Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Shusyan University in South Korea"?

The Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) mentions a certain "Shusyan University in South Korea," which I'm guessing refers to Chosun University, in Gwangzu. The peculiar spelling comes by way of Memri's romanized transcription of the Arabic version of the original Korean.

This came to my attention in Memri's Special Dispatch, No. 2617 (October 26, 2009), which quotes Saudi columnist Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma from her Saudi Al-Watan column "The Muslims in South Korea Need Our Support." Al-Jalahma cites the London daily newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on a Muslim lecturer -- apparently a Korean Muslim -- who expressed the need of Korean Muslims for support:
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat interviewed [Dr.] Hamza Kyong, 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.
The name "Hamza Kyong" must also be an odd transcription, for it appears online only at the Memri site, and I suspect that his words -- transmitted perhaps from Korean through Arabic into English -- might also be a bit different in the original. I'm nevertheless struck by his remark "that South Korea was completely free of 'islamophobia,' but that this did not prevent the distortion of the image of Islam." Ordinarily, Muslims would characterize "distortion of the image of Islam" itself as an expression of "islamophobia." Be that as it may, Al-Jalahma cites Hamza Kyong further:
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.
I'm not certain how much of this is Hamza Kyong's opinion and how much Al-Jalahma's, but the point seems to be that Islam would make a good impression on the world if only its rivals didn't possess such an "informational advantage." I would have figured that Islam's image problem has far more to do with the actions of too many radical Muslims, but that's merely my distorted view, I suppose. Anyway, who are these rivals preventing Islam from being seen as "merciful and tolerant"? In South Korea, three rivals are noted, perhaps by Al-Jalahma but possibly by Hamza Kyong:
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.
Al-Jalahma (or Hamza Kyong?) also notes something even more alarming:
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.
The emphasis looks a bit misplaced to me. I'd say that South Korea is the regional Asian center of Protestant missionary activity, for the great majority of the some 15,000 Korean missionaries are sent out by Protestant churches, some of these being sent to Muslim countries -- as we know from the deaths of Protestant Korean missionaries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia over the past few years.

As a response to this mission work, Al-Jalahma (or possibly Hamza Kyong) urges Islamic mission work (da'wa) in South Korea. The reason given is that the "number of Muslims today [in Korea] is some 20,000, out of 40 million Koreans," and that whereas conversion to Islam in Korea used to be "1,000 annually . . . , this number has been decreasing since the 1980s, and [today] is [only] about 250 annually."

Those numbers look suspect to me. South Korea has a population of 50 million, and the 20,000 figure, even if correct for the number of Korean Muslims (which I doubt), ignores the great number of foreign Muslims in Korea.

In other words, I wouldn't rely on Al-Jalahma for the facts on Islam in South Korea . . . or elsewhere.

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