How I Met My Great-Grandfather: Abdurreshid Ibrahim

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Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

Translator: Handan Korkmaz

Coming Across the Photograph

I was in high school. I found a photo box at home and started viewing the monochrome photographs, mostly of my relatives. While going through the photos, one caught my attention among everything else. Who was the person in this photograph which is unlike the others? It was obvious of him being an elderly person with his turban and a white beard. This one bore no resemblance to the other photographs. It really aroused my curiosity. On the back of the photograph was a handwriting in Ottoman Turkish.

I took the photo to my father and asked him about the person. “My grandfather,” he replied; but he said he didn’t know his name. I was even more surprised. The person in the photo was my great-grandfather or the father of my grandfather “Omer Kamil”. I had to somehow find out who this person really was. I thought maybe the handwriting on the back could be of use. But who would read this manuscript in Ottoman Turkish?

Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

Finding Out Who He Was

I started taking the photo with me around everywhere I went, hoping one day my curiosity would be satisfied. I wished to be prepared in case I found someone who could read the script. One day, I entered the Bostanlı Mosque, where I had taken the photograph with me. The jamaah had just disassembled. Towards the inside of the mosque, I saw a man with a turban, beard, and a robe. He looked majestic despite his old age. He was walking towards the Imam’s room. I thought to myself that if someone would know the person in the photo, it would be him.

I approached this wise-looking man and greeted him. Showing the photograph: “Hodja, can I ask you something?”. I requested him to read the text on the back if he could. He took the photograph and asked me where I had found it. I told him that he was my great-grandfather, but I did not know his name. As soon as he laid eyes on the photo, he could tell the name “Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim”. According to what he said, it was written on the back that he had sent the Quran to his daughter from Moscow. He also mentioned him being an important person. I thanked him and left the mosque.

Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

Researching Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

The hodja had satisfied my curiosity a little bit. But the importance of this name aroused my curiosity again. At this time, I started researching. Consequently, I learned that my great-grandfather was one of the people who had taken Islam to Japan for the first time. He had even started the construction of the Tokyo Mosque and was the first imam (1938) of it. He was also the preacher mentioned in Mehmet Akif Ersoy’s poem Süleymaniye Chair. As a result of my research, I discovered that he has a two-volume travel book called Alem-i İslam ve Japonya’da İslamiyet’in Yayılması. It roughly translates to The Islamic World and Spread of Islam in Japan in English, and is only one of his many works.

Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

Coincidences During the Research

Why was such an important person unheard of? His name was not mentioned for many years after his death, and it was sad to learn that his remaining family had disintegrated. When I heard that he had a biography published by Diyanet Publishing House, I ran down to a book store in Izmir, where Diyanet Publishing was sold. I asked about the book and they said there was only one left. I purchased it right away.

After I got the book, I asked the seller about his work: Alem-i Islam. The question caught the attention of a person, M.A. Adem Çalar, who was simultaneously looking for a book. He turned to me and asked in wonder why I was looking for that book. I told him that the author was my great-grandfather. He looked at me with a happy expression and asked, “Shall I introduce you to someone who researched your grandfather?”  I said I would be more than pleased. So I met  Dr. Selçuk Türkyılmaz who conveyed academic studies on Abdurrashid Ibrahim. Thus, the chain of coincidences continued.

The tomb of Sir Abdurreshid Ibrahim

Another marvel was, someone who claimed to the imams working in the Bostanlı Mosque told me that there had never been a head imam like the hodja I described to him. The man who introduced me to my great-grandfather had never served there.

Without further ado, the photograph did the job one way or another. What matters now is the recognition of such an important personality. His intellectual legacy will cherish his memory for future generations. With peace…

ÖMER İSKER (his great-grandson)

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