Every Ramadan, we feature inspiring Muslims from all around the world
to show how life as a Muslim is like where they are. From Korean Muslim reverts in Malaysia
to Japanese Muslims in Singapore
, there's a lot to learn from Muslims everywhere, especially during this blessed month. This year, with COVID-19, we are also being tested in different ways and these struggles surely make us stronger and closer to Allah.
We got the opportunity to interview Korean Muslim revert Safiya Kang, the owner of Manis Kitchen, Seoul's first halal Korean snack stall! On our trip to Seoul last year
, we got to visit her store and tried the delicious tteokbokki (rice cake). In this feature, she shares with us her journey to Islam and how Ramadan has been like in Seoul this year ? P.S. You'll also want to read till the end to find out what other yummy snacks Manis Kitchen has!
Note: These answers have been edited for length and clarity.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how long have you been a Muslim?
Assalamualaikum, I'm Safiya Kang Na-yeon from Korea and I've been a Muslim revert since in January 2015. I work as a manager at Korea Muslim Federation and personally run Manis Kitchen which sells Korean Halal snacks in front of the Seoul Central Masjid.
2. Could you tell us more about your journey of being a Muslim revert so far?
I started working at the Korean Muslim Federation (KMF) since the end of 2008 and I didn't understand much about Islam at that time. However, I was interested in Islam naturally while working at the Masjid, and after 8 years, I made Shahadah in front of Seoul Central Masjid's Imam.
3. What inspired you to become a Muslim?
I was able to feel a peace of mind when working with Muslim colleagues in the Masjid and meeting and hanging out with many Muslims. I felt Islam was a true religion, especially the Islamic doctrine of "all men are equal except God," and the Quran mentioned that, "You have your religion and I have my religion". I was impressed by Muslims who live without bothering others and that Islam does not ostracise people from other faiths, which is what is taught in the Quran too.
P.S. Check out this born Muslim's journey to rediscovering her faith.
4. What was your perception of Islam before this?
About 50% of Korea's population is atheist. I have never been interested in any religion as well, including Islam. Therefore, I have never had the perception that Islam was particularly good or bad.
5. How did your family and friends react when you told them that you were going to convert?
My family and most of my friends don't have a religion either. My family respected my opinion without any objection, and some of my friends thought that it was unusual.
6. What are the common questions or misconceptions that you have gotten about Muslims and Islam?
I've got a lot of questions about terrorism and Hijab so that's the most common misunderstanding. Whenever that happens, I feel so sorry and explain to them the Islam that I know.
7. How is it like to be a Muslim in Seoul?
I live near Seoul Central Masjid and it's easier to live a religious life than other Muslims in Korea. There are many Muslims around the Masjid and it's easy to find Halal food as well. Seoul is more convenient to live as a Muslim than other underdeveloped areas because of its advanced transportation.
8. How do you balance being a Muslim while still staying true to your Korean roots?
I always think of Islam and try not to deviate from my faith as a Muslim even though Korea is a country with strong Confucian ideas. When I explain to my family and friends about things that are not allowed in Islam, they care for me. Alhamdulillah.
9. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first reverted? Have you managed to overcome them?
Making changes in my daily life was the biggest challenge for me. It's not easy to change one's life and habits overnight. I think that I was able to control myself through faith and pray to Allah (S.W.T.).
10. How was your first Ramadan like? Is it better for you now?
I experienced Ramadan with my colleagues before reciting the Shahada. At first, it was hard to resist water, but I could feel the burden getting smaller as the years went by.
During my first Ramadan as a Muslim, I cried when breaking my fast with a date because I was touched. During Ramadan, Muslims also carry out their religious duties and spend Ramadan happily; it's not just about fasting. I still remember that feeling. The more I experience Ramadan every year, the more I feel at peace and happiness in my heart. Fasting is never difficult.
11. How is it like celebrating Ramadan in Seoul with COVID-19 this year? Do you face any challenges?
Many things have changed because of COVID-19. First of all, many Muslims could not gather and worship in the Masjid because it was not open. We could not feel Ramadan's greatest pleasure as we couldn't have Iftar and Tarawih prayer together this year. By the middle of Ramadan, Seoul Central Masjid offered Iftar coupons where you can visit halal restaurants around the Masjid but it was suspended within a week for the prevention of viruses and for the safety of everyone. It would be nice if we could all get together and have a good time with prayer for Ramadan, but it's for everyone's safety it's better to keep our distance for each other. May Allah(S.W.T) accept our intentions and fasting. Ameen.
Note: The mosque has since reopened and Eid-ul-Fitr prayers will be held.
12. Your shop, Manis Kitchen is very popular with Muslim travellers. Why did you decide to open Manis Kitchen?
I like Korean snacks very much. But there was no halal snack stalls in Korea. Both Korean Muslims but and Muslim travellers to Korea have been very curious about Korean snacks and want to eat them.
That's why I decided to open a snack stall for Muslims who like street food like me or want to experience Korean street food and light snacks.
P.S. Love Korean food? Check out these halal Korean eateries in Seoul for your future trips!
13. What is the most popular dish at Manis Kitchen?
Our most popular dishes are tteokbokki and corn dog. Tteokbokki is Korea's national snack. It's also my favourite. Spicy and sweet tteokbokki is perfect for a meal ? Corn dogs with chicken sausages and cheese are the most popular menu for Muslims visiting Manis Kitchen, along with tteokbokki. Fish cakes with warm soup and fried fish cakes (odeng) are also so popular!
14. What advice would you give new Muslim reverts out there?
I think that being a Mualaf is like being born again. I hope you live a life that worship and fear Allah (S.W.T.), and don't lose your identity as a Muslim. Lastly, I would like to say to all Muslim brothers and sisters, Assalamualaikum. The Coronavirus has worn us out but I believe that Allah (S.W.T) will show us his mercy to stabilize our lives soon. Insha Allah.
Muslim brothers and sisters, I hope you have a happy Ramadan with a smile! See you again soon in Korea. Insha Allah. Thank you.
P.S. You can find Safiya Kang on her personal Instagram page
or Manis Kitchen's official Instagram page