Sunday 7 May 2023

Islam in South Korea

Islam came to the United Korea in the middle to late 7th century. Muslim traders had traversed from the Caliphate to Tang China and established contact with Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. However, the first verifiable presence of Islam in Korea dates back to the 9th century during the Unified Silla period with the arrival of Arab navigators and traders. According to numerous Muslim geographers, including the 9th-century Muslim Persian explorer and geographer Ibn Khordadbeh, many of them settled down permanently in Korea, establishing Muslim villages.

Islam survived in the region in varying numbers of Muslims. But Islam was practically non-existent in Korea by the 16th century and was re-introduced in the 20th century. It is believed that many of the religious practices and teachings did not survive. However, in the 19th century, Korean settlers in Manchuria came into contact with Islam once again.

The reintroduction of Islam in Korea is generally attributed to the Turkish peace keeping force that came to the South Korea during the Korean War. Shortly after the war, some Turks who were stationed in South Korea as UN peacekeepers began preaching Islam to Koreans. Early converts established the Korea Muslim Society (한국이슬람협회) in 1955, at which time the first South Korean Mosque was erected at Imun-dong.[24] The Korea Muslim Society grew large enough to become the Korea Muslim Federation in 1967.
Islam and the Korean Peninsula share a history of mutual fascination and curiosity. From the era of the Silk Road in the 9th century to today’s modern interconnected world, the bonds that were once forged through maritime travel have now been passed on to a new generation of young Muslim Koreans, who try to find a balance between their Korean culture and newfound religion. [2]
Spectacular view of the Seoul Central Masjid in Seoul’s Itaewon neighbourhood

Among Muslim communities, there are two distinct groups: Traditional and immigrant Muslims. The "traditional" community of Muslims are usually Korean converts to Islam, while immigrants are people who migrated from Islamic countries to Korea for jobs. Migrant workers from Pakistan and Bangladesh make up a large fraction of the Muslim population. The number of Korean Muslims was reported by The Korea Times in 2002 as 45,000[15] while the Pew Research Center estimated that there were 75,000 South Korean Muslims in 2010, or one in every five hundred people in the country. The first masjid, the Seoul Central Mosque was built in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood in 1976. Today there are also mosques in Busan, Anyang, Gyeonggi, Gwangju, Jeonju, Daegu, and Kaesong. 

In recent times, South Korea is opening its doors to Muslim tourists, trying to fill the vacuum left by the declining number of Chinese tourists following the debacle launched with the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Various generations of native Korean Muslims reflect on their double identity as Koreans and Muslims in South Korea. The number of Muslim tourists coming to the country saw a 33 percent increase last year from 2015 and is expected to reach 1,2 million people by the end of 2017, as revealed by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).[2]

Since, one of the major concerns of Muslims of Halal meat, it is available and the Korean Muslim Federation provides halal certificates to restaurants and businesses. Their halal certificate is recognized by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), and there are a total of 14 KMF-halal approved restaurants in South Korea as of January 2018.

A lack of familiarity with Islam, coupled with the headline-grabbing antics of groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, have helped breed a degree of Islamophobia in South Korea. This is often stoked by less inclusive Christian groups and publications, who have come up with alarmist reports overstating the number of Muslims, alleging that Muslims are using tactics like “spreading halal food” and having more children through polygamous families in order to “Islamize” Korea. [4]

In the backdrop of above anti Islam sentiments, let us see how is life of Muslims in South Korea? Well, there have been mixed feelings and expressions:
Living as a Muslim in South Korea has been tough, and is getting tougher due to Islamophobia, said Ahn, who converted to Islam a decade ago after marrying a Pakistani Muslim. “Lots of incidents occur allegedly in connection with Islamist extremists and terror groups, and many Korean people just think all Muslims could be associated with them,” she added. “Hatred and prejudice against Muslims still prevail here.” Ahn, a Korean Muslim, told Arab News.

Bora, a revert explains her experience of being a Muslim in SOuth Korea: "Some people would yell at me and tell me to go back to my country, while others would say that I have a bomb in my jacket," she says. "For them, being a foreigner who is Muslim is acceptable, but not a Korean Muslim. Most Koreans have a stereotypical image of Islam that is wrongly portrayed in Korean media." She works at the Seoul Mosque and gives lectures to many South Korean Christians who want to know more about Islam. She tries to answer all their questions to avoid any misunderstandings. "I was once a non-Muslim and I understand their misconceptions, which is why I want to give them all the information they need to understand what Islam really is, that [it] is, a religion of peace and respect." [3]

However, despite challenges and indifferent attitude towards Muslims, many young Muslims have become flag-bearers of Islam in South Korea via social media. Umar (Daesik) Choi, is part of the new wave of young Korean Muslims who are trying to spread awareness on Islam in South Korea through social media. He promotes Muslim-friendly restaurants in Seoul in collaboration with the Seoul Tourism Organization as part of a video series called "From Kebab to Kebab" on YouTube. And he is not alone in his mission to promote Islam. He is joined in by many other young Muslims and social abound in their efforts.
Muslims awaiting to break fast [Photo]

Despite being a small community, the Muslims as a community is peaceful and vibrant, and they love the country as much as anyone. Ramadan occupies a special month on the Islamic calendar as one of the most significant holidays in the religion. Though not all locals know about Ramadan, they respect the values, beliefs, rituals and customs of Islam. While I attended university, my professor always gave me a break during Ramadan so that I could offer prayers. My working friend said he is always allowed time to pray during working hours, says Majid Mushtaq from Pakistan. [5] 

You may like to watch a short video clip on Dramatic Rise of Islam in South Korea:

Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references given below. If anyone differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non-Muslim countries, please visit our Reference Page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo - Flag | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
If you like Islam: My Ultimate Decision, and to keep yourself updated on all our latest posts to know more about Islam, follow us on Facebook

Please share this page to your friends and family members through Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or any means on social media so that they can also be benefited by it and better understand Islam and the Holy Qur'an - Insha Allah (Allah Willing) you shall be blessed with the best of both worlds.


Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More