The world has been shaped and formed by religious influence. Let’s have a look into the ASEAN countries. Malaysia accepts Islam as a national religion. However, the Malaysian demographics are mixed with Chinese and Tamil ethnic groups. Indonesia has six national religions including Islam. In fact, Indonesia has a huge number of Muslim population and their religion is an essential part of their everyday living with the multitude of religions in the same place.

Having seen the religious influence, there has been a substantial rise of interest in Islamic economy. In general, the Islamic economy is economic activity taking place in Islamic cultural country. Nonetheless, the economic activity is not confined to the geographic areas. Many Muslims carry their religious habits and make prior considerations on their how far the travel destinations can accommodate the needs for Muslims. This can also be a business strategy for non-Muslim based companies to adopt Muslim elements to enter the Islamic market. Korea is anticipated to have more people exchanges with the ASEAN countries that have Muslim populations. An important question is how Korean people perceive the Islamic economy and what are the practical constraints of Korean government in initiating Islamic policies?

The South Korean government has recently announced ‘New Southern Policy’ to increase cooperation between Korea and ASEAN. In the meantime, Korean society has feared Islam and was reluctant to accept it or introduced ill-considered policies without fully fathoming the Islamic economy. This article is not to promote a particular religion or endorse a particular country’s religious belief but to have an overview of what Islamic economy is.


The Introduction of Islamic Economy 

Islam has been a religion for long in human history, but it is a recent phenomenon that the Islamic economy has become a subject for academic studies as a form of economic activity. Since the 1950s, Islamic economy has emerged as a third alternative model in the era of socialism and capitalism. Previous economic concepts only tried to solve the economic problems with fragmentary solutions without diagnosing the whole economy. Among these, Sharia Law was a fruit of effort to consider the economic problems encountered from various perspectives in understanding economic circumstances. Despite this line of historical development, it is only a recent phenomenon that the Islamic economy has been defined academically and it is still on the process of structural studies. In particular, Global Islamic Economy Indicators is an example provided by Thompson-Reuter. It is a useful economic indicator as to how far the Islamic economic activity is accepted in one specific economic zone. Usually the measurement criteria include food, finance, tourism, cosmetics and others as the main research targets. In Korean society, particular attention is paid to halal food, Islamic finance, Muslim tourism sectors.

This is just a brief overview of several terminologies used in the Islamic economy. Islam is the name of religion. Muslim is a person who believes in Islam. It has been known that Islamic economic is Sharia Law focused but Sharia is a collection of documents used for religious interpretation, thus Sharia is not a single concept. Koran contains the messages from the god, Sunnah is a collection of Muhammed, Ijma is an agreement of Islamic community Ulama, and Qiyas with interpretation being inferred from the agreement. In Islamic finance, Riba disallows financial interests, but the interests are distinguished from profits. In ordinary commercial activity, profit pursuing is acceptable but interests on currency are forbidden. This precluded commercial trade is called Garar. Gambling which is Maisir is also banned. In addition, the most customarily used words related to food are halal and Haram. Pork is haram for Muslims. The former is allowed but the latter is prohibited.

Islamic Economy in Southeast Asia

Most people believe that the Middle East is a place leading the discussion on the Islamic economy and it is the region that has the most vigorous Islamic economic activity. However, Southeast Asia has led Islamic economy as the central place. For instance, the industrialisation of halal means that many groceries are halal marked products. In Malaysia, there are diverse ethnic groups in Malaysian demographics. Many Malays are Chinese, Hindu, and other foreign nationals. The Chinese group is in active engagement with the Malaysian domestic economy, and this is one reason that inhibition of the distribution of pork or non-halal meat is not practical. This is a concern for Malay Muslims and there is a greater administrative need for government to distinguish halal food from other types of meat.

On top of that, Indonesia has the biggest Muslim population. Other major Muslim population resides in various Asian nations such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In terms of geographical closeness, it is more likely that Korean people encounter Muslims from Southeast Asia and South Asia. Having reflected this reality, Indonesia had a plan to introduce halal and Non-halal classification for all manufactured products. Despite the high level of Muslim community, there is a continuing debate on how to adopt Islamic economy in the region as well.

Islamic Economy in Korea 

Some scholars argue that Korea’s relations with Islam go back to Unified Silla(통일신라). There are some references written in Unified Silla’s royal document archives. It seems that during the colonial Yuan Dynasty(원나라), some groups of Muslims from Uyghur(위그루족) population moved to Koryo(고려시대). Moreover, In Chosun(조선시대), Muslims were invited together for national events but they were expelled during Ming Dynasty(명나라).

Modern relation between Muslim and Korea can be found from the deployment of Turkish army during the Korean War. There were about 15,000 soldiers being despatched and there were Imams and others to assist the soldiers’ religious activity. Those people established a domestic Ankarar school to let Korean people know Islam. Since then, there was a need to make a stronger relation with the Muslim community and Seoul metropolitan government paid money to build a temple in Itaewon, Seoul.

Unfortunately, there have been few occasions causing negative atmosphere towards Islam. Several examples include 9.11 terror attack in the U.S., Kim Seon-il hostage situation, South Korean missionaries detainment, and Yemeni migrant crisis. These are not directly related to Muslims in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, those several occasions made Korean people form negative images about Muslim. The construction of halal food industry and the adoption of Islamic finance have been denounced by the public. These are instances of attempt to accept the Islamic economy into Korea but encountered significant social constraints. These recent phenomena provide appropriate forums for discussions on the development of multiculturalism in Korea.


Challenges in Multicultural Korean Society

There are questions remain unanswered as to whether Korean society has high level of civic engagement in creating inclusive multicultural community. Firstly, how far Korean people are aware of Islam? General speaking, it does not seem that there is a propensity to maintain safe or an attempt to improve the perception about Islam. While it is necessary not to characterise Islam as a symbol of terrorism or accidents happened due to their Islamic belief, Islam is not a single belief and the over-generalisation of people believing Islam as insidiously dangerous is a wrongful point of view. The kind of Islamic extremists are unlikely to be found in the Southeast Asian Muslim population. Criticising Islam without thoughtful consideration is to be discouraged.

Secondly, a further question is whether Korean society and public community are ready to accept the concept of Islamic economy. As it has been stated earlier, it can bring effects on ordinary daily life of many Korean people. For instance, no interests are charged in financial system, halal groceries will need to be clearly marked, then the current tax law should be able to support such legal foundation. Islamic economy is blue ocean but accepting such economy without building solid understanding among the general public is a prudent policy decision to make.