Halal or Halaal, which means “permissible” in Arabic, defines and designates not only food and drinks but also any object or action that is permissible under Islamic law.
As Muslims have to abide by such Islamic rules, the lack of restaurants or cafeterias that serve permissible food results in the most basic concern of what to eat every day. The most common example of forbidden food is pork. Also, even if chicken and beef are permissible, the meat must come from a supplier that uses Halal practices for slaughtering and processing the meat.
“Even when I pick up an egg sandwich, I have no choice but to put it back in the fridge if there is ham inside,” said Nishat I-Mowla, a graduate student from Bangladesh.
I-Mowla has to stay in Korea for more than three years before finishing her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in computer science and engineering.
“Some of my Muslim friends go to Itaewon to buy Halal meat or go to Nepali or Indian restaurants that serve Halal food near campus which are financially burdensome compared to ordinary Korean food,” she added.
Language barriers are another problem. Compared to students who have spent enough time to get used to reading menus, newcomers have to strictly check the ingredients with the waiters.
As the first university in Seoul to offer Halal food on its campus, Hanyang University opened an Islamic food court in 2013.
However, most universities have no plans to open a Halal food court.
“We have received no official complaints from Muslim students yet,” said an official at Yonsei University. “Also, the management of cafeterias is in the hands of the company we signed a contract with.”
Although Ewha has no plan of serving Halal food on campus at the moment, the school tries to ease the students’ difficulties by serving vegetarian food when holding events for international students.
Experts of the Halal Industry urge the need to raise public awareness for Halal food.
“It is inevitable for universities to calculate the profitability of providing an extra booth for Halal food as the number of Muslim students in Korea is still very small even though it has been growing in the past few years,” said Jang Geon, the president of KIHI.
For this reason, he pointed out the importance of raising popularity of the food among non-Muslims in Korea.
“In Europe and America, Halal food is also popular among non-Muslims, as it is recognized as nutritionally balanced and sanitary,” he said.
Facing the increase of Muslim students in universities and preparing to become a more globalized campus, experts and Muslim students are calling for easy access to Halal food on and off campus.