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Cultural Anthropology Linda Koh

A Study about Islam Society in Korea (Itaewon)

Rozailina Othman 201103884 English Interpretation and Translation Department

1. Introduction As a Muslim who migrates to Korea, I always wonder about a life of a Muslim in Korea. As we know, almost half of Korean population is irreligious and Muslim is minority group with less than 1% from Korean population. After 9/11, world have bad impression about Muslim and Islam, however even though Muslim is minority in Korea, as a democratic country, Muslim have their freedom to do any religious activities. Throughout this paper I would like to study about Muslim as minority population in Korea. The study will include what Korean think about Islam and Muslim, Muslim society in Itaewon and interview with Korean Muslim 2. Pre-study Before I start my study, I would like to know about Korean awareness about Islam. Everyday world were expose with terrorist and Muslim. Some people think Muslim are very violent and Islam should disappear from this world. To get Korean (Non-Muslim) opinion, I was using social network to do 2 interviews with different Korean. The first informant was Korean lady around early 30 years old. She is working as executive and a Buddhist. The interview questions and answer as below: Q: Do you know anything about Islam and Muslim? A: Not much. Islam is a religion and people believes in it is Muslim Q: What do you think about Islam and Muslim? A: I do not know much about the religion but I do respect how much faith they put in. Q: Do you have Muslim friends or do you know any Muslim? A: only few. Q: If have, do you think they are really different with you or society around you? A: People are all different as we are an individual, not because of religion. Q: Do you know about Muslim society in Korea? A: No. The mosque is in Itawon and heard the community is growing. Thats about it. Q: Do you think Korean should give a space to Muslim to practice their religion? A: if you are talking about public spaces and work places, No. If so, there should be same for every other religion. The second informant was a Korean guy who working at one of university in Korea. He is around late 20 and free-thinker.

Q: Do you know anything about Islam and Muslim? A: Yes, I know about them Q: What do you think about Islam and Muslim? A: I think their teaching and culture are great even though they are a bit stubborn.. Sometimes, it's difficult for me to understand their rule as well. Q: Do you have Muslim friends or do you know any Muslim? A: Yes I do. I have around 1000 of Muslim friends Q: If have, do you think they are really different with you or society around you? A: Humm Not really... I feel comfortable with them but sometimes I have difficulty with very strict Muslim who even afraid all Korean food since it may be contaminated by haram ingredients. It's very difficult for me to find the right restaurant in Korea... so I always go to Itaewon, where is all expensive place!! Q: Do you know about Muslim society in Korea? A: Yes, I know some Muslim societies in South Korea... especially in Daejeon where is located my campus. In Daejeon, there are two Islamic societies. One is called MSAD (Muslim student association in Daejeon) near KAIST (There is central mosque in Yuseong, Daejeon). Mostly the association is organized by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Iranians, some Indonesian, Malaysian and Africans. Q: Do you think Korean should give a space to Muslim to practice their religion? A: I think Korean already gave the freedom of religion. So, there is no any limitation to get some places for religious reason and it's not like when other religion tries to get some places in Arabs (they usually kill the other religious people to protect themselves). Maybe Muslims can get any place easily and there is already at least one mosque each province in Korea even Korea is not Islamic country. But unfortunately, In Korea, there are very few restaurants for Muslims. Therefore, they always have difficulties with it. I think Korean society should realize the importance of Halal market. So, we should understand different culture and provide convenience for people who have different custom.... Even though these 2 informants didnt conclude all Korean voice, but it gives me a glimpse that Korean is aware with Islam and Muslim. Even as minority, other Korean admits Islam as another religion in Korea and Muslim is exist here. I do realized after September 11 tragedy, world have negative view about Muslim. Most of Muslim country especially at middle-east either have internal conflict or on war. People think Muslim as terrorist and very violence. And I believe some Korean believes in that too since that whats media told them. However, there is a lot side of being a Muslim that world didnt know.

3. Location and time The scope of the study located at Itaewon, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. This place is so popular among Muslim because of the central mosque is located at this place. Itaewon is a must visit place for Muslim tourist, not just because of the central mosque but the main source to get Halal foods. Halal means meat from an animal that has been killed in the way that is demanded by Islamic law. I was visiting Itaewon on 19th October, 2012 from 11a.m until 4p.m. From subway Itaewon station I took exit 3 and walk for 5 minutes before turn to right. Itaewon is a town for foreigner where you can spot them easily. Perhaps it is because there are many foreign restaurants along the side road. Many restaurants especially from middle-east showing Halal sign in front of their shop as a symbols restaurant for Muslim. There are also middle-east pastry shops, foreign bars and foreign supermarket. The center of Muslim society in Itaewon is Muslim Mosque that located at the top of the hill. For those who are not always exercise, you will find it a bit difficult to reach the mosque. The mosque has huge blue main entrance and I need to climb a bit more before arrived at the mosque square. Since it is at the top of the hill, it was really easy to spot residence house around the mosque.

4. Muslim mosque The Seoul Central Mosque is 3 storey building in white with a big green Allah the Al-Mighty in Arabic at the top of entrance. At the 1st floor of the building there are Islamic information center

where anyone can get information regarding Islam and Muslim especially in Korea. From the information office I manage to get information such around 800 Muslim will come and pray at the mosque on Friday to perform special prayer. Basically the first floor is reserve for mosque management. On the 2nd floor, there are big hall where most Muslim man perform their prayer, listen to Islamic lesson or have any discussion regarding Islam. Usually the discussion group will be around 7 to 10 people either from same country or different. On the 3rd floor is hall for female Muslim to perform their prayer. Since Islam has a fine line about relation between female and male, man usually prohibited from entering female prayer hall. Next to mosque building, there is single story building with several rooms. According to the staff that work at the information center, the room will be use to conduct Islamic class for children and also for new converted Muslim. The lectures for classes are conducted both in Korean and English. During the class, student will teach how to read Quran and also Islamic principal.

5. Muslim restaurant During lunch time, I decided to try one of the Muslim restaurants near the mosque. Most of Muslim restaurants here are serving dishes from India, Pakistan, Turkey or other Middle-east country. There are varieties of food but the main dish is bread and rice. Since the beef, chicken or lamb here is Halal for Muslim, most of the visitors are foreigner but the same time there is also Korean who loves spicy food. The price is range from 7,000 won to 20,000 won per serving. We can choose ala carte or buffet. For ala carte they have varieties of Nan that eat together with different types of curries. You also

can have curry for buffet but usually its come with rice. They have cream soup as appetizer but the taste is different from western cream soup since they put spices in there. Arabian style sweet was serving as the dessert. The dessert was in different color and its look nice but it was really sweet that might be good for health. Even though most middle-east country eat using hand, here they provide spoon and fork for foreigner and also chopstick for Korean. Muslim is prohibited from drinking alcohol but since it was demand from non-Muslim Korean and foreign customers, some restaurant also serve it. There are also middle-east pastry shop that sells bread and sweets. Usually these shops sell Indian Ladoo or Pakistan and Afghanistan traditional sweets. Again, these sweets look nice but the taste not to my liking.

6. Foreign supermarket There are several Foreign Mart along the road to the mosque. These supermarkets sell imported goods; mostly foods to the end buyer. For Muslim, it is a must visit supermarket where they can get raw Halal meat for daily usage. When I entered one of the super markets, it was full with foreigner. Based on the look and conversation I assume some of them are from India, Bangladesh and South-east Asian country. This super market is full with imported goods mostly from Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. For raw Halal meat it was come from Australia and Denmark. They also sells verities of spices since the biggest portion of the customer are from middle-east and south-east where the spices are needed in the most dishes. In term of price, since they are selling imported goods some of it is really pricy. For example, imported rice from Thailand cost two times from Korean rice price. But since Muslim doesnt have other option for Halal meats and foreigners need the spices, they still being the regular customer.

7. Interview with Korean Muslim When I was observing around mosque I got a chance to meet a Korean Muslim. She is very young, 16 years old. She is living in Gangnam area and come to Itaewon in regular basis for some Islamic activities and also class. However, due to time constraint we couldnt do interview at that time. So I decide to get her contact through Facebook. Below is our conversation through Facebook. Q: How long youve been a Muslim? A: Around 2 years. Q: How do you know about Islam? A: Through foreign friends. Q: Do you attend any class regarding Islam? A: Yes. Q: Before being a Muslim, what do you think about Islam and Muslim? A: Bad images that I heard from media. Q: Do you have any opinion about how Korean think about Islam and Muslim? A: They think Islam is not that good thing, and actually most of them dont know about islam. Though they know, they think its for Arabs religion. Q: Do you have any difficulties practicing Islam in Korea? A: Yes, of course. As Korea is a non-Muslim country. Therere many difficult situations. But there is a way. Q: If you have any questions regarding Islam and Muslim, who will you refer to? A: I ask to my Muslim friends and check once again. And also I use Islamic websites Q: Do you have Muslim friend? Are they Korean or foreigners? A: Both Q: Do you find any Islamic book written in Korean? A: Yes. But mostly not really books, but introductions. Q: Do you always visit mosque in Itaewon? What you usually do there? A: I sometimes go. I pray there, I attend meeting for preparation of dawah program & attend that program, and for class. From the interview, I can conclude even you have freedom in believing any religion, since Muslim is minority; there are still some restriction for practicing our own religion. Maybe for Buddhist or Christian they dont have this kind of problem since the number is bigger compare to Muslim. 8. Conclusion Even though Muslim is minority in Korea, I can see they have the total freedom in practicing what

they belief. In term of facilities like prayer room or access to Halal restaurants, it might be hard to be found in Korea compared to other Islamic country but still there are no restriction for them to do their own activities. Korean also starts to know about Islam and Muslim and starts to feel comfortable around this group. They have no problem sharing the same space with other Muslim. Although they might look weirdly especially to Muslim women because of the hijab, but now they can take it as one of culture differences. Some people still thinks about Islam and Muslim is equal to terrorist, but Muslim in Korea dont have any worries going any place in Korea. In term of working in Korea, maybe there werent any restriction for professional worker at big company. But for normal works like doing part time job at convenience shop, based on my own experience, I will be hard because of the hijab. I hope this scenario will change soon if Korea wants to achieve target as multi-cultural country by year 2020.