I was biased against all Arabs, until I came to the Mideast — and UAE: South Korean pastor - GulfToday

I was biased against all Arabs, until I came to the Mideast — and UAE: South Korean pastor


A bird's-eye view of Downtown Dubai.

A pastor at a South Korean church says his most important life experience was realisation of his own prejudice against Arabs, which was created by a section of the international media that knowingly or unknowingly portrayed Arabs as sympathisers of Islamic extremism. 

"I was able to realise that prejudice because of the blessing to have lived in the UAE and wider Arab region. The moment I recognised that bias, though unconsciously created by a section of the media, I have taken upon myself a mission to clear such misconceptions from the minds of my fellow Koreans,” Jay Hong, 46, who has been offering his services as part-time pastor to a Korean church community in the UAE, tells Emirates News Agency (WAM). 


Ukraine troops greeted with flowers in Kherson after Russian retreat

G20 Health and Finance Ministers agree to launch $1.4bn Pandemic Fund

He was a bit scared when he first travelled to the Middle East in 2003 to post-war Iraq.  

"When I interacted with Arab people in the region, I realised that they were not the people I knew of from the media. I realised they were the same people as me…like any other Korean who wants a peaceful life,” Hong says. 

Jay Hong

He was surprised by the huge gap between the perceived image and the reality. "We don’t even know that such sloppy images of people, whom we don’t know, take shape in our minds.” 

In the UAE for the past six years, he has been conducting awareness classes for Korean newcomers to the Emirates about such unconscious prejudice against Arabs. 

"I tell them my own life experience as an example. It has been very effective.” 

Post 9/11 misconception 

Hong says such a misconception about Arabs started developing in his mind after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in the United States and the US-led war in Iraq in 2003. 

"I was keenly following international news and somehow got an impression that all Arabs were sympathisers of Islamic terrorists that attacked the World Trade Centre in the US.”

In retrospect, he realises that impression was created by a section of the international media. He recollects that during the 2003 Iraq war a section of the media was portraying all Iraqis as "enemies.” 

"I learned the vision of Sheikh Zayed [the UAE’s founding father] who was an advocate of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The UAE has a creative policy that finds synergy in diversity.” 


"We, in Korea, were also watching those TV channels. When you constantly hear such things, you inadvertently feel that they are your enemies,” says Hong, who is an associate director at the Torch Trinity Centre for Islamic Studies in South Korea, a think tank.  

Book on experiences in region 

By profession, he is the founder and director at Road Master, a global citizenship education programme aimed at enhancing cross-cultural understanding.

Since its inception in 2014, it has conducted numerous workshops across South Korea, the UAE, Qatar, China and many African countries.

Jay lived and worked in Seoul and Doha before moving to Ras Al Khaimah with his wife and two children in 2016. 

Working as a part-time pastor for Korean church communities in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi, it has been an interesting journey for him to experience the religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence of people of diverse faiths in the UAE. 

He penned all those experiences in a book titled "Roadmaster: Crossing the desert of misconception and arriving at the oasis of understanding," which was first published in the Korean language in 2019.

A breathtaking view of Sharjah.

The English version of the book was published by UAE’s Motivate Publishing in 2022 and was unveiled at an event at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. 

With NGO for Iraqi war victims 

"The life in the UAE has been the most beautiful experience in the region,” says Hong, who first reached the region in Iraq in 2003 to work with an NGO that supported war victims. 

The NGO was supplying medicines to patients and building schools for Iraqi children. He smilingly says he could not find any "enemies” there as portrayed by a section of the media in their war reporting. Once when he took a taxi to a school-building site, an Iraqi taxi driver refused to take the taxi fare from him. "He told me you are here to serve our people.” That was his first touching experience after landing there and there were too many similar encounters with Iraqis who cared for him like a brother.

"Then, I discovered that they had a similar and common culture with me. Although race, culture, and language are different, I was reassured that we were basically same human beings.” 

UAE’s experience 

After reaching the UAE, "the most beautiful experience in the region” prompted him to study the founding principles and ideals of the country. 

"I learned the vision of Sheikh Zayed [the UAE’s founding father] who was an advocate of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The UAE has a creative policy that finds synergy in diversity.” 

He thinks he was fortunate to witness Pope Francis’ visit to the UAE in 2019, the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. 

Hong is eagerly waiting for the opening of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, which will be another historic event in the region. 

The project inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity and being constructed on Saadiyat Island is endorsed and closely followed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam. 

"It is a wonderful idea.  It shows how future-oriented the UAE is and suggests a proper direction for making peace in the Middle East.”



Related articles