?
Come and visit us! Or if you can’t, check our website: www.fukuokamasjid.org
AZHAR – HALAL FOODS GROCER
Azhar has been serving Asian speciality foods and halal meat to Muslims and kitchen adventurers alike for seven years. Convenient for the large South Asian student population of Kyushu University Hakozaki Campus, Azhar does a busy trade in halal chicken and beef, sauces and dry goods like ¥100 Indonesian goreng instant noodles and nasi goreng sauce – a tasty alternative to cup ramen which will bring back mouth-watering memories for those shoestring travelers who’ve braved South-East Asian markets. Manager Hanik, from Indonesia, says that since their goods are priced for students the store attracts many Japanese people as well, and she can advise those who want to try creating Asian cuisine with specialty ingredients imported from Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Previous visitors to India need hear no more than “Mango Pudding: ¥450″ to start planning a visit.
3-36-31-107 Hakozaki, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka
092-651-4303 (English & Japanese)
092-651-4305 (Bahasa Indonesia & Malaysia)
HALAL RESTUARANTS AROUND FUKUOKA
Indian and Pakistan Restaurant
2F Akebono Co-op, 1-3-4 Maizuru, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
2F Nagaichi Bldg., 1-4-9 Uo-machi, Kokurakita-ku, Kitakyushu
Report by Robert Morgan (for Fukuoka Now)
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn126, June, 2009)