Korean-Arab Exchanges

United Silla Kingdom AD 676-918

Korean-Arab exchange began when Arab merchants visited United Silla. Silla traded silk, swords and musk with the Arab world in exchange for spices and glass items. This history of exchange can be seen in , and account of travels by the Arab merchant Suleiman, who made several commercial ventures into India and China. It was this account that first introduced United Silla to the Arab world. Extant medieval Arab literature also bears witness to such exchange. The literature describes in detail the lives of Arabs in Silla at that time and Silla’s topography, natural environment and the lives of its people from the Arab’s perspective. The Arab geographer Al-Idrisi’s 1154 world atlas featured Korea 400 years before it appeared on European maps of the world, revealing the long history of Korean-Arab encounter and deep-rooted relations. The Arab merchants travelling the world 1,000years ago opened the inland Silk Road and the Indian maritime route, and they opened the era of historic exchange between Korea and the Arab world.

Goryeo Dynasty AD 918-1392

Korean-Arab exchange started with trade and developed greatly in parallel with the rise of the Goryeo dynasty. The Arab world and the Islamic world more generally became well known to Goryeo through the Yuan dynasty, and trade became more extensive. An exclusive community of Arabs was created in Goryeo, and one Arab even became a Goryeo government official. With this active exchange, Goryeo became widely known as “Coree” in the Arab world and Europe. By the time Goryeo fell and passed into history, the name had become so well-established that the nation is still known as Korea to this day.

Joseon Dynasty AD 1392-1910

Culture, science and technology are transferred through exchange. Korean-Arab exchange reached its climax in the early years of the Joseon Dynasty and it greatly facilitated the development of science and technology, and crafts. However in to the mid Joseon dynasty, exchange declined sharply when China decided to close its doors to the world and conservative Confucian culture took root in Joseon. In the late Joseon dynasty, exchange resumed and became active again as a result of enlightenment in Korea and the Ottoman Empire’s establishment of stronger ties with the Far East. A new age of exchange is upon us today in the 21st century.

Korea today

Turkish Muslims settled in Korea in the 1920s. Turkish Arabs fought in the Korean War, further consolidating the Muslim presence in Korea. In 1955, the Korean Muslim Association was established. It started anew as the Korean Muslim Central Federation, Korea’s only Muslim organization. In 1961, a domestic university opened Korea’s first department of Arabic and in 1976, Korea’s first mosque was established. In the 1970s, Korean companies participated extensively in major infrastructure projects in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia’s Jubail Port, the world’s largest of its kind, and Libya’s Great Manmade River.
Much of the Arab world has an energy-intensive industrial structure, and Korea is very industrialized. Their relationship is naturally complementary and cooperative. Korea offers high value and potential as a partner to the Arab world in the areas of human resources development, IT development, energy, trade, construction and plants. In addition to economic cooperation, exchange and cooperation between the two sides has continued to comprehensively develop in a balanced way in all areas of culture, academia, politics, diplomacy and more. Korean-Arab exchange, ongoing for the last 1,000 years in a partnership of true mutual understanding, has gone far beyond simple exchange and will witness much bigger, better thins in the years to come.