Seoul, South Korea – This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan, which was a turning point in the history of Islam in Korea. Today, South Korean Muslims make up a tiny minority, 0.2 percent, of the predominantly Christian and Confucian society.
As South Korea is opening its doors to Muslim tourists, trying to fill the vacuum left by the declining number of Chinese tourists following the debacle launched with the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, various generations of native Korean Muslims reflect on their double identity as Koreans and Muslims in South Korea.
The number of Muslim tourists coming to the country saw a 33 percent increase last year from 2015 and is expected to reach 1,2 million people by the end of 2017, as revealed by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).
Tapping into this economic potential, the country has increased the number of Halal certificates for its restaurants and prayer rooms, and the Seoul Tourism Organization is promoting a series of videos showcasing Muslim-friendly restaurants around the capital.
Islam and the Korean Peninsula share a history of mutual fascination and curiosity. From the era of the Silk Road in the 9th century to today’s modern interconnected world, the bonds that were once forged through maritime travel have now been passed on to a new generation of young Muslim Koreans, who try to find a balance between their Korean culture and newfound religion.
Retracing the history of Islam in Korea and its reintroduction to the country by Turkish troops during the 1950-1953 Korean War, Al Jazeera spoke with several generations of South Korean Muslims, who expressed the difficulties they face in the Confucian Korean society dominated by class, age hierarchy, a strong drinking culture, and a distrust of Islam.