Life is Very Hard for Korean Muslims

Korea Times, News Feature, Bae Ji-sook Posted: Aug 13, 2007

What is it like to be a Korean Muslim in Korea? ``Not easy would be an understatement,'' was the response of Hasna Bae, a 23-year-old student.

Bae is one of 35,000 Korean Muslims in the country, and one of 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Although the religion is very big worldwide, there are few Muslims in Korea. There are migrant Muslim workers, but the total number barely reaches 200,000.

Being a minority religion in Korea, Muslims say their different lifestyle makes them stand out more than others in society.

Yu Hyun-il, 22, serves as president of the Islamic students' association of the Hankook University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul. He said he found the Muslim eating requirements the most difficult thing for him.

``It was hard for me not to eat pork. Also we are only allowed to eat meat that is prepared in a certain way,'' he said. In restaurants, he has a limited choice because of the ingredients -- he eats fish and vegetables most of the time.

The ban on drinking is also a problem. ``When people go drinking, they leave me out. If I go with them, my not drinking can sometimes make the whole atmosphere go weird,'' he said.

A 51-year-old businessman confessed that he drinks one or two glasses sometimes. ``You can never do business here without drinking,'' he said.

Praying five times a day is also strange for some people. ``Some people find my facing Mecca when I pray strange,'' a student said.

However, their biggest concern is prejudice toward this rather unfamiliar religion. After the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, many people showed an interest in Islamic ideas, but most are ignorant about it.

``We are not terrorists, but love peace. We are just like the girl next door,'' Hasna Bae said.

Bae, who first met Muslims when she went to learn English in the United States, said her friends, family and acquaintances were against her decision to convert from Christianity to Islam.

People tried to tell her how dangerous the religion is, citing acts of terror and violence some have caused. She explained that her religion bans any violence and the terrorists are in fact criminals regardless of their religious beliefs. ``Now people get astonished; but soon show more curiosity than hostility. That's better.''

Bae sometimes gets pictures taken of her in the subways when she wears her hijab, and her going to the Mosque is always treated as an extraordinary thing. ``And I don't get to have many male friends around. I think I intimidate them.''

Nowsdays, Muslims in Korea face another issue. Taliban militants in Afghanistan, who claim to be pure Muslims, abducted 23 Koreans visiting their country and killed two of them. As 25 days have passed since the kidnapping, prejudice against the religion is resurfacing.

``There were some bomb threats to the Mosque and there are always police standing in front of the gate in case of an attack'' Bae said.

However, Lee Ju-hwa, director of the Korea Muslim Federation's Department of Dawah (propagation) and Education, said people are opening their hearts to the new religion. ``Before online forums were full of people accusing us. But now I see more trying to get an objective point of view and there are fierce debates, which is very encouraging.''

He asked non-Muslim Koreans to show an openness and acceptance toward the religion. ``We ban all kinds of violence, we do not oppress women and we are just like any other religious people craving for better life.''

Though life seems tough for Muslims, they say they are proud of their decision. Hasna Bae majored in metal design and is planning to work in that area. Will she hide her faith to get a job? ``Never. I do not want to work for a company that doesn't respect its employee's religion anyway.''

Korea Times Interns Park Soo-yeon and Lee Ye-ha contributed to writing this article


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User Comments

Is on Sep 10, 2007 at 22:56:36 said:

Dear Author,
I'm thank you for the above article, its very informative. As a Muslim person from Malaysia Im totally understand the situation experienced by fellow Muslims in Korea. It's happened everywhere. The differences and gap between Islam / Muslim and other religion is too big. But be in mind, Islam is not just a word that only to be said or get printed in the ID card or birth certificate. As a follower of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) today we have been entrusted by him to follow all the guidance of Al-Quran and Hadis. By this we will understand the true meaning of Islam. Insya-Allah. To all Muslim live in Korea, be in mind that Islam exists not just in your mind, Islam also lives in your heart. Believe in Islam, follow the Hadis and Al-Quran and may Allah guide us for glory Insya-allah.

mn on Aug 30, 2007 at 15:06:58 said:

i have been interested in knowing about muslims living in korea, hence this article was really interesting and helpful. since i was born in a muslim family, not drinking and not eating pork is not a big deal, and wearing hijab is something that one does out of love and obedience to her Creator. i live in New York so its not that easy to go out covering head, however compare to me it must be more difficult for those korean muslims who have just embraced this religion. in order to understand them i often think of how difficult it was for the arab muslims when they embraced islam during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)because drinking was as common in that society as it is in korean society. many thanks to the author and my fellow muslim sister Hasna Bae for sharing her experience. i hope there are more articles like these and i pray that koreans learn more about islam and become tolerant and comfortable with muslim lifestyle.




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