Uchujin, a Tokyo-based photographer, recently made a short film highlighting the spiritual journey of Abdullah Taqy, Tokyo’s sole native Japanese Imam. Amid the restaurants, bars, brothels, and nightclubs of the notorious Kabukicho District (????) is a modest-looking mosque run by Taqy. A professional tattoo and body piercing artist of 20 years, Taqy is an anomaly in the “Sleepless Town” of Tokyo’s Kabukicho.
Taqy’s journey to Islam started decades ago, when he began his spiritual quest through studying kabala (Jewish mysticism), gnosis, mikkyo (esoteric Buddhist teachings), and magic.
“From the time I was born, I was just walking. But there was no road. Nothing. It was like a desert. Increasingly, I thought about it, and I could see a road, like wide, made narrow, and straight. I was sleeping. Everybody was the same, but then, I woke up.”
Twelve years ago while walking in Shibuya, Taqy met a man with a white beard dressed in white clothes, wearing a white turban. The man gave him a piece of paper and asked Taqy to repeat the following Arabic words with him: “l? ?il?ha ?illall?h, Mu?ammad ras?lu-ll?h.” (“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”) The two parted ways, and while Taqy was unsure if the Muslim-looking man was in fact Muslim, he recognized the words Muhammad and Allah as being related to Islam. Having never previously been interested in learning about Islam before that moment, Taqy says that he never forgot their encounter and the man always lived in his mind.
Only recently did Taqy see the mysterious man a second time and learn who he is–former Imam of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and Medina Mosque in Saudi Arabia. The man encouraged Taqy to become the Imam of Tokyo’s main mosque in Shinjuku.
Wearing a mixture of modern-traditional Japanese and Arab clothing, Taqy’s numerous tattoos are an unusual sight for a Muslim man of deep religious devotion. While he may not explicitly categorize himself as such, his beliefs seem to reflect that of the famous Muslim Sufi scholar and perennialist Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Taqy says that he doesn’t categorize religions and believes them to all be legitimate spiritual paths. It is people who distort them that leads to division and hatred.
“God is the same. Everyone calls ‘God’ a different name, God or Allah, but the name is not important. There is only one God, I think.”
In the short video above, the viewer can sense Taqy’s devotion to Islam and the seriousness of the spiritual journey that he began twenty years earlier. Taqy’s long beard and slow pace stand out amidst the bustle of Tokyo, and he is a startling, but quiet reminder of the serenity that many believers feel.