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Korean-Muslim Reverts Share Their Experiences Living In Malaysia

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Cheng Sim  •  May 15, 2020

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[Updated 11 May 2021] The holy month of Ramadan is a blessed time for Muslims everywhere. While we're increasing our ibadah and bringing ourselves closer to His words, we would also take the time to read heartwarming stories like these Muslim reverts' inspiring journey in finding Islam and their spiritual reflections during the month of Ramadhan.
Credit: Giphy After learning from Japanese Muslim reverts about what it's like to be living in Singapore, we had the opportunity to chat with three Korean Muslim reverts who are living and spending their Ramadan in Malaysia. Together, Nadia Han and Emir Kim share their heartwarming journey to Islam, honest reflections and challenges during this holy month.  Note: This interview was conducted in 2020. 
Nadia Han
Tell us a bit about yourself and how long has it been since you lived in Malaysia? Assalamualaikum, my name is Nadia Han (Muslim name) or Han Narae (Korean name). I am the owner of Eid Authentic Korean Cuisine Restaurant and I run the business with my husband (Yu Hyunwoo or Saad) and family. We have been in Malaysia since 2016.  How many years has it been since you reverted? Could you tell us more about how you became a revert? I reverted four years ago after I got married to my husband who is already a converted Muslim with his family. Before that, I had already known about Islam because of my brother-in-law, Said who had reverted the longest time among us. We had learned about Islam from him. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first reverted and how have you overcome it? It's a different lifestyle for a national Korean, of course, and I'm still slowly learning about halal food, modest clothing and prayers from the Muslim community around me. Everything is new, and it takes time, faith and dedication to learn. I also got help from my Muslim acquaintances in Malaysia, so it wasn’t difficult. Many people have helped us and that also makes it easier for us to learn.
What's a typical day like for you in Ramadan?  It feels like any normal day in Korea except I have to fast, but in Malaysia, I can feel that it is a very festive season, and all Muslims really love this month. In previous years, we can visit some food bazaars and shop during Ramadhan sale before the Eid celebration, which is really happening and enjoyable. I could learn a lot from the cultural experience and also the Muslim lifestyle here. But this year, we only spend our time fully at home due to COVID-19. We are running our business this Ramadhan by accepting delivery and online orders every day. Despite working and running the business every day, I'm still committed to doing normal chores like other housewives and moms out there. How do you balance being a Muslim in Malaysia, yet still staying true to your Korean roots? Being a Muslim in Malaysia is very comfortable as halal food is everywhere, and we can adapt comfortably. For example, my husband can perform Friday prayers at the mosque and I can wear hijab comfortably outside - everything is great. However, Korea is not a Muslim country, so it is still very difficult to do so. Since we run a Korean food business in Malaysia, we're still living like real Koreans do, eating Korean meals, and stay updated with Korean news. Although our child, Sarah who is now three years old, is being raised here in Malaysia, we still speak Korean to each other and educate her the same way Koreans do.
 Which part of Korea are you from and do you have any tips for travellers hoping to visit your hometown? We are staying in the middle of Seoul, which is nearby Dong Dae Moon and a familiar place among travellers. Travellers would love to visit the Cheonggyecheon stream for leisure walk and sight-seeing. Around the area, there are many markets and plazas that are great for shopping, so bring extra money if you're planning to visit! What are the common questions Korean locals have about Muslims or Islam? Some Koreans are influenced by Islamophobic news from the West, especially relating Islam to ISIS and wars. But nowadays, most Koreans have a better understanding of Islam, and they can accept and respect Muslims or people from different religions. Many Koreans had also been to Islamic countries, and many Muslim tourists or students are coming to Korea, so all the bad misconceptions are gone.
Have you celebrated Ramadan in Korea? How is it different from the Ramadan atmosphere in Malaysia?  Ramadan in Korea is just like any regular day except we have to fast. Breaking fast is just like having dinner. We will gather together with our family to break fast and eat dinner together. Dinner time in Korea is as early as 6 PM-7 PM, so it doesn’t feel different. In Korea, the difficult part is seeing everyone eating normally everywhere you go, but we can’t see it that much during Ramadan in Malaysia. It's also always summer and humid in Malaysia, which makes it difficult during the fasting month due to the hot weather. We also see that even non-Muslims are careful about eating openly during Ramadhan to respect the Muslims. It is very touching and we are very amazed at that. Do you go back to Korea often? What are some of the things you miss about your home country?  The last time I went back to Korea was during summer last year. I would go back only once a year but due to the current situation, we're not sure if we can go back or not. To be honest, we don’t miss Korea much because our family is here in Malaysia. When we first started our business here, I was separated from my husband. He was working in Malaysia and I was in Korea, and that was a difficult time for me. Now that we have many customers who are supporting our business in Malaysia, we are able to stay together and live here, thanks to them. We are very grateful that many Malaysians enjoys Korean delicacies, and we wish to introduce more authentic Korean food to them. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to our Eid Korea Restaurant team and workers for always working hard to make our dreams come true. We also want to wish Ramadhan Mubarak to all Muslims, and we pray for everyone to stay healthy. 
Emir Kim
Update as of 11 May, 2021 : Emir Kim is currently based in Seoul. You can read all about his experience celebrating Ramadan in South Korea this year How long has it been since you lived in Malaysia? I've been living in Malaysia since August 2019. How many years has it been since you reverted? Could you tell us more about how you became a revert? I reverted to Islam in November 2013. How I became a Muslim is a long story, but you can check out my Youtube video. Long story short, I reverted because I believe in Allah. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first reverted and how have you overcome it?  In Korea, it's hard to find halal food or prayer spaces like a masjid, and there was also discrimination against Muslims. How did I overcome it? I just left Korea. As a Muslim living in Malaysia, one of the things I love most is that there is no discrimination against Muslims here.  What's a typical day like for you in Ramadan? During Ramadan, I spent time fasting, reading the Quran, and resting. Spending Ramadan as a Korean-Muslim is the same as any other Muslims around the world. Which part of Korea are you from and do you have any tips for travellers hoping to visit your hometown? I'm from Seoul, a place that is widely visited by tourists and easy to travel to. For Muslim tourists, however, it's not easy to travel there because of the lack of halal food. If they want to pray and visit, I recommend Itaewon. What are the common questions Korean locals have about Muslims or Islam? As previously posted on my Instagram, some Koreans associate Islam with terrorism or something bad, and they think Islam is a foreign religion. Have you celebrated Ramadan in Korea? How is it different from the Ramadan atmosphere in Malaysia?  Spending Ramadan in Korea is very hard. Imagine fasting alone and only feeling the spirit of Ramadan if you visit the masjid or meet the Muslim community there. This is my first Ramadan in Malaysia, but due to the CMCO, I didn't manage to feel or experience the Ramadan atmosphere here. Do you go back to Korea often? What are some of the things you miss about your home country? I don't go back to Korea very often, and as mentioned, there are better countries to practice my Muslim faith than in Korea. So, I dont miss anything about my home country. A few years ago, you had the opportunity to perform umrah in Mecca. Can you share how the experience was like for you? Between the end of March and April 2017, I went to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. It was such an amazing feeling and I never expected it! During the same year, I went to Saudi Arabia again for Hajj. It was the best time of my life. The experience of going on pilgrimage is something that I can't express in words. If you have the opportunity, you must do it once in your lifetime.
Credit: Giphy It was such a privilege to read their stories and see how the Korean Muslim community in Malaysia has come a long way and continue to be a source of support and encouragement for fellow Korean Muslims everywhere. We hope you enjoyed reading their stories and do let us know if you would like to read more stories from the community!