Impressions from the Ceremony
Following the SOPP ceremony, some of the prayer leaders and guests were kind enough to give their thoughts and impressions. We are pleased to offer some of their remarks here.
Imam Muhammed Rasit Alas, Imam at Tokyo Camii (Mosque) and Turkish Cultural Center
The first time I participated in the SOPP was in 2016, so this is my fourth time here. Each year since 2017, I have led the Islamic prayer on stage.
There are about 80 mosques in Japan, but the Tokyo Camii and Turkish Cultural Center is the largest of them all. As a representative of this mosque, I get invited to various interfaith events. However, the SOPP is different from any of these events. Here, a large number of people come together in a natural setting, and we stand before all the participants to offer our prayers. For me it is quite impressive and very meaningful.
In addition, praying the prayers of different faiths and cultures, in different languages, all for the common goal of peace, is truly wonderful. I hope that, as our prayers for peace spread throughout the world, the whole world will become a more peaceful place.
I have made several pilgrimages to Mecca, the holy city of Islam. At prayer times, millions of Muslims of different ethnicities and cultures who have made their way to Mecca from around the world all pray toward the Kaaba at the same time. Mecca is the most sacred place for Muslims to pray. For me, though, Fuji Sanctuary—at the foot of Japan’s sacred Mount Fuji—is a sacred place where all people can pray for peace, regardless of their religious differences.
In recent years, there have been numerous troubling incidents in various parts of the world. A great many innocent people have died, which is very sad to see. When I think about this, I feel very strongly that the world needs and wants more peace and tranquility. The first part of my prayer today, which was the azaanor call to prayer, is a prayer for Allah to give us the peace and tranquility that the world is seeking.
From here on, I would like to do even more and offer more prayers for the sake of peace. In October, a new Turkish Cultural Center will be opened adjacent to Tokyo Camii. Islam is a peaceful religion, and I would like for people to know the truth about Islam, and to join with us in praying for peace.
Mr. Masahiko Dobashi, Chief Priest of Hitoana Sengen Shrineand Kamiide Soga Hachimangu Shrine
I serve as the chief priest of Hitoana Sengen Shrine and Kamiide Soga Hachimangu Shrine, which are located close to Fuji Sanctuary, and yet I was not aware that such a great event was taking place so nearby.
Last year, I had to leave partway through the ceremony, but today I was able to stay until the very end. It was a stunning and wonderful sight to see all the flags of the world hoisted at the same time.
The first part of my prayer was directed toward sacred Mount Fuji, but unfortunately Mount Fuji wasn’t visible today. However, I learned a good deal from listening to Masami Saionji’s talk, and I realized that even now, I still have a lot of things to learn.
There are some 110 shrines here in Fujinomiya, and 28 in this northern part of the city. However, the number of festivals organized by area residents is declining, and only about half of the shrines will be able to continue on. Today, I was reminded of the importance of these local festivals where everyone comes together, and how they have a role to play in bringing about world peace.
Ms. Shantisree Goswami, Hindu spiritual leader
I’ve taken part in the SOPP several times now. Although it rained at one of the other SOPP ceremonies that I attended, when I saw all the participants continuing to pray quietly today even in the sudden rain, it really felt like I was in another world. Each time I come, I find myself inspired to follow the participants’ example, and I feel so happy to be able to be part of this event.
It gives me a feeling of awe to be a prayer leader at the SOPP. In Hinduism, religion is part of our daily life, and we do not have strict guidelines as to how things must be. But since Masami Saionji stresses the importance of women’s leadership and is always giving me encouragement, I agreed to lead the Hindu prayer.
When I see all the flags held up together, I am reminded of how many countries there are in the world, and how many people are living in all those countries. My daughter works at the Qatari Embassy in England, and when I saw the flag of Qatar today, I felt a little closer to her.
Regardless of our faith or nationality, we all have the same color blood flowing through us, and we all feel joy and pain. We all share the same human nature. Even in countries that are engaged in conflicts, the citizens of those countries are by no means bad people. Indeed, what ties us together is most important, I feel.
In the future, I think it would be great if we could gather people here—even just one person—from every country, so that we could all be connected and send the vibration of oneness out to the world.
Rev. Yuchi Kitagawa, Chief Priest of Garyozan Shugakuin Kokeji
At the SOPP, a lot of people assemble at a platform (Fuji Sanctuary). We have our respective religions. They keep their own faith and beliefs. So we pray together in various ways there at the SOPP. We go back home and bring these prayers into our daily lives. So everyday, life itself becomes prayer. I feel that this is the significance of the Symphony of Peace Prayers once a year.
I deeply admire the work of Masahisa Goi, who initiated this peace movement, and Masami Saionji and her family, who took over from Goi Sensei and further expanded the movement, as well as the efforts of the staff and volunteers who support this work.
Each person who gathered at Fuji Sanctuary and everyone who offered prayers in different parts of the world is attuned to and unified with the great divine will. To create a deep awareness of this sense of oneness, I utilized the colors blue, yellow, red, and green in the prayer that I offered. When the primary colors or lights are mixed together, the result is white light. This white light is the fundamental light that shines infinitely within all human beings. In Shingon Buddhism, it is called Ajisokô. The sound ‘A (ah)’ embraces everything. That sound is the root of all things—the fundamental, pure white light. When this infinite inner light manifests in our finite world, it becomes a diverse array of colors.
The world is a rich diversity of colors. Within this diversity, sometimes two colors are exact opposites, but at the origin of everything is white light. By sensing both our infinite inner white light and the multitude of colors that appear in our finite world, humanity will come to strongly feel that while we each have our own distinct faith and beliefs, at the same time, we are all connected as one—we are white light, and yet we shine in many colors. My prayer today was for this understanding to take hold in our daily lives.
Mount Fuji is the symbol of Japan, and Fuji Sanctuary, which sits between Mount Fuji and the rising sun, is indeed a special place. I can see why Masahisa Goi chose this location. It is a sacred place where we feel removed from worldly desires. And above the altar are characters reading ‘white light.’ When people pray at such a sacred place and then go back to their daily lives, they join hand in hand and let their individual colors shine brightly. Today’s ceremony gave me a renewed feeling that this is the way to peace. The SOPP is a bright star within our everyday lives.
Fr. Rocco Viviano, Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator at Xaverian Missionaries
Christians believe that God created all humanity in a very special way. The Bible teaches that God created the human being ‘in his image and likeness’ by breathing his own Holy Spirit into it—that is to say, his life and love (Genesis 2:7). As a consequence, Christians believe that regardless of their religious differences, when people pray, when they entrust themselves to God, and when they seek to understand God’s will, they are actually living according to the Holy Spirit who is present in them. As a Christian, I believe that God is present in all men and women and can work through them. I also believe that, when people gather together in order to pray, God is present among them. In this sense, the SOPP can be a sign that God walks together with humanity. As other people see this sign, they may be inspired to listen to the voice of the Spirit within themselves and desire to live according to its guidance.
I have attended the SOPP every year since 2015, and one of the most beautifulfruits has been friendships with leaders and representatives of other religions. These friendships reach beyond the personal level and become a blessing for others too, because when religious leaders become friends, their communities also feel closer to each other. When the leaders respect each other’s faiths and religions as friends, their faithful, too, will learn to do the same. When followers of different religions value each other’s existence and pray for each other, they all become closer to God, and when a person becomes closer to God, at the same time he or she becomes closer to others as well, and the unity between them is strengthened.
I composed the prayer I offered this year in order to express these convictions. Because I wanted it to be not just my personalprayer, but also a prayer of all Christians, I included some expressions used in the liturgy of the Catholic Church from ancient times.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to participate in the SOPP again this year. I pray that all members of Byakko Shinko Kai may continue to work for peace, that they may be blessed by God and may bear fruit in abundance.
Mr. Mark N. Zion, Associate Professor at Tama University
I’ve been coming to the SOPP for fourteen years now. I think my first time was the second SOPP ceremony. It’s the spiritual impulse, and people coming together to pray for peace, and breaking down the barriers and divisions between people—whether it’s religion or ethnicity—and the vision that we’re all one world that keep me coming back.
It’s very similar in some ways to what we do in Judaism. We say that mitzvot (good deeds, commandments, or religious obligations) heal the world. Any good deed has a great impact on society. Even if it’s saying hello to someone or helping someone across the street, that heals the world. We say, “Tikkun olam.”
Here today, this is a great mitzvah, working together to heal the world. We don’t yet know the impact—it’ll be great as it ripples through. And maybe we won’t see the fruit of it for many, many years, but it will be there.
It’s always a pleasure to come and participate as a prayer leader. The prayers that I read are verses from the Hebrew Bible, and they are probably around three thousand years old. Those words, also, have a great deal of power, because they’ve given meaning to people, generation after generation. The prayer that I offered today has been most meaningful for me personally, and also for many people around the world—not only in Judaism and Christianity, but in many other religions as well. We often hear Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd…” So, I think it’s the most meaningful to the most people.
Interfaith Is Not ‘Enter Faith’—Prayer is Power
by Dr. Muhammad Abdur Rahman Siddiqi
Dr. Siddiqi is Chairman of the International Muslim Center of Japan and a longtime supporter of the SOPP. He has attended several SOPP ceremonies at Fuji Sanctuary, including this year’s event.
At the very outset, let me remove a misunderstanding and some confusion in some respected religious circles. Some people think that attending and participating in a conference, meeting, celebration or event where many religions are represented is harmful for a person of a particular religion. This is not so. We live in a world where we are not alone. There are many others with different thoughts, ideas and ideologies. All are free to have their own culture and different ways of living. It is not necessary to agree with another set of beliefs, but hearing and understanding are required.
Participating in or attending an interfaith conference, gathering or meeting allows us to know each other and inform others as to who we are and what we believe—as the basis of a successful life now, and regarding what happens after death. We do not go there to ‘accept’ other faiths. We go there just to gain knowledge of others and to let others know about us and our religion. So, it is an interfaith exchange of opinion, and not a place to enter another faith while discarding your own. This gross misunderstanding must be cleared up, the sooner the better.
Now, in Japan, a sort of silent revolution is in progress, with a leading role played by Byakko Shinko Kai (BSK), founded in 1955. Before going on to other matters, let me frankly and sincerely express myself on behalf of the Muslim community in Japan. I would like to express my appreciation and admiration for the superb management of the Symphony of Peace Prayers (SOPP) held by BSK at Fuji Sanctuary on Sunday, May 19, 2019. This event was attended by religious leaders and thousands of people from all over Japan and around the world. It was a show of mutual understanding and support among various religions in Japan, and of the broad-minded and open-armed policy of Byakko Shinko Kai.
The recitation and repeating of prayers for peace, as found in different religions, was a great expression of interfaith harmony. It is not easy to accept the prayer of another religion and say it orally. The SOPP has had great success in this regard, and they deserve a thumbs-up sign for having achieved this task. The credit goes to the management, the staff and volunteers, and above all to the leadership qualities of Chairperson Masami Saionji. I call her the ‘Soul of Japan’. It must be pointed out that there were heavy rains and cold winds blowing during the ceremonies, speeches and prayers. But to great surprise and credit to the audience, not a single person left the open prayer field at the sanctuary, which is decorated with the flags of all countries of the world. I see this rain as a shower of mercy from Allah. It was through the power of prayer that the people could bear the severe cold and gusty winds all through the day.
The SOPP was a mutual spiritual uplifting of human beings while respecting the cultural and religious differences. All the programs were unique, but a special mention has to be made to the program of praying together with one voice, which is the main objective of the SOPP. As Masami Saionji wrote in her message, the purpose is to pray together in the words of each religion “just as if it were our own tradition; to be able to send peace to each country and region of the world just as if it were our own land. It is an event that works to awaken the inner divine spark [and to foster] respect for all lives on earth”. The whole program was like a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a decoration near the great Japanese symbol of peace, Mount Fuji.
The religions representing and attending the peace prayer this year were Christianity (Catholicism), Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. It is a fact that with the exception of some broad concepts of peace and human welfare, all religions have a different set of principles, often with contradictory and opposing beliefs, with no place for accommodating others. Yet I found that each religion has a soft corner of accommodation, compromise and tolerance for others. That is the beauty of a religion. I do not know about other religions, but I can say with surety that Islam encourages cooperation and accommodation in works and acts of piety, spiritualism and welfare. Below are some quotations from the Quran, the holy book of Islam, revealed totheProphet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to support my conviction:
The Opening Chapter 1, Verse No. 07, guides Muslims to pray to Allah (God) in these words: “Lead us to the path of those who are given blessings and mercy by You and not the path of those who have got Your anger and displeasure and of those gone astray.”
In chapter 5, verse 2, Allah commands us, “Cooperate and help each other in piety (Birr) and be God fearing and don’t cooperate in acts of sin, transgression and disobedience.”
In chapter 5, verse 32, Allah declares, “One who kills one person (unlawfully and unjustly) is as if he kills the whole humanity; the person who keeps one person alive, is as if he keeps alive the whole humanity.” What a beautiful show of respect for human life!
Another powerful verse of the Quran, chapter 5, verse 8, exhorts the whole human being: “Your enmity to a people should not make you away from justice; Do justice, this is close to piety.” The whole world will be full of peace if we follow just this principle of justice, I think.
And finally in chapter 109, verse 6, Allah, the Almighty, gives the rule and principle of mutual harmony, peace and tolerance when He says, “To you is your way of life and religion, to me is mine.” A great principle indeed!
The above Quranic verses give human beings the principle of interfaith dialogue among the followers of different religions. These teachings of Allah in the holy Quran show the compatibility of Islam as a universal religion. Islam wants other religions to exist together happily and safely. It, however, works and makes efforts to explain to people that all humanity should recognize and obey the Creator, the Sustainer, the Ever-living, Almighty, one God Allah, who has no partner, physical family or relatives. But at the same time, Islam recognizes the existence of other faiths and other ways of living, which may be different or opposite.
As a Muslim, I find that Byakko Shinko Kai under the leadership of Masami Saionji is working, by and large, for the same objective and principles of Islam as explained above. This confirms the belief that all religions lead to the same Truth. One may not agree with me, but this is what I feel personally.
The existence of an active and living movement like the SOPP is a blessing in disguise for Japan. This yearly event, which has continued for 15 years, is a real source of motivation to all those who are working for mutual cooperation, understanding, sincere respect, lasting tolerance and harmony among different faiths and ideologies, without interfering or crossing each other’s lines in matters of religion or faith.
It has been my pleasure to attend most of the SOPP ceremonies at Fuji Sanctuary. I hope the philosophy of peace which is taken from many religions and promoted by Byakko Shinko Kai will grow and become an international movement with the support of all religions around the world.
It is, however, sad to see that many countries and societies have yet to comprehend the need for interfaith harmony and prayers for peace. Therefore, with these words, let me once again congratulate the universal peace and prayer movement of Byakko Shinko Kai, as well as the organizers in general, and Madam Masami Saionji in particular, with best wishes from the Muslims of Japan.