A brief history and overview of Islam in Japan by Sheikh Dr. Salih al-Samarrai.
Biographical note: Sheikh Samarra’i is originally from Samarra’ (pronounced Saa-marr-raa’) in Iraq, as his name suggests. Around the 1950’s, he was studying at the Agricultural University in Faisalabad, Pakistan, which claimed to be the largest agricultural university in Asia when I visited it in the 1980’s. (Impressive: instead of high-tech buildings and labs, one of the most important resource is vast fields growing different crops!) At that time, my grandfather was living in Faisalabad with his children and Sheikh Samarra’i was one of my father’s Arabic teachers during this period.
Under Saddam Hussein throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Iraq persecuted the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) so Sheikh Samarra’i went to Japan, where he helped set up the Islamic centre. He later held a professorial position at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, in the department of agriculture, since his PhD was in that field.
I first met Sheikh Samarra’i when I accompanied my father to KAA University when he went to visit his old sheikh around 1990. I still remember the imam of the university prayer room reading out ahadith from Riyad al-Salihin after one of the afternoon prayers. The prayer room was packed with faculty and other staff. I was into the hardcore salafism of the JIMAS variety at that time (JIMAS of 20 years ago, that is), which my father mentioned to Sheikh Samarra’i, who said to me, “We need constructive criticism, not the destructive type.” He also said, “Coming together is goodness, all of it. Splitting apart is harmful, all of it (al-tajammu’ kulluhu khayr, wa l-tafarruq kulluhu sharr).” We had dinner at his house, where I met two of his sons. The eldest is called Qutaybah, and it was the first time I’d met someone with that lovely name.
Some years later, they visited us in London. Once, I introduced Abu Muntasir to Sheikh Samarra’i at our house in Tottenham. The Saudi-based Iraqi professor was dressed in a suit and tie, whilst we British Muslims were in robes and turbans. He immediately said that since we were living in the West, we had to adopt local dress. At the time, we immediately dismissed this as “a typical Ikhwani inferiority complex” in our youthful boisterousness and arrogance. How times have changed! 🙂
Sheikh Samarra’i later retired from KAAU and returned to Japan to head up the Islamic Centre again. As far as I know, he is still there.