Sep 19, 2012
For a Sustainable Society
Relief effort for the North-East Japan earthquake victims by Muslims – Case of Otsuka Masjid
Susumu Kojima, associate professor at Toyo University
As a specialist in cultural anthropology, my motto is to “understand different cultures, and communicate your own culture”. More specifically, apart from researching NGOs in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, I, along with my students, listened to the victims in Iwaki city, Fukushima, and began the activity of spreading the voices in English. While doing this work, I got to know that Otsuka Masjid (Toshima-ku, Tokyo, established in 2000), where a lot of Pakistanis frequent, was doing a long-term relief effort in Iwaki city, and became curious. (I was also told by an acquaintance in Iwaki that he ate curry made by Pakistanis in the shelter.) I visited Otsuka Masjid twice on 9th and 23rd May 2012 to interview Mr. Siddiqui and other directors.
99 times. First of all, I could not help but thank and respect them for having visited the shelters this frequently. The first envoy departed for Sendai on 13th March 2011 with 550 rice balls, instant noodles, biscuits and drinking water.
They gave the supplies to the prefectural office of Miyagi for the time being. The second envoy on 16th and the third envoy on 18th March went to Sendai Masjid.
They contacted the acquaintances at Sendai masjid and could deliver diapers, teas and instant noodles, supplied by Muslims in the Tokai area. Then, in quick succession, they continued delivering relief supplies to shelters in Yamamoto town, Kisennuma city, Minami-Sanriku town and other places in Miyagi prefecture. From the eighth envoy on 27th March, they headed to Iwaki city, Fukushima, where the relief effort was scarce because of the nuclear accident. From then on, Iwaki city became their focus. In addition, since May, they made Iwaki Masjid of Izumi district in the same city their base, which proved very useful.
“After visiting around the shelters, I met Mr. Sabir, the manager of Iwaki Masjid. He proposed me to use the masjid and its kitchen,” says Mr. Siddiqui. Mr. Mustafa, a Bangladeshi staff at Otsuka Masjid, stayed there for a month and continued cooking with other staff in shifts.
“We made different kinds of curry, fried noodles and sautéed vegetables. We also distributed salads, fruits and juices.” From July, the shelters started to close gradually, but the delivery of food continued almost daily until 9th July.
From then on, the relief effort continued until the end of February 2012 in the form of donation of beddings, distribution of cooked food at temporary housings, and donation of portable warmer in winter.
Experiences in International Co-operation
While this is their first relief effort in Japan, they have experiences abroad. Mr. Haroon from Pakistan explains, “We have been distributing used clothes to Afghanistan for more than 10 years. Before the 9/11 attack, Herat province experienced the cold weather of -20 degrees and the lack of clothing became apparent. I visited the place to confirm the conditions.
I then appealed for the support to the board of directors. In addition, we sent relief supplies to Indonesia at the time of Northern Sumatra earthquake (2004).”
Thanks to these activities, Otsuka Masjid was trusted for the effective use of money and received donations from Muslims around the world. “We received donations from people in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia and so on. Students from slums in Pakistan that we support have also gathered money. Muslim NGOs, such as Muslim Aid in the UK and Zakat Foundation in the USA, donated as well.” The total donation, both from inside the country and abroad, reached about 40 million yen.
Connection with local community
However, how could Otsuka Masjid, which is not an emergency relief NGO, continue their relief effort that requires so much help for so long?
Mr. Nagai, one of directors at Otsuka Masjid, says, “It is thanks to the network that we established through our relief effort in Afghanistan. When we started collecting used clothes, people in Otsuka shopping district co-operated. We also received used clothes from outside the community, so much so that it was more than our 4-storied building could contain. Thanks to this connection, this time too many people volunteered to help. We made thousands of rice balls with local residents, and volunteer drivers carried supplies every day. Even people who did not have direct link with Otsuka Masjid came to help in large numbers.”
It seems Mr. Siddiqui was asked repeatedly at the earthquake stricken area if he came to help Muslims. “I answered no. There were only 16 Pakistanis in Iwaki city before the earthquake, 10 of which went back to Pakistan and the rest helped our relief effort.
Human beings are all descendants of Adam (the first man that Allah created) and equal. And Allah tells us to help those in need and promises to reward its effort.” From his words, we can see that volunteer activity by Muslims is based on Islamic faith yet open to others. I felt that masjid, which is the worshipping place for Muslims, is starting to take root in Japanese local communities. Moreover, I was able to sense its potential of becoming an inter-religious, inter-cultural hub of social activities.