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Islam in Korea

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Title: Islam in Korea  
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Subject: Islam by country, Religion in Korea, Islam in Asia, Islam in South Korea, Pakistanis in South Korea
Collection: Islam by Country, Islam in Asia, Islam in South Korea, Religion in Korea
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Islam in Korea

In South Korea, Islam (이슬람교) is a small minority religion. The Muslim (both Korean and foreign-born) community is centered on 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 fewer than 30,000 indigenous Korean Muslims, are Central Asian, West Asian (i.e. Iraqi), Indonesian and Malaysian immigrants in South Korea, the majority of whom are Muslims. They have been guest workers since the 1990s, taking the total Muslim population in the country to around 35,000.[1]

It is believed that there is no significant presence of Islam in North Korea, where autonomous religious activity in general is almost non-existent. However, the Iranian embassy in Pyongyang hosts a Twelver Shi'i mosque.[2]


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Goryeo period 1.2
      • Soju 1.2.1
    • Joseon period 1.3
      • Study of the Huihui Lifa 1.3.1
      • Decree against the Huihui community 1.3.2
    • Later periods 1.4
  • 20th-century re-introduction 2
  • Today 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • Sources 5.2
  • External links 6


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.[3] In 751, a Chinese general of Goguryeo descent, Gao Xianzhi, led the Battle of Talas for the Tang dynasty 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 Estakhri in the mid-9th century.[4]

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 Khordadbeh, many of them settled down permanently in Korea, establishing Muslim villages.[5] Some records indicate that many of these settlers were from Iraq.[6] Other records suggest that a large number of the Alawid Shia faction settled in Korea.[7] Further suggesting a Middle Eastern Muslim community in Silla are figurines of royal guardians with distinctly Persian characteristics.[8] In turn, later many Muslims intermarried with Korean women. Some assimilation into Buddhism and Shamanism took place owing to Korea's geographical isolation from the Muslim world.[9]

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.[10]

Goryeo period

According to local Korean accounts, Muslims arrived in the peninsula in the year 1024 in the Goryeo kingdom, a group of some 100 Muslims, including Hasan Raza, came in September of the 15th year of Hyeonjong of Goryeo and another group of 100 Muslim merchants came the following year.[11]

Trading relations between the 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. Some Muslim Hui people from China also appear to have lived in the Goryeo kingdom.[12]

With the Mongol armies came the so-called Saengmokin (Semu), or "colored-eye people", this group consisted of Muslims from Central Asia. In the Mongol social order, the Saengmokin occupied a position just below the Mongols themselves, and exerted a great deal of influence within the Yuan dynasty.

It was during this period satirical poems were composed and one of them was the Sanghwajeom, the "Colored-eye people bakery", the song tells the tale of a Korean woman who goes to a Muslim bakery to buy some dumplings.

Kangnido reflects the geographic knowledge of China during the Mongol Empire when geographical information about Western countries became available via Islamic geographers.[13]

Small-scale contact with predominantly Muslim peoples continued on and off. During the late Goryeo period, there were mosques in the capital Gaeseong, called Ye-Kung, whose literary meaning is a "ceremonial hall".[14]

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 of Goryeo. 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: the Jang clan, with its seat at Toksu village.[3]

The same is true of the descendants of another Central Asian who settled down in Korea. A Central Asian 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.[4]


Soju was first distilled around the 13th century, during the Mongol invasions of Korea. The Mongols had acquired the technique of distilling Arak from the Muslim World[15] during their invasion of Central Asia and the Middle East around 1256, it was subsequently introduced to Koreans and distilleries were set up around the city of Kaesong. Indeed, in the area surrounding Kaesong, Soju is known as Arak-ju (hangul: 아락주).[16]

Joseon period

Study of the Huihui Lifa

Korean celestial globe based on the Huihui Lifa.

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.[4] A Korean translation of the Huihui Lifa "Muslim System of Calendrical Astronomy", a text combining Chinese astronomy with the zij works of Jamal al-Din, was studied during the time of Sejong the Great in the 15th century.[17] The tradition of Chinese-Islamic astronomy survived in Korea up until the early 19th century.[18]

Decree against the Huihui community

In the year 1427 Sejong ordered a decree against the Huihui (Korean Muslim) community that had had special status and stipends since the Yuan dynasty. The Huihui were forced to abandon their headgear, to close down their "ceremonial hall" (Mosque) and worship like everyone else. No further mention of Muslims exist during the era of the Joseon.[19]

Later periods

Islam was practically non-existent in Korea by the 16th century and was re-introduced in the 20th century. It is believed that many of the religious practices and teachings did not survive.[4] However, in the 19th century, Korean settlers in Manchuria came into contact with Islam once again; some of these became the first Korean Muslims in modern times.[20]

20th-century re-introduction

During the Korean War, Turkey sent a large number of troops to aid South Korea under the United Nations command called the Turkish Brigade. 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.[20] The Korea Muslim Society grew large enough to become the Korea Muslim Federation in 1967.[4]


In 1962, the Malaysian government offered a grant of 33,000 USD 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.[4] The Seoul Central Mosque was finally built in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood in 1976. Today there are also mosques in Busan, Anyang, Gyeonggi, Gwangju, Jeonju, Daegu and Kaesong. According to Lee Hee-Soo (Yi Huisu), 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.[21]

Seoul also hosts a Hussainiya near Samgakji Station for offering salat and memorizing the grandson of Muhammad, Hussein. Daegu also has a Hussainiya.[22]

The Korean Muslim Foundation said that it would open the first Islamic primary school, Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Elementary School, in March 2009, with the objective of helping Muslims in South 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.[23]

Before this formal establishment of an elementary school, a madrasa named Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Madrassa functioned since the 1990s, where children were given opportunity to learn Arabic, Islamic culture and English.

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 September 11 attacks.[24] In Arirang TV, a Korean station also did a 9-minute report on Imam Hak Apdu and Islam in Korea.[25]

See also



  1. ^ Bae Ji-sook (2007-08-10). "Life is Very Hard for Korean Muslims".  
  2. ^ Chad O'Carroll (22 January 2013). "Iran Build's Pyongyang's First Mosque". NKNews. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Grayson, James Huntley (2002). Korea: A Religious History.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f Baker, Don (Winter 2006). "Islam Struggles for a Toehold in Korea". Harvard Asia Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  5. ^ Lee (1991) reviews the writings of more than 15 Arabic geographers on Silla, which most refer to as al-sila or al-shila.
  6. ^ Lee (1991, pp. 27-28) cites the writings of Dimashqi, al-Maqrisi, and al-Nuwairi as reporting Alawid emigration to Silla in the late 7th century.
  7. ^ Lee (1991, p. 26) cites the 10th-century chronicler Mas'udi.
  8. ^ These were found in the tomb of Wonseong of Silla, d. 798 (Kwon 1991, p. 10).
  9. ^ Islamic Korea - Pravda.Ru
  10. ^ Keith Pratt, Richard Rutt, James Hoare (1999). Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary.  
  11. ^
  12. ^ Keith Pratt, Richard Rutt, James Hoare (1999). Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary.  
  13. ^ (Miya 2006; Miya 2007)
  14. ^ "Islam takes root and blooms". Islam Korea. Retrieved 2006-03-20. 
  15. ^ "Moving beyond the green blur: a history of soju". JoongAng Daily. 
  16. ^ "History of Soju" (in Korean). Doosan Encyclopeida. 
  17. ^ Yunli Shi (January 2003). "The Korean Adaptation of the Chinese-Islamic Astronomical Tables". Archive for History of Exact Sciences ( 
  18. ^ Yunli Shi (January 2003). "The Korean Adaptation of the Chinese-Islamic Astronomical Tables". Archive for History of Exact Sciences ( 
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b "About Seoul: Way of Life". Seoul City government website. Retrieved 2006-03-20. 
  21. ^ The article (in Korean) at [4] quotes Lee Hee-Soo (Yi Hui-su), president of 한국 이슬람 학회 (Korea Islam Institute), with these figures.
  22. ^
  23. ^ First Muslim School to Open Next Year
  24. ^ Life is Very Hard for Korean Muslims
  25. ^


  • Baker, Don (Winter 2006). "Islam Struggles for a Toehold in Korea". Harvard Asia Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  • Kwon, Young-pil. (1991). Ancient Korean art and Central Asia: Non-Buddhist art prior to the 10th century. Korea Journal 31(2), 5-20. [5]
  • Lee, Hee-Soo. (1991). Early Korea-Arabic maritime relations based on Muslim sources. Korea Journal 31(2), 21-32. [6]

External links

  • Korea Muslim Federation (Korean) (English)
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology ( KAIST ) - Muslim Students Association ( MSA )
  • Islamic Center & Masjid of Daejeon
  • Cheonju Masjid
  • Islam and Muslims in South Korea
  • Collections of Korean Muslim Sermons (Audio)
  • “난 한국인 무슬림이다” (Korean) - Introducing Korean Muslim communities (Part 1) by The Hankyoreh
  • ‘코슬림’ 알리 “내 나라는 코리아” (Korean) - Introducing Korean Muslim communities (Part 2) by The Hankyoreh
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