It was half a century ago that two Muslims, Imam Zubercoch and Abdul Rahman, fought for peace in the Korean War as part of the UN forces and in the process introduced Islam's holy book, the Koran, to Korea. On Friday, the country celebrated the golden anniversary of their mission.
Sponsored by the Korea-Middle East Association, prominent figures in Korea's Islamic community along with foreign dignitaries and Korean lawmakers gathered to commemorate the anniversary.
Muslims came together to say evening prayers before breaking their fast during the holy month Ramadan with the “iftar” meal. Though such observances seem alien to many, Islam is said to be the fastest growing religion on earth and followed by one-fifth of the world population.
Korea now has some 100,000 Muslims, more than 30 percent of whom are Koreans. That Islamic fundamentalists were behind major terrorist acts worldwide has meant that many ordinary Muslims face discrimination. But religious leaders insist Islam is a peaceful faith.
"It's a shame that many Koreans associate Islam with terrorism. Those terrorists have nothing to do with our religion. It's wrong to say they are Islamic fundamentalists, they are just from anti-American or anti-Israeli groups. Islam's ideologies are peace, equality and brotherhood," one said.
The Korean government has tried to ensure that not all Muslims are tarred with the same brush. "We have established an important forum, the Korea-Middle East Forum, and we have held two conferences already,” a government official said. The anniversary “provides a very important platform and opportunity for people, academics and journalists to exchange views and appreciate the history and culture and religions of Koreans and Muslims."
Korea is putting on exhibitions of Islamic art, cultural performances and friendly football matches, film screenings and food festivals to deepen ties between non-Muslims in Korea and the Islamic world.