June 10, 2015
For this week’s TL;DR we’re finally tackling the topic of what it’s like to be Muslim in Korea. And though we can’t speak about the topic from firsthand experience, we did a lot of research on this topic, which means we’re conveying information from peers, blogs, and articles, but I hope we can at least give you a bit of information on the topic, help those of you searching for Halal food, and prepare you a bit if you’re moving to Korea.
Now, speaking of personal experience, we’re often asked questions along the lines of “I’m African American/Muslim/Chinese/Irish/tall/short/overweight/have a beard/am a giraffe/etc…will I experience discrimination in Korea because of the way I look?”
And the answer to that question is neither a strong yes or a strong no, but a bit of both. Frankly, you will experience racism and discrimination everywhere in the world, Korea included, but is it an everyday part of life here? No. Have Simon and I been treated poorly because we’re foreigners? Absolutely. Have our friends of other races experienced similar treatment? Definitely. Is this a daily occurrence? Absolutely not. Being the foreign minority in any homogenous country simply means that we have to accept that some people will be ignorant of our culture and other cultures as well.
But, if you’re not Korean, I don’t think you’ll ever be accepted in Korean culture. Some people will argue otherwise, and they have all the right to, but I think that if you’re not Korean, you’ll always be thought of as an outsider. You could be fluent in Korean, be married to a Korean, have mixed kids in Korea, pay taxes. You could be a citizen, even, but you’ll always be considered weigookin, foreigner, alien. In Korea, national identity is almost entirely synonymous with race, and if you don’t have Korean blood you won’t be fully accepted, no matter what, regardless of if you’re Muslim, Chilean, African American, Caucasian, or anything. I’d love to be wrong on this, though! Please! I’d be more than happy to hear suggestions otherwise if your experience is different.
Back to the topic at hand, particularly on being Muslim in Korea, one of the issues we’ve read online and heard from Muslims living in Korea is that Koreans have asked them very straightforwardly why they wear hijabs. And they don’t even know that it is called a hijab; it’s more like “why are you wearing that on your head?!” Which I understand the confusion because – again – Korea is so homogenous, and the surprise is genuine. The question is more out of sincere curiosity rather than judgment, like “why the hell would you wear that?!” You know?
Other links you might find useful are that the large Seoul Central Mosque located in Itaewon has a website with some helpful articles about life in Korea, while Korea Tourism’s website also has a pamphlet on “Being Muslim in Korea”. I have no idea how accurate these suggestions are, so if you’ve been to any of these locations let us know in the comment section below!
Although we haven’t been to this location ourselves, Murree Muslim Food keeps coming up consistently from all the blogs I’ve searched. Here’s the address:
마리무슬림푸드 140-7 Itaewon-Dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 140-858
Otherwise, here’s a short list of some of the groceries stores that have Halal food. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start.
– Halal Meat Shop: 732-21, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
– Foreign Food Mart: 137-8, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
– Salam Bakery 살람베이커리 이태원점 732-21 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
– Marhaba Mart: 137-41, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Also, I’ve started to notice in some Home Plus stores a small section for Halal food. We haven’t bought anything from it, but I do distinctly remember walking past it and being surprised!
Lastly, we mentioned this place in the video, but we’ll talk about it here a bit more: if you’re traveling outside of Seoul, we recommend visiting the very multicultural Ansan which has it’s own subway station on Line 4 and is aptly named Ansan Station 안산역. Get off Exit 1 and then head towards Ansan Multicultural Village Special Zone 안산다문화마을특구 for all the restaurants and groceries.
They have a good selection of restaurants and groceries from many East Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, and Russia. I took Simon here for his birthday to have delicious Uzbekistan food and we even picked up some hard to find cilantro being sold at the subway station. Itaewon is focused more on North American foreign food, we think, while Ansan rocks for East Asian food altogether.
So that’s it! If you’re Muslim and traveling to Korea, I hope you found this video and post somewhat helpful. Though we couldn’t give you any definitive answers, we did our best to share what research we’ve done on the subject, and hopefully that – at least – may be of use to you. We’d love to open up the comments to conversation otherwise. If you’re Muslim and have been to Korea, how was your experience? Was eating Halal too overwhelmingly challenging? How was your interaction with Korean people? Please share :D