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Alina Khawaja: Why Muslim Girls Love K-Dramas

Alina Khawaja: Why Muslim Girls Love K-Dramas

“The connection between Muslim girls and Korean content needs to be studied” is something I’ve said in jest whenever I see concert videos of hijabi girls screaming at K-pop concerts or crying over K-Dramas. But as time has gone on, I’ve started to think maybe it should be studied. I cannot tell you how many Tiktoks or reels or tweets that I’ve seen that feature Muslim girls obsessing over K-content. I include myself in this—my debut romance novel, Maya’s Laws Of Love, features my absolute favorite K-Drama, Crash Landing on You in a big role.

But why do we feel such a deep connection? What draws us to the swoony dramas?

I watched my first Korean drama when I was in high school. It was Playful Kiss, and it was an adaptation of the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss, which I was obsessed with. I didn’t think much of it at the time; it was a one-off viewing of a story I already knew. But after watching Train to Busan at a friend’s party, I was introduced to the beautiful face of Gong Yoo. And then after showing a different friend that movie at her house, she told me the best news I had ever heard: Gong Yoo had done Korean dramas as well, and the one that she recommended me was Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (known better as Goblin).

A whole 16+ hour series featuring this gorgeous man as the romantic lead?! I hit the jackpot.

After that, a whole new world opened up to me. I binged more dramas after I sobbed my way through Goblin’s ending, and now, it’s pretty much the only T.V. content I watch. Every now and then I’ll watch a drama that doesn’t have a romantic storyline, but for me, one of the biggest appeals of Korean dramas is the love story between the leads. While I love the dramas, it makes me wonder why I—and other Muslim girls—adore them so much. And I have a theory.

With Korean dramas, oftentimes the main leads can take a long time to have their first kiss. Depending on the drama, how many episodes they have (the standard is sixteen) and how they prioritize the romantic plot, it varies. It can happen in episode four, or episode eight. I watched a drama that had twelve episodes, and the main female lead did not kiss her love interest until episode ten. Listen, I can appreciate a slowburn, but asking someone to wait that long is torture.

I lay all this out because of what it means. The delayed first kiss not only increases the breathless anticipation of when it eventually does happen, but it also gives the writers time to develop and invest in the emotional relationship between the main leads. This is where I think the Muslim girl connection comes in. Most Muslim girls desire halal courtship—meaning, there is no physical touch until after marriage. This means we have to find connection in other ways, such as an emotional one, and we need it to be strong. When it comes to Korean dramas, the main characters spend so much time getting to know each other. Bolstered by both the writing and the chemistry between the actors, the leads build a strong and passionate relationship before they even do anything remotely physical, and that’s what we want to know is possible.

In the Western world, physical touch from the get-go in relationships is so normalized. Not only is it normalized, but people actually tease you if you choose otherwise. If you’re in your twenties and have never had your first kiss, you’re free real estate to be made fun of. If you’re choosing to wait until marriage before doing anything physical, then you’re adhering to “backwards” standards. Whatever it is, it’s difficult for us to relate to a lot of what we see on TV. But Korean dramas convey so much passion within one contact-less exchange. The characters can stand on two opposite sides of the room, but one longing look between them can be way more charged than a heated kiss. It’s so great to see, and it inspires us to believe that we can have that and have it not be a problem.

While Korean dramas aren’t entirely relatable (because the kiss will eventually come, and let’s be honest, dramas have gotten more risky with what levels of intimacy the actors are allowed to reach—looking at you, Nevertheless), they still validate the concerns of Muslim girls who wonder if it’s possible to keep things respectful while still strengthening an emotional bond. Better than that, they show us that the romance can still be breath-taking, deep, and ardent. And all from a single look.

Maya’s Laws Of Love is published by Simon & Schuster on 28 March 2024

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