Saturday, May 28, 2011

Muslims in Korea

A priest-professor of patristics (the study of the early Christian writers) at the Catholic University and guest columnist in the Catholic Times this week, reflects on the death of Bin Laden and how his death was received in different parts of the world. He noted that his death was greatly cheered, not surprisingly, in the United States as a victory for justice.

Here in Korea, much of the press were clearly excited and not suppressing their joy that "the darkness was not able to overcome the light." The professor quotes Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Pope's press spokesman, who said that Osama bin Laden was responsible for promoting division and hatred among people, causing the death of many innocent lives and exploiting religions. However, a Christian never rejoices at the death of anyone, he said, but should reflect on the serious responsibility that bin Laden had before God; we should also think deeply on this responsibility ourselves.

Because of bin Laden many think that Islam is a hothouse for terrorists, some even seeing the Crusades as a Christian jihad, a holy war against non-Christians similar to the terrorist activities of the extreme Islamist of today. The Pew Research Center has reported that 23 percent of the world's population is  Muslim. Knowing this, can we continue to say that Muslims are terrorists?

In Korea there are currently 130,000-140,000 Muslims, and of that number about 45,000 are native-born Koreans. We should be careful of the way we think of our Muslim Koreans, many of whom, simply because of their religion, have been harassed and made to feel like outsiders. We have many different nationalities and religions living together in Korea so we should try to understand and share our different cultures.  
Islam and its culture entered Korea during the 13th and 14th centuries. During the Koryo period there was already a thriving community of Muslims with their own culture, and language. At a public ceremony in the time of King Sejong, the Muslims were present, reading parts of the Koran and wishing the King good health. But gradually during the ascendancy of Confucianism in Korea, Islam died out. 

The professor reminds us that we have been living with other people and other religions in our country for a long time. And we should not, without justifiable reasons, criticize others even though their way of life appears strange to us. We should instead try to find the  common elements that unite us. 

Pope Benedict tells us that the commandment of love is what should unite us with the Muslims. They are my brothers and sisters, and they should not be seen as terrorists. The professor, summing up his reflections, asks:  Isn't it often true that we make others terrorists by the way we treat them, by our prejudice and distorted views, and by the violence we use against them?

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