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memri
November 2, 2009 No.
2617

Saudi Columnist: Step Up Islamic Da'wa in South Korea

In a column titled "The Muslims in South Korea Need Our Support," in the Saudi Al-Watan daily, Saudi columnist Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma [1] expressed her concern over the low percentage of Muslims in that country and over Islam's negative image there. She said that in order to counteract this, the Saudi government must step up its economic and spiritual support for the Muslim minority in South Korea.

The following are excerpts from her column: [2]

The History of Islam in South Korea

"...Recently, [the London daily] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat interviewed [Dr.] Hamza Kyong, [3] lecturer in Middle East research at Shusyan University in South Korea; in the interview, he spoke of the South Korean Muslims' great need for material and spiritual support. He said that South Korea was completely free of 'islamophobia,' but that this did not prevent the distortion of the image of Islam there. Therefore, [he said, South Korean Muslims] need help and support from the great Islamic institutions in the Muslim world.

"This report motivated me to investigate the beginnings of Islam in South Korea, since I already knew that Islam reached [that country] a long time ago. Korean sources have already proven that Islam reached Korea, as it reached the neighboring countries, via traders, because the Muslims' good nature amazed the local residents and caused them to hasten to accept Islam. Korea's relations with the Islamic world were renewed by the Turkish forces that arrived in [the country] during the Korean War, in 1955. During this time, the Koreans accepted Islam, and in 1963 the Korean Muslim Federation was founded.

"The Muslims in South Korea are spread across three areas: Seoul, the capital; Busan, and Gwangju. In 1967, the Korean Guidance Ministry [sic] recognized the Korean Muslim Federation. The number of Muslims today [in Korea] is some 20,000, out of 40 million Koreans."

Conversion to Islam is Dropping Off

"The regrettable thing is that in the past, the number of those who accepted Islam in South Korea reached some 1,000 annually. However, this number has been decreasing since the 1980s, and [today] is [only] about 250 annually. This great difference between the two statistics sets important questions before us Muslims - questions that demand an answer, and subsequently [also] effective Arab Islamic initiatives of Islamic da'wa in South Korea."

Saudi Arabia Has Always Supported South Korea's Muslims

"It was important to me to fully understand [the extent] of Saudi Arabia's support for South Korea's [Muslims], and I quickly found encouraging [facts], since Saudi Arabia was, as usual, the first in this area.

"Several years after the Korean Guidance Ministry [sic] recognized the Korean Muslim Federation, [Saudi] King Faisal bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz gave financial help to a delegation of Muslims from Korea that arrived to meet with him as he toured Japan in 1971. In the late 1970s, two delegations, one from Saudi Arabia and one from Kuwait, visited South Korea, and proposed establishing a school for Muslim children in the country. [Saudi] King Fahd bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz donated $25,000 annually to this project, which was given to the Korean Muslim Federation.

"In 2008, the daily Korean Times reported that Korean Muslim Federation secretary Kim Huam Yun announced that the [abovementioned] school would open in March 2009. The Korean news agencies reported, citing the Korean Muslim Federation, that the school would be called the Prince Sultan bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Muslim Elementary School, and would serve as a platform for correcting mistaken perceptions of Islam.

"The fact that they chose [to name the school] after the crown prince attests to his positive role in establishing it, as noted by the Korean news agency Yonhap. In the same item, it was reported that Saudi Ambassador to South Korea 'Abdallah Al-'Aifan donated $500,000 to the [Korean] Muslim Federation.

"It should be noted that the federation is [also] planning to establish [in Korea] high schools, a hospital, and a cemetery for Muslims, and an Islamic university which Prince Naif bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz promised to found when he visited South Korea. But these [plans] have been delayed for several reasons - primarily owing to the sale of the land designated for this aim. [However,] I believe that a solution will be found to this problem, under the direct patronage of Prince Naif."

"There Should Be a Focus on Islamic Education via Korean Schools"

"I hope that the decision makers in Saudi Arabia, who constantly support good [works], will support Muslims in South Korea - not only with money, but also by sending preachers and clerics who can help the Muslims [there] realize a dream. As Dr. Hamza said, one of the important problems facing Muslims in Korea is education, since the state of religious education in Korea is not reassuring.

"There should be a focus on Islamic education via the Korean schools. This demands aid from the Arab and Islamic states, primarily because the other religions, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity are very widespread in Korea, and their adherents allocate huge budgets to disseminate them. Meanwhile, the Muslims in Korea face economic problems that hamper the establishment of [Muslim] schools, mosques, and broadcasting centers."

"[Muslims] Who Address the Other in His Own Language, and Start a Cultural Dialogue [With Him], Can Stress that Islam Respects the Uniqueness of Others"

"Regarding the importance [of establishing] broadcasting centers and satellite channels, Dr. Hamza explained that [Muslims] who address the other in his own language, and start a cultural dialogue [with him] can stress that Islam respects the uniqueness of others. Hamza added that Islam is a world religion that is merciful and tolerant... [W]hat we are seeing today in the world is only a foul wave representing mistaken perceptions of Islam. This wave is still spreading worldwide, due to the informational advantage possessed by the rivals of Islam and the Muslims.

"Finally: There is no escape from pointing out that the Protestant and Catholic churches rival each other in sending out missionary delegations to South Korea, turning this country into the regional Asian center of Catholic missionary activity."

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Jalahma has in the past published several articles of an antisemitic nature: In a March 2002 article in Al-Riyadh, she wrote that Jews butchered teenagers for ritual purposes on the festival of Purim (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 354, "Saudi Government Daily: Jews Use Teenagers' Blood for 'Purim' Pastries," March 12, 2002,

Saudi Government Daily: Jews Use Teenagers' Blood for 'Purim' Pastries ). The newspaper's editor in chief later issued an apology for the publication of this article (see Special Dispatch No. 357, "Editor of Saudi Government Daily Al-Riyadh: Statement on 'Purim' Blood Libel Articles," March 21, 2002, Editor of Saudi Government Daily Al-Riyadh: Statement on 'Purim' Blood Libel Articles ). In another article, Al-Jalahma blamed the Rothschild family for the current global economic crisis (See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2091, "Arab Columnists: The Economic Crisis - A Conspiracy by U.S. Government, American Jews," October 22, 2008, Arab Columnists: The Economic Crisis – A Conspiracy by U.S. Government, American Jews ).

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia) September 6, 2009

[3] Our transcription of the Korean names is based on their Arabic spelling.