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Islam in Korea [wiki]

Islam in Korea [Wiki]



In South Korea, the Muslim population has been steadily increasing since the introduction of the Islamic faith shortly after the Korean War. The Muslim (both Korean and foreign born) community is centered around Seoul, where the first large 20th-century mosque was built in 1976 using the funds of the Malaysian Islamic Mission and other Islamic countries.

In addition to the 45,000 indigineous Korean Muslims, there has been a slow but evident growth of South Asian (Bangladeshi and Pakistani), Middle Eastern (i.e. Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Qatari) and Malaysian immigration to South Korea, the majority being Muslims, during the 1990s and 2000s, usually arriving as guest workers to the country. There are more than 100,000 foreign workers from Muslim countries, particularly Bangladesh and Pakistan. In total, there are up to 200,000 Muslims in Korea.

Early history

During 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.[4] In 751, the Korean Goguryeo general Gao Xianzhi led the Battle of Talas for Tang China against the Abbasid Caliphate but was defeated. The earliest reference to Korea in a non-East Asian geographical work appears in the General Survey of Roads and Kingdoms by Ibn Khurdadbih in the mid-9th century.[5]

The first verifiable presence of Islam in Korea dates back to the 9th century during the Unified Silla period with the arrival of Persian and Arab navigators and traders. According to numerous Muslim geographers, including the 9th-century Muslim Persian explorer and geographer Ibn Khurdadhbih, many of them settled down permanently in Korea, establishing Muslim villages. Some records indicate that many of these settlers were from Iraq. Other records suggest that a large number of the Alawi Shia faction settled in Korea.[8] Further suggesting a Middle Eastern Muslim community in Silla are figurines of royal guardians with distinctly Persian characteristics. In turn, later many Muslims intermarried with Korean women. Some assimilation into Buddhism and Shamanism took place, owing to Korea's geographical isolation from Arabia.

Trading relations between the medieval Islamic world and the Korean peninsula continued with the succeeding Goryeo kingdom through to the 15th century. As a result, a number of Muslim traders from the Near East and Central Asia settled down in Korea and established families there. At least one major Korean clan, the Chang family with its seat at Toksu village, claim descent from a Muslim family. Some Muslim Hui people from China also appear to have lived in the Goryeo kingdom. In 1154, Korea was included in the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi's world atlas, Tabula Rogeriana. The oldest surviving Korean world map, Kangnido, drew its knowledge of the Western Regions from the work of Islamic geographers.[12]

Small-scale contact with predominantly Muslim peoples, particularly the Uyghurs, continued on and off. One word for Islam in Korean, hoegyo (회교, 回敎) comes from huihe (回紇), an old Chinese name for the Uyghurs. During the late Goryeo period, there were mosques in the capital Gaeseong. During Mongol rule in Korea the Mongols relied heavily on Uyghurs to help them run their vast empire because of Uighur literacy and Uighur experience in managing extended trading networks. At least two of those Uyghurs settled down in Korea permanently and became the progenitors of two Korean clans.

One of those Central Asian immigrants to Korea originally came to Korea as an aide to a Mongol princess who had been sent to marry King Chungnyeol. Goryeo documents say that his original name was Samga but, after he decided to make Korea his permanent home, the king bestowed on him the Korean name of Jang Sunnyong. Jang married a Korean and became the founding ancestor of the Deoksu Jang clan. His clan produced many high officials and respected Confucian scholars over the centuries. Twenty-five generations later, around 30,000 Koreans look back to Jang Sunnyong as the grandfather of their clan. They are aware that he was not a native of Korea. Many believe that he was an Arab Muslim. However, there is no evidence of Islamic influence on Deoksu Jang family traditions. The same is true of the descendants of another Central Asian who settled down in Korea. A Central Asian (probably a Uyghur) named Seol Son fled to Korea when the Red Turban rebellion erupted near the end of the Mongol’s Yuan dynasty. He, too, married a Korean, originating a lineage called the Gyeongju Seol that claims at least 2,000 members in Korea today but shows no special signs of Muslim influence.

In the early Joseon period, the Islamic calendar served as a basis for calendar reform owing to its superior accuracy over the existing Chinese-based calendars. However, due to Korea's geographic and political isolation during the Joseon period, Islam had all but disappeared in Korea by the time it was reintroduced in the 20th century. It is believed that many of the religious practices and teachings did not survive.[5] However, in the 19th century, Korean settlers in Manchuria came into contact with Islamic teachings once again; these became the first Korean Muslims in modern times.

The earliest record of indigenous Korean Muslims dates back to the 19th century, when there was a significant Muslim community that established itself in Manchuria. These were mainly descendants of Central Asian traders who had settled in the cities of Manchuria. It was there that native Koreans first came to accept Islam as their religion. However, it was only after the Korean War that Islam began growing significantly in Korea. Islam was introduced to Korea by the Turkish Brigade which came to help Korea during the war. Since then, Islam has been steadily growing in Korea and adopted by a fairly significant number of indigenous Koreans.

20th century reintroduction

During the Korean War, Turkey sent the second-largest number of troops (after the United States) to aid South Korea under the United Nations command. In addition to their contributions on the battlefield, the Turks also aided in humanitarian work, helping to operate war-time schools for war orphans. Shortly after the war, some Turks who were stationed in South Korea as UN peacekeepers began teaching Koreans about Islam. Early converts established the Korea Muslim Society in 1955, at which time the first South Korean mosque was erected. The Korea Muslim Society grew large enough to become the Korea Muslim Federation in 1967.


In 1962, the Malaysian government offered a grant of US$ 33,000 for a mosque to be built in Seoul. However, the plan was derailed due to inflation. It was not until the 1970s, when South Korea's economic ties with many Middle Eastern countries became prominent, that interest in Islam began to rise again. Some Koreans working in Saudi Arabia converted to Islam; when they completed their term of labour and returned to Korea, they bolstered the number of indigenous Muslims.[5] The Seoul Central Mosque was finally built in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood in 1976. Today there are also mosques in Busan, Anyang, Gwangju, Jeonju and Daegu. According to Lee Hee-Soo (Yi Hui-su), president of the Korea Islam Institute, there are about 40,000 listed Muslims in South Korea, and about 10,000 are estimated to be highly active practitioners.

The Korean Muslim Foundation said that it would open the first Islamic primary school named Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Elementary School in March 2009 with the objective of helping Muslims in Korea learn about their religion through an official school curriculum. Plans are underway to open a cultural center, secondary schools and even university. Abdullah Al-Aifan, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Seoul, delivered $ 500,000 to KMF on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government.

Many Korean Muslims say their different lifestyle makes them stand out more than others in society. However, their biggest concern is prejudice they feel after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, when many people showed an interest in Islamic ideas, but most are ignorant about it.

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