Khawla Nakata Kaori, the First Japanese Female Muslim Scholar

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِى وَنُسُكِى وَمَحْيَاىَ وَمَمَاتِى لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ

Khawla Nakata Kaori may not be known in the Muslim world at large, but her contributions to Islam in Japan, and the Muslim community especially, cannot be understated. I, for one, personally benefited from her works and ideas. The many who knew her were touched by her personality and intellectual grace. A dedicated Muslimah to the promotion of ‘Ilm, she continued this effort up until her very last breath. It is my hope that Muslims around the world receive the opportunity to learn about another scholar of ours who often gets very little attention due to the obscurity surrounding Islam’s presence in East Asia.

It is safe to say that Khawla Nakata Kaori was one of the first female Muslim scholars in Japan. A learned individual, she was clearly well-versed in Western and Islamic civilization, having spent time in France, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. She also obtained Ijazahs from a number of traditional Islamic scholars in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, she was fluent in the Japanese, Arabic and Western languages. As a result, she was able to bring her personal experience to people in Japan and provide a wide scope of knowledge and ideas from many nations and cultures. Her life journey was rare not only for a Muslim woman in Japan, but for most Japanese people. In sum, she was truly a global citizen and brought her eclectic experiences to Japan. One significant contribution was her establishment of a network of Muslim Japanese women, bringing many of them together after previously being scattered throughout Japan.

She also demonstrated an outstanding ability in translating the Islamic classics, such as Tafsir al-Jalalayn, into Japanese without distorting their meanings. At the same time, she was conscious of using plain Japanese in her lectures and introductory books to accommodate Japanese readers with diverse backgrounds. Because of this, Islam was brought to the Japanese audience in a pure form.

On a more personal note, it was my own interaction with her ideas that brought me to my journey regarding Islam. It is my hope that in providing this brief biography of Khawla Nakata Kaori, more Muslims will come to recognize the contribution of her services to deen, ‘ilm and the Muslim community.

Khawla Nakata Kaori was born on January 26, 1961 in Shizuoka, Japan. She graduated from the Faculty of Letters, from Kyoto University with her thesis covering Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger. In 1990, following her graduation, she traveled to France to continue her education. It was there, while visiting a mosque in Paris, that she became inspired to pursue Islamic scholarship.

No sooner had she decided to study Islam, she converted, taking her shahada in January of 1991. From August 1991 to April 1992, she resided in Egypt, where she met and married another Japanese national, Nakata Ko, a doctoral student in the philosophy department at Cairo University. In July of 1992, they returned to their native Japan, and began publishing the monthly Muslim Shinbun (Muslim Newspaper). 

They then returned to Cairo, where they again stayed for a year and received a diploma of Qur’an recitation from Sayyid Abdullah al-Jawhary. Kaori received Ijazah Irshad ‘amm Tasawwuf Qadiriyyan Shaziliyyah Darqawiyyah ‘Alawiyyah, by Shaikh Yusuf al-Bakhkhur al-Hassani, Ijazah Tafsir al-Qur’an by Shaikh Dr. Majdi ‘Ashur, and several other Ijazahs in the traditional Islamic studies. Upon attaining her credentials in Egypt she moved back to Japan where she taught at Yamaguchi Prefectural University from 1999-2002. 

On August 16th, 2008, Kaori passed away at the young age of 47. While she was ill she continued to write until she passed away in a hospice.

Kaori’s achievements not only include the seeking of ʿilm, which has been of great benefit to the Muslim community in Japan, working to build a foundation of Islamic scholarship for the Japanese Muslim community. She authored a series of introductory books on basic aqīdah, worship, and other practices, and established an educational network for Muslim women throughout Japan. More significantly, she translated Tafsir al-Jalalayn into Japanese under the supervision of her husband, Nakata Ko. This is the first Tafsir available in Japanese. 

Her last book is An introduction to Allah. This book is a Japanese commentary on Arslan al-Dimashqi’s Risala fi al-Tawhid. In it, Kaori explains the essence of Tawhid in plain Japanese, just as Islamic scholars in many other regions of Islamic civilization have attempted to express Tawhid in other vernacular languages.

An Introduction to Allah was published as a series in the Muslim Newspaper from No. 101 to No. 187. Below is a quote from the afterword of this book.

During the course of the series, I had symptoms of brain metastasis from breast cancer, [and] received brain radiation. About a year later I received gamma knife treatment. Six months later, I was brought to the hospital by ambulance with new symptoms of brain edema. I was admitted to a hospice, and it has been a month and a half today.

My symptoms are much better than before the hospitalization and I have the energy to work on my computer.

I am hoping that this book will be available not only to Muslims but also to the general public. We at the Muslim Newspaper will publish a limited edition of only 100 copies, and eventually we hope to negotiate with a general publisher. Inshallah.

In concluding this postscript, I would like to share with you excerpts from some of my writings to the mailing list of the Muslimah.

Reviewing this book (Risala fi al-Tawhid), I realize that it is a wonderful book. And what is more wonderful is that now we (me and my husband Hasan) are being led to discover it.

The Islamic faith begins with “La ilaha illa Allah” and aims for its perfection, and that is exactly the direction we are now heading.

Until now, we thought we were on our own in worship and everything else. But now I live with the mindset that Allah is doing everything for me. Now I am praying in this wudu because I have a slight paralysis in my lower body and I get gas easily, and I am doing Sajda in gratitude for being given the opportunity to do Sajda here again. I now understand that Qadr and free will are also dualistic issues that do not need to be discussed in the state of Tawhid. I thank Allah for giving me the grace of illness.

2008. March 3rd.

Khawla Nakata Kaori

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Khawla Nakata Kaori, the First Japanese Female Muslim Scholar

  1. Dr. Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto,

    I would like to do a program on Ustadha Khawla Nakata Kaori on Being ME Canada’s faith based program called the The Legacy Tour. We documentthe lives of Muslim women of the past who left lasting legacies for us to be inspired by.
    May I have permission to share this knowledge and would you be able to direct me to East Asian contemporary, female scholars who ca relate the story?

    With much regards,
    Erum Imam

  2. As Salam Dr Qayyim.. I listened to you discourse in Radio IKIM Malaysia toda and was amazed at how your encounter with with Dr Kawla’s Kaori has brought you to fitrah and revert to Islam. Would you be able to share on how to get a copy of Dr Kawla Kaori, Brief History of God, which I hope to be able to share to benefits some people here..
    Thank you,
    Hj Mashan Jalil – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Leave a Reply