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A Conversion Journey Between Japan and Turkey

In this article, we introduce you to Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto, an academic who embraced Islam twelve years ago and later introduced Islamic and Sufi concepts to Japanese society through manga themes. In doing so, he also reminded the Turkish community of its values. Meet Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto, who teaches Japanese at Marmara Anatolian Imam Hatip High School and Sufism at Ibn-i Haldun University’s Alliance of Civilizations Institute.

Who is Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto?

Born in Okayama, Japan, in 1989, Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto received a Christian education at Doshisha University. At the age of 19, after a severe illness, he began questioning the meaning of life. Upon recovery, he embarked on a quest, expressing gratitude for his well-being. Naoki Yamamoto recounts those days:

“During my illness, I read a book titled ‘What is God, The Story of God.’ I was deeply moved by the book. However, I had no idea which religion was being discussed while reading it. The book never mentioned the name of Allah or the Prophet; it only used the Japanese term ‘Kami-sama,’ meaning ‘What is God?’ When I researched the author, I discovered that the author was the Muslim Japanese scholar Habiba Kaori Nakata, and the book in my hands was an Islamic book. I tried to contact the author but could only reach her husband, Hasan Nakata. I told him that I read the book written by his wife, was greatly impressed, and wanted to learn Islam from her. However, Hasan Nakata informed me that his wife, Habiba Kaori Nakata, had passed away but offered to teach me Islam himself. I accepted, and that’s how Hasan Hoca began teaching me.”

Finding the answers to his questions in Islam, Naoki wanted to delve deeper into Islamic studies and observe Islamic culture. Motivated by this desire and encouraged by Hasan Hoca’s advice to travel to Arab countries, Naoki set out on a journey and decided to go to Egypt. There, he acquired knowledge about Islamic cultures. Once he had learned everything about Islam, both in terms of knowledge and culture, he began to live his life in accordance with Islamic principles. When he realized that there was nothing left to deny, in the year 2009, at the Al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt, he declared the shahada and embraced Islam.

From Japan to Istanbul: A Sufi Journey

Returning to Japan twelve years ago after embracing Islam in Egypt, Naoki decided to come to Istanbul due to the conducive environment for preserving his Muslim identity. Reflecting on his journey, he states:

“Becoming a Muslim was just one step in my life. The real challenge was to continue being a Muslim, to sustain it. So every morning, I would wake up thinking about how I could preserve my Muslim identity. One day, Recep Şentürk, the Rector of Ibn-i Haldun University, came to Japan and gave a speech. He spoke about Sufism during the Ottoman era, and I was deeply impressed. I talked to him, expressed my desire to learn Sufism, and he invited me to Istanbul. Recep Hoca was also the head of the ISAR Foundation. Through my Sufi studies within this foundation and the conversations I had with people, I was able to maintain my Muslim identity.”

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Building a Bridge Between Two Civilizations: Manga

For many, manga, or comics, is a form of entertainment. However, Naoki wondered if this widely read genre could also serve as a tool to introduce Islamic culture and invite non-Muslims to Islam. Naoki took action on this question. Through manga, an integral part of Japanese culture, he introduces Islam and Sufi concepts to young people in Japan via online platforms, emphasizing the characteristics of shounen manga (manga for young readers) to Turkish students. Naoki believes this can be a bridge between civilizations.

In an interview with Nihayet Magazine in November 2020, Naoki describes the process of calling to Islam through manga:

“I began to think about how I could introduce Islam and Sufism to the Japanese society, including non-Muslims. This was another challenge I faced. One day, a publishing house, which happened to be the publisher of Naruto (a manga series), asked me to write an article on an introduction to Sufism, which is my academic field. At that moment, I thought about my classmate in Istanbul twelve years ago who made me think about concepts like sensei, seyr-i süluk (spiritual journey), and repentance while reading Naruto. I suddenly said, ‘Why not refer to manga in calling to Islam?'”

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Incorporating Sufi Motifs into Manga

Combining his field of study with manga, Naoki struggled to merge the two and shares the subsequent positive outcomes:

“Sufism encompasses many elements like ethics, manners, and orders, and I wanted to introduce this aspect of Sufism to the Japanese. Everyone in Japan has read Naruto and is familiar with its episodes. Therefore, I decided that this would be the best way to introduce Sufism to the Japanese. I didn’t realize how crucial this could be, but I saw that people were genuinely interested. Although I started this project to show non-Muslim Japanese the similarities between Islam and Japanese culture, many of my Muslim students also realized the commonalities between shounen manga and Sufism through the articles I wrote.”

“Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi said, ‘Beautiful is what beautiful sees.‘ Naoki’s perspective, like every Muslim, has beautified with Islam. The manga he has been immersed in for years has now become a means to invite people to Islam. May our views be painted with the colors of Islam.”

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