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Pig heads and banners: Why South Koreans are objecting to the construction of a mosque by immigrant Muslims in Daegu

Besides the fears surrounding an insidious demography change a new mosque will trigger, locals said they are also against a new religious facility in an already crowded neighbourhood with over 30 churches, including one 30 yards from where the mosque would be.

The locals and the immigrant Muslims are at loggerheads in the Daehyeong-dong (neighbourhood) in Daegu city of South Korea. At the heart of the controversy lies a mosque, whose construction began in December 2020.

South Korea, known for dramas and pop culture, is increasingly faced with the challenge of a demographic shift. ‘Immigrants’ now constitute 3.3% of the total population, as per 2020 data and their numbers are expected to grow exponentially.

The mosque construction in Daehyeong-dong is the latest addition to the fears of the local South Koreans, with many vowing to desert the neighbourhood once the Islamic structure reaches competition.

South Korea mosque
Muslim students perform Namaz in one of the houses, image via Woohae Cho/ The New York Times

Muslim students, studying at the nearby Kyungpook National University, have been using a house in Daehyeong-dong for offering Namaz since 2014.

Things began to change in 2020 when a group of 6 Muslims (from Pakistan and Bangladesh) purchased a plot in the same neighbourhood. In December of that year, they secured permission from local authorities to construct a 20-meter-long mosque.

The immigrants argued that the previous house, which was used for prayer, could ‘only’ accommodate 150 worshippers at one time and lacked a cooling system and floor heating.

Complaints by the local Korean community

The Korean neighbours, who put up with the loud noise and overcrowding in the alley caused due to Namaz for years, opposed the construction of the mosque tooth and nail.

They expressed fear that a full-fledged mosque would drive more Muslims to the tiny neighbourhood for prayers, thereby exacerbating the menace of congestion.

A 62-year-old Jang told The Korean Herald, “We used to live in harmony with the Muslim community in the neighbourhood over the past years, sharing food and gifts during holiday seasons. We didn’t make complaints about their gatherings.”

South Korea mosque
Protest by Koreans against mosque construction in January 2022, image via Woohae Cho/ The New York Times

“Imagine large crowds of people pass by your house’s front door several times a day. The sound of people chatting, walking and riding bikes and motorcycles will drive you crazy,” he informed. Jang said that he would vacate the neighbourhood on competition of the mosque.

Another woman, who lives in the same neighbourhood, blamed the Muslim community for overcrowding the narrow residential area. She said, “I’ve seen so many of them just park their bikes and motorcycles in the alley. They come and go in groups. It’s obvious that this small neighbourhood will be more congested.”

A 67-year-old Kim Keong-suk told The New York Times in March, “We are not against their religion. We just can’t have a new religious facility in our crowded neighbourhood, whether it’s Islamic, Buddhist or Christian.” This has increased fears of a mass exodus of the local Korean community from Daehyeong-dong.

“I had never seen people like them before, and I saw no women, only men, swarming in there,” remarked a 60-year-old resident named Park Jeong-suk. Another resident, Namgung Myeon (59), suggested that the influx of immigrants can undermine the values, national foundation and character of South Korea.

Mosque construction gets a green signal, Koreans use their ‘last resort’

After granting permission for the mosque construction in December 2020, the district administration was bombarded with complaints from the Koreans. Under pressure from all sides, the officials revoked their approval in February 2021.

The construction work took a hit for some time. The happiness of the local Korean community was short-lived as the Muslim ‘landlords’ won the case in court in December 2021. To add salt to the wound, the top court upheld the decision of the lower court in September this year.

Appeals made to district officials to ‘relocate’ the mosque have also failed to bring favourable outcomes. Forced by circumstances, Koreans have been trying to physically obstruct the construction of the mosque in Daehyeong-dong.

Controversial poster surfaces in the neighbourhood, image via Muaz Razaq/ The Korean Herald

The tactics ranged from parking vehicles at the entrance of the mosque site, putting up severed heads of pigs (considered haram in Islam) in the alley, cooking pork in the open to playing loud music at the time of Namaz.

Several banners have also propped up in the neighbourhood. “Islam is an evil religion that kills people,” read one poster. Another poster read, “We strongly oppose the construction of an Islamic mosque.” Others included ‘Korean People Come First’, ‘a den of terrorists’ and so on.

Despite the opposition from the locals, the construction of the mosque has reached 60% completion. It is expected to be operational by the end of 2022.

A reflection of South Korean culture: Anti-immigration leader

Lee Hyung-oh, the leader of the anti-immigration network ‘Refugee out’ has spoken about the matter to The New York Times. “Their rules on the hijab alone are enough reason that they should never set foot in our country,” he said.

Lee continued, “We may look exclusionist, but it has made us what we are, consolidating us as a nation to survive war, colonial rule and financial crises and achieve economic development while speaking the same language, thinking the same thoughts.”

“I don’t think we could have done this with diversity. We are not xenophobic. We just don’t want to mix with others,” he concluded. South Korea had its own tryst with Islamism.

In 2007, the radical Islamist outfit Taliban took 23 South Korean aid workers hostage and killed a Christian pastor.

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