Did you know?: Muslim Presence in the Korean Peninsula
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Since the Middle Ages, Islamic geography was one of the most advanced in the world. This progress was due to the incorporation of geographical knowledge of India and Persia, and later to the influence of Ptolemaic geography from Ancient Greece. This knowledge emanated from the necessity of the creation of an efficient network to communicate peacefully, and from the necessity to define the direction of the holy city of Mecca in order to pray.
Before the birth of Islam, archaeological evidences show the existence of trade relations between the Korean Peninsula and the Arabian Peninsula, Persia and Anatolia. Similar to most of the encounters along the Silk Roads, the main contacts between the Koreans and the Muslims were established through mutual trade, first in China, where the Muslims were mainly present in the Southeastern region. Thus, the birth of this new religion in the seventh century generated a development of Korean-Muslim cultural encounters, and an increase of the commercial relations.
Therefore, due to the position of the Korean Peninsula – designated as “Silla”, Muslims were able to reach this land. When some of the Muslim scholars designated Silla as a land situated at the eastern coasts of China, other scholars were not clear regarding Silla’s geographical situation, and some of them presented Silla as a country, an island, or an archipelago. However, Muslim geographers managed to place Silla in the first climate zone above the equator.
The Muslims perceived Silla as a rich land, mainly because of its “abundant gold”, silk, and diverse gems. They were notably attracted by Silla’s hawks, which were at this time an important hunting tool for them. In addition, at the same time, many features of the Islamic culture were brought into the Korean Peninsula.
Writing evidences of Muslim scholars such as Ibn Khordadbeh, Ibn Rustah, or Masudi, show the presence of Muslims in Silla through centuries. The oldest record being a book written in the ninth century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh. He describes for instance, the settlements of Muslims in Silla, the trading routes, and the goods exchanged. According to these scholars, the Muslims established in Silla were attracted, amongst others, by the “pleasant living conditions”, including the good environment, fresh air, fertile land, and by the benefits of trade. Thus, most of them settled there permanently. These accounts of these settlements highlighted the fact that Muslims were also attracted by the hospitality of the inhabitants of Silla. Furthermore, later divisions within Islam resulted in the migration of some Muslim communities, such as the Shiites who moved towards East, and arrived in Silla.
Therefore, along decades, due to these cultural and trade exchanges made along the Silk Roads, the Korean Peninsula witnessed diverse arrivals from Muslims – who were mostly Arabs or Persians. In this way, both communities benefited culturally and commercially from these mutual exchanges. After their establishment in Silla, most of the Muslims accommodated themselves into the Korean society. Thus, creating a remarkable blending between these people from different worlds.
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