Dynamic Korea
Muslims, a minority among minorities

April 01, 2006

Indonesians and Koreans living in this country are likely to know more about Korean movies than the existence here of a Korean Muslim community.

"There are very few Korean Muslims in Indonesia," said Ahn Ali, 43, a member of the Korean Muslim Federation in Indonesia.

Among some 30,000 Koreans living in this country, only 50 are Muslims, including those who converted to because they married Indonesian women.

Such a small number was probably due to the lack of knowledge Koreans had about Islamic teaching and culture, Ahn said.

"Even in Korea there are only 35,000 Muslims out of the country's 40 million population."

The spread of Islam in Korea dated back to the 1950s, when the Korean War broke out. Two Turkish soldiers, Zubercoch and Abdul Rahman, who were stationed in Korea at that time, built a hut -- later called the Masjid Tent -- where they gathered locals and preached Islamic values.

The development of Islam in Korea was later supported with the establishment of the Korean Islamic Foundation in 1967. Its Indonesian branch, known as the Korean Muslim Federation, later opened in 1982 as many Koreans were coming to work in this country.

Despite the surging number of Korean workers in Indonesia, the number of Korean Muslims did not experience a similar growth.

Being minorities in their own community has not held them back from eagerly participating in the spreading of Islamic teachings. In fact, many of them came to Indonesia in the first place to study Islam under scholarships offered by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs.

"I graduated from IAIN (State Islamic Institute) Jakarta in 1985, majoring in da'wah (proselytizing)," Ahn said.

These days, the man who runs the Korea-Indonesia Information Center is also a part-time lecturer in cultural studies and entrepreneurship at the As-syafi'iyah Islamic Institute in Bekasi.

Not having many fellow Korean Muslims to interact with, the foreign Islamic preacher speaks more at local religious gatherings.

"I am often invited to Indonesian events that are held on Islamic holidays such as Maulid Nabi (the birth of prophet Muhammad)," he said. "There is nothing special going on at such times among the (non-Muslim) Korean community."

Korean Muslims in Indonesia get together once each year for an annual meeting.

"We do not yet have more frequent regular meetings such as pengajian or religious gatherings, so we go to local mosques and join local gatherings instead," said Mohammad Hochul Kil, one of the founders of the federation.

Kil, also a former student of the State Islamic Institute, admitted that as Korean Muslims they were a minority among minorities.

"Learning from our experiences here, we do not see people as Korean or Indonesian or Muslims," Kil said. "We are all brothers..


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