Free meals help mosque show Islam to Japan


As the Muslim monthlong fasting period known as Ramadan began Tuesday, Tokyo Camii, the largest mosque in Japan, began providing free “iftar” (evening meals) to 200 visitors, regardless of religion, to introduce residents to Islamic culture.

The first day began with “azan,” the Muslim call to prayer recited at dusk. Azan is called before every prayer to let people know it is going to start. Men and women from Turkey, Indonesia, Ghana and other nationalities and ages visited the mosque around 7 p.m. to pray.

The mosque in Shibuya Ward will be open to all during Ramadan, which ends on Aug. 7.

Fasting is obligatory for all Muslims during Ramadan, which requires them to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. After sunset, all gathered in the hall for iftar, when Muslims are allowed to break fast. About 200 visitors were seated at 20 tables to sample offerings from bean soup to beef stew.

“(Fasting) allows me to improve myself,” said Benjdi El Mehdi, 27, a student from Morocco who was eagerly anticipating the meal. “In fact, it is fun.”

Iftar was originally practiced as a form of charity, as Muslims who served it to travelers and the poor believed they would be rewarded. Tokyo Camii adopted the custom a few years ago and offers the meals to people of all nations and beliefs.

“I came here because we’ve been learning about Islam at school,” said a 17-year-old high school student who was visiting the mosque with her friend. “I didn’t know the Muslims eat meat. I want to learn more.”

Iftar gave the student her first taste of Turkish food as well as a chance to communicate, albeit in gestures, with a woman from Brunei seated next to her.

The food is made by three chefs who came from Turkey just for the iftar event. They begin work before noon, and plan to serve 200 meals a day until the end of Ramadan in August.