Monday, March 23, 2009

[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews] Islam in Korea

Yeah, my write up on Islam in Korea finally made it into Monday's paper.

After covering other religions like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, this is the fifth and final installment on this series.

Islam in Korea

This is the fifth in a series looking into religion in Korea from a community perspective. The first objective is to give expatriates a springboard from which to develop spiritually. Feature articles will have examined Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. - Ed.

When people think of Korea and religion, most assume it's a land of only Buddhists temples and Confucian values. However, as the other articles in this series have shown, other religions are very active here.

Some might be surprised to hear that Islam is present and actively practiced here. One reason is because of the frequent confusion of the terms "Muslim" versus "Arab." Muslim refers to anyone who practices Islam. Muslims can be from any number of nations or regions like Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, as well as countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas. In contrast, Arab is a term that refers to people from the Arabian peninsula and who speak the Arabic language.

However, someone who is Arab is not necessarily a Muslim.

Photo by Matthew Lamers

Historically, Muslims and Koreans have been in contact for hundreds of years. This contact came through China and via trade. But an active Korean Muslim community started developing in South Korea after the Korean War, due to the presence of Turkish troops who had fought in the war and their presence in the United Nations forces after the armistice.

Since then, the Korean Muslim community has slowly grown.

Originally, this piece was supposed to appear earlier in the series but my interviewee, Haseeb Ahmad Khan, had to travel for a bit of time. He and I touched base earlier this month. Here is what he had to say about Islam not only in Busan, where he lives, but in all of South Korea.

Haseeb is originally from Pakistan, but has lived in South Korea for almost 10 years. He is married to a Korean national and has an export business located in Busan. Haseeb started off the interview by explaining that people who practice Islam have to pray five times a day.

In most cases, he explains that, "They offer their prayers in their offices or their workplaces," because it is too difficult for them to come to the mosque. However, he added that if they are close enough, the mosque is where they ought to pray. Those who cannot, observe their prayers at work. He added that: "On Friday we get together in the mosque."

"Jummah is the Friday prayer," and there are names for the other prayers too. He said there is a social purpose to gathering at the Busan mosque on Fridays.

"The Friday prayer is to unite the people. After the prayer they can unite to make a better community. ... They can talk and they can listen. For example, if someone is sick, they can arrange to go to the hospital - or, if they find out that someone needs help, they can arrange to help."

He explained that both men and women have these meetings. Their prayer rooms, as well as the subsequent meetings, are separate. When asked to describe the people who come to the mosque to pray he said, "(W)e have a few Koreans. We have Indonesians, Malaysians and Uzbeks. We have people from the United States. We have people from 12 to 14 countries."

Why did he become so active in the Muslim community?

"I'm a Muslim. This is our religion. Wherever we go, we have to practice our religion. When I came to Korea, they didn't have a lot of mosques in Korea. Now we have a lot of mosques in Korea. At first, I was in Seoul and people got together at the Itaewon mosque. Then I moved to Busan for work and now I worship in a mosque in Busan."

This also applies to Muslim schools.

"We're trying to open a small school in Busan. ... (For) people who are married ... they have kids to raise and they have to teach them a Muslim education. We have schools in Daegu and Seoul."

In addition, for those who are curious about Islam, Haseeb said that they have services and resources for people who want to learn more.

"Yes, they can come to the mosque. We have - the head of the mosque, an Imam (the Muslim equivalent of a priest) in the mosque. If they want some information we have a library in the mosque.

"They can get these things for free."

In their library, they have reading materials and audio materials that people can borrow and use.

Haseeb was very eager to explain that the Muslim community is very active in helping those seeking information on where to worship. "We have a system where people can ask for a mosque and anyone can tell you where the mosque is. We also have a website for the Busan mosque."

On this site people can find information on Islam in Busan.

"The mosque in Busan is near Dushil Station."

Mosques are now in various locations throughout the country. "We have more than 10 mosques in cities like Gwangju, Busan, Daegu."

Here is the Adobe Acrobat, .pdf, version of the page for you to read, if you like:

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  1. hii..
    i really curious about islam practitioners in korea..when i GOOGLE around...then, i found ur blog..
    it's interesting..=D
    i thought there is no muslim in korea..i'm suprised..!!
    and i'm really glad for that because i'm muslim too..

  2. Amirah,

    Glad I could help you learn about them. They're not big communities but the Muslim community is definitely in South Korea in cities like Seoul and Busan. I found an interesting historical piece on it too. Google is good for finding information.

    Thanks for leaving a comment!

  3. Asalamou aleykou
    masha Allah alhamdouli Allah that there are muslims in Korea and i praye that lot of korean revert to islam and understand it.
    i will be so glad to correspond with korean for help them to understand more religion and learn arabic if they want, i am sis from Algeria

    may Allah bless his ummah
    asalamou aleykoum

  4. You're in luck as there are some Koreans who have converted. Maybe if you contact the mosques there they can put you in touch with Koreans who like your help and guidance. I don't know how it works as I'm not Muslim.

  5. regina,thanks for the information..
    i wish i could be there someday..
    im just curious how do young korean muslim practicing their religion in hangul school and university..
    and do they also looks like korean actor and actress??haha
    niway,im from malaysia

  6. Well, I don't think Korean actors look that good in person (it's called make-up and lighting).

    Regarding the info, you're welcome. I figured it would be a good way to leave Korea. I left a gift of information. :)


  7. Salam, happy to hear the growing number of Muslims in Korea. Alhamdulillah, I have a friend living there and soon I will visit Korea, inshaAllah. Im living in Japan, just an hour to fly to Korea.

    Here is an information for all muslims who might need islamic goods :

  8. You caught me on a good morning AND your link does go back to a store that sells things in Japan. :) Therefore, the comment got approved.

    Have a safe trip when you go to Korea.

  9. Dear Regina, great article, thanks!
    I am going to Busan June this year for a trip on my own, to just follow my heart. Someone told me that there aren't many Muslims, so she asked me to remove my scarf when I move around the city area for my safety. I told her 'no way'! I am indeed happy to read your article and will certainly google more about Busan. Stay blessed!
    rahidah, singapore

  10. Glad I could help. I'd say that your friend is right. There isn't a lot of diversity in Korea. However, I don't think you'll be at risk for physical harm if you wore your scarf. I'd say, however, be ready for people to stare and even point. As a person with cocoa brown colored skin I got both pretty much all of the years I was there.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.