Koran's destruction sparks anger among Muslims

TOYAMA, Japan - When Ahmed Imtiaz Gondal arrived at his used car dealership in the town of Kosugi in Toyama Prefecture on the morning of May 21, he encountered a sight that made him turn pale.

Strewn along a 50-meter stretch of road directly in front of his business were numerous pages torn out of a Koran.

Gondal is a Muslim from Pakistan, and the Koran is the supreme book of his religion.

''I was saddened and shocked,'' recalls Gondal, 37, who came to Japan in 1993 and is married to a Japanese.

The incident, which appeared to have been an act of harassment, provoked a quick and angry response from Muslims across Japan, who are demanding that the culprit be arrested.

Yet nearly a month since the incident, police have yet to come up with a solid lead in the case. A senior officer of the Toyama Prefectural Police Headquarters said its investigation will take time.

The incident did not exactly come out of the blue. In recent months, residents of the town on the Sea of Japan coast have openly expressed anger and frustration over the relatively large number of foreign residents and visitors in their midst.

Much of the friction stems from the presence of several dozen used-car dealerships located along the same stretch of National Route 8 where Gondal's business is located. Many of the owners of the businesses are Pakistani, and their customers are primarily Russian seaman.

Residents often complain that the dealerships in the town's Shiraishi district park their cars along the road, blocking traffic and creating hazards to other motorists.

''I don't know much about the Koran but I have been annoyed by cars parked on the road and dangerous driving,'' one resident said.

Last August, someone left a hog's head outside another dealership run by a Pakistani, while harassment, including residents shouting at Pakistanis telling them to leave the country, have occurred often.

In April, a 38-year-old right-wing extremist, who had arrived in the area in a speaker-mounted vehicle, was arrested on suspicion of breaking a window of a car owned by a Pakistani.

Gondal said six copies of the Koran and 12 copies of the Hadith, a record of the Prophet Muhammad's words and deeds, were stolen in late March from the only place of worship in Toyama Prefecture, located about 3 kilometers from Kosugi. About 50 followers come to pray there every Friday.

Still, police have not been able to link any of these incidents to the destroyed Koran.

Japan's Muslim community, meanwhile, is calling for action. Word about the destroyed Koran spread quickly, largely via e-mail, among the roughly 100,000 Muslims throughout Japan.

The day after the incident, more than 200 Muslims descended on the prefectural capital. The group consisted of various nationalities, including Pakistanis, Iranians, Indonesians and Turks.

In a face-to-face meeting, they asked a senior prefectural government official to appreciate the emotional pain over what they saw as the Koran's desecration. The official responded that he shared their grief.

The group also visited Kosugi Police Station to ask that authorities control the town's anti-Islamic elements.

The depth of their indignation reflects the supreme role the Koran plays in the lives of Muslims. To them, their holy book is infallible in all respects and contains the true word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Akira Usuki, a specialist in Middle East studies and an assistant professor at the National Museum of Ethnology, believes that the perpetrator may have underestimated the intensity of the reaction over the Koran's destruction.

''The spirit of Allah dwells in the Koran. The case could have resulted in some radical Muslim group members advocating a Jihad (a holy war),'' he said.

Gondal, meanwhile, is waiting anxiously for the outcome of the police investigation. ''The culprit has turned every (Muslim) follower into (his) enemy,'' he said. ''I would like to ask the perpetrator why he did it.''

AP-NY-06-19-01 0018EDT

Copyright 2001 The Kyodo News Service.