In the early 1980’s, one of my uncles went to Saudi Arabia to head the pipeline project for one of the biggest Korean companies at the time, Dong Ah Construction which was led by another relative. This was the first time I was personally exposed to the Islamic religion, when my uncle visited me in the United States around 1984. During that time, I was something of a wild child. Although I didn’t drink or smoke, I loved to go dancing (wearing makeup and short skirts) until late at night and I was dating a boy who was 7 years older. My mother was worried and felt I was out of control and influenced by my straitlaced and very strict Army Colonel Stepfather, she spoke with my uncle about taking me back to Saudi Arabia. Apparently over there, I would not be allowed to go out and would face severe punishment as a young girl if I were to do anything they considered out of bounds. Basically, I would be completely locked up. That’s when I destroyed my naturalization paper, knowing that I couldn’t get a passport without it.
What I now know is that many of the Korean American immigrant families coming to the United States in the late 80’s arrived via Saudi Arabia. Thus I wondered, did any of them go back to the homeland with changed religions and ideologies?
There was a definite documented rise of the Islamic Muslim religion in South Korea when many Koreans worked on a huge pipeline and construction project in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. One reason may be that the religion itself is very chauvinistic and geared to raise men up in a very honorific fashion, and during these times South Korea itself was going through a modernization process of having a middle class overriding the country’s feudal system which went back thousands of years.
At present day, from the last recorded data according to the Korea Muslim Federation:
[T]here are an estimated 92,000 Muslim, largely because of an influx of foreign workers from countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
The federation said there are an estimated 45,000 Muslims among Koreans, official data from the government does not yet exist. The 2005 census conducted by Statistics Korea included a survey of religions practiced in Korea, but Islam was excluded. In the 2010 census, the question on religion was omitted.
According to history, Korea has had a long history with the Islam culture and religion going back to the 9th century A.D. during the Shilla dynasty. This makes sense when you look at the trade routes of the old Silk Road spreading Islam connecting Saudi Arabia from the Middle East to China. From Wikipedia:
Islam is currently the largest religion in Asia (25%) followed by Hinduism. The total number of Muslims in Asia in 2010 was about 1.1 billion (25% of the total population). Asia is home to the largest Muslim population, with the Middle East (West/Southwest Asia), Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia being particularly important regions. 62% of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh having the four largest Muslim populations in the world.
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. 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.
Interest in the Islamic Muslim culture is growing and natural Koreans are converting. The acceptance is prevalent at the top school in the nation, Seoul National University which opened a room for the Muslim religion followers to pray.
It makes you wonder where the religion does stand in the top 3 economical and financial hierarchy of nations, of which South Korea is one.
In China, Muslims have been thriving and interacting for the last 1,400 years. They live in every region.
China is home to a large population of adherents of Islam. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 1–2% of the total population in China are Muslims. The 2000 census counts imply that there may be up to 20 million Muslims in China. A 2009 study done by the Pew Research Center, based on China’s census, concluded there are 21,667,000 Muslims in China, accounting for 1.6% of the total population. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims in the country while unofficial estimates range as high as 50 million. According to SARA there are approximately 36,000 Islamic places of worship, more than 45,000 imams, and 10 Islamic schools in the country.
Surprised? Again, it all started during the trades along the Silk Roads.
Then there is Japan where only less then one hundredth of a percent of their population are documented Muslims. Why is this?
The Jewish Press presents three theories:
1. The Japanese tend to lump all Muslims together as fundamentalists who are unwilling to give up their traditional point of view and adopt modern ways of thinking and behavior. In Japan, Islam is perceived as a strange religion, that any intelligent person should avoid.
2. Most Japanese have no religion, but behaviors connected with the Shinto religion along with elements of Buddhism are integrated into national customs. In Japan, religion is connected to the nationalist concept, and prejudices exist towards foreigners whether they are Chinese, Korean, Malaysian or Indonesian, and Westerners don’t escape this phenomenon either. There are those who call this a “developed sense of nationalism” and there are those who call this “racism”. It seems that neither of these is wrong.
3. The Japanese dismiss the concept of monotheism and faith in an abstract god, because their world concept is apparently connected to the material, not to faith and emotions. It seems that they group Judaism together with Islam. Christianity exists in Japan and is not regarded negatively, apparently because the image of Jesus perceived in Japan is like the images of Buddha and Shinto.
The most interesting thing in Japan’s approach to Islam is the fact that the Japanese do not feel the need to apologize to Muslims for the negative way in which they relate to Islam. They make a clear distinction between their economic interest in resources of oil and gas from Muslim countries, which behooves Japan to maintain good relations with these countries on the one hand, and on the other hand, the Japanese nationalist viewpoints, which see Islam as something that is suitable for others, not for Japan, and therefore the Muslims must remain outside.
Having lived in Japan for several years, all of the above rings true. It’s not that they write laws to forbid the religion, but the country does not stray from its cultural roots and nationalistic values. Japan has always thrived by isolating itself from the rest of the world, sometimes on purpose but also due to a deeply rooted respect laden with responsibility and loyalty honorific system to its people and country.
What is troubling is to see the impact of the Islamic Muslim religion in other Asian nations, including Malaysia which is now at the forefront of the news due to the missing jetliner and the discovery that there had been stolen passports used.
Malaysia’s population as of 2013 is predominantly 65% Muslim. Article 3 of the Constitution of Malaysia establishes Islam as the “religion of the Federation”.
Meanwhile, violent incidences have grown in the Asian Muslim countries.
-March 2014 Kunming attack – 29 civilians dead, 140 injured – Xinhua News Agency announced within hours of the incident that it was carried out by separatist Turkish Islamic organization affiliated group, the Uyghur Muslims.
-February 2014 – homemade bomb by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Southern Philippines
– February 2014 – Suspected Muslim rebels blamed for bomb attack in southern Thailand
– January 2010 – 10 attacks on places of worship due to “contradicting the teachings of Islam”
There are many more and we’ve heard of attacks in the Western Hemisphere, including of course the World Trade Center and the English soldier hacked with a machete. The bizarre thing is instead of Asia condemning the spread of Islam, they tolerate and excuse it with the bizarre insinuation that we are causing them to attack for defensive purposes. From Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, “Leading South Asian rights campaigners have accused Amnesty International of “undermining” the rights movement, especially the campaign against sex and gender discrimination, by working with extremist — often misogynist — groups engaged in what they claim is ‘defensive jihad’.”
Right now, I am glad I live in the United States of America with my daughters. I look at what is happening throughout the world, and particularly in Asia. When the Malaysian jetliner went down, many believe and are still wondering if it was caused by a terrorist attack, in particular a Muslim terrorist attack. That idea has not been totally disproven yet.
Hopefully we will find out in the next few weeks.