ASEAN community is well recognized for its diversity ranging from political, economic and socio-cultural viewpoints. Religion is one dimension of this diversity that significantly enriches the cultures and traditions of peoples in the Southeast Asia. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are practiced region-wide. The ten countries range from vast majorities of a single religion to diverse religious demographic make-ups. Interestingly, Islam takes up a major proportion of the ASEAN population, mainly contributed by the peoples of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Do you know that Indonesia is a nation of largest Muslim population?

Comprised of more than 260 million population, Indonesia is the most populous nation among ten ASEAN member states, and the over 87 per cent Muslim population makes the country the largest Muslim community globally. According to the Korea Immigration Service Statistics, the number of registered Indonesians living in Korea is at 39,130 in 2016, which rose more than double over the past 16 years. Among this number, approximately 3 per cent accounts for the number of students which surges by almost 40 per cent from 2010. This reflects the sharp increase of Indonesians having interests in Korean education and Korean language.       

Coming to live, work and study in a country with markedly different cultures, including religious practice, not only brings them a new experience of cultural adaptation, but also reinforces them a sense of community among country-mates.

Ramadan and Iftar

One of the sacred religious observances in Islam is fasting during Ramadan (رمضان) derived from the Arabic root ramiḍa which means heat or dryness. Ramadan is referred to the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when healthy adult Muslims are obliged to fast (abstain from consuming any food and drinking any liquid) from dawn until sunset as well as refrain from sinful behaviors. Ramadan this year fell between May 17 and June 15. According to the sun rise (Sehr) and sun set (Iftar) times in Korea, their fasting hours began at 3:15-3:30 a.m. and ended at 7:30-7:55 p.m. This means that Muslim fellows in Korea would have their pre-fast meals (Suhoor) before 3 a.m. and post-fast meals after 8 p.m. The breaking-fast feast is called Iftar (إفطار‎) which means ‘break fast’. The essence of these religious observances is to feel the plight of those who are deprived, to share, and to enhance the sense of community. Breaking their fast together, the community would gather to pray and then enjoy the feast.

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Where do Indonesians go for buka puasa (Iftar) in Korea?

Buka puasa means ‘to open the fast’ which refers to Iftar in Indonesia. Every year Indonesian Embassy provide a space where the country mates and their friends can gather to shalat [pray] and enjoy iftar together. “I use that moment to silahturahmi [greet and become closer to the community]… It is not only Muslims who participate iftar, non-Muslims are also allowed to take part and even help preparing the food,” said Desica Ana who participated iftar at the Embassy this year. Rahmadani Cahyaningtyas (Alik) also shares her story, “When I was back home, I would go help cleaning up the mosque… by contributing to the community, every day during Ramadan becomes precious and memorable.” She also added that holidays towards the end of Ramadan season is similar to Chuseok in Korea where people would return to their hometowns and spend time with their families.  

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Food that bridges communities…

During the time when our Muslim friends are on fasting amid the scorching hot weather trying to get through their regular working hours and tasks, it seems necessary for us to have better understanding of their circumstances. Desica and Alik also shared their experiences that afar from their hometown they have made a new family here with friends in Korea who understand their circumstances and kindly adjust dinner time when hanging out together. “Personally I am comfortable if Koreans organize and participate the Iftar. It is a chance for Koreans to learn about Islam and Indonesian culture,” suggested Alik. Since the sense of collectiveness in community and shared feelings are one of the essence of this whole season for Muslims, wouldn’t it be nice if ASEAN friends as well as Korean friends would hold and celebrate Iftar together some time next year round?




Story and Photos: Silsupa Wiwatwicha

World Population Review 

2017 ASEAN Korea in Figures

Rahmadani Cahyaningtyas (Alik), Seoul National University, MA candidate

Desica Ana, Seoul National University, MA candidate