The village of Daehyeong-dong is currently at the center of one of the most intense cultural conflicts in South Korea. The Muslim immigrant community of the area is trying to build a mosque in the neighborhood, which has prompted severe backlash from residents for over a year now.
The area is in proximity to the Kyungpook National University (KNU), attended by many international students. Since 2014, the Muslim students of KNU have used a building in the Daehyeong-dong as their place of prayer. Muaz Razaq, a 26-year-old Pakistani student at the university, told the media that this temporary prayer house was not an apt place for the purpose. “There were several problems like no cooling system and no floor heating…Also it was a small house, so many of the students had to stand outside,” he explained.
So, the community decided to build a mosque in the neighborhood to offer Muslim students a safer and quieter place to pray. In 2020, the construction began with the approval of the district authority. The plan was to erect a two-story, 20-meter-high mosque with a minaret at the top on a piece of land co-owned by six Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Why Residents Are Opposing The Mosque’s Construction
Since the construction work began, Korean residents have opposed it vehemently. Most stated the noise and the congestion as their primary reason for resisting the mosque in their neighborhood.
A resident by the surname of Jang explained his reasoning, saying, “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.”
A woman who runs a laundry shop in the same alley expressed similar concerns, saying, “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 neighborhood will be more congested.”
Some residents are also worried about the strong food odors that can overwhelm the neighborhood during Muslim religious ceremonies.
Jang said that up until the construction of the mosque, the residents used to live in harmony with the Muslim community, sharing food and even being considerate of minor inconveniences they might cause each other. But now, the rift between the two groups is inevitable. For him, this conflict is “The residents’ last resort to protect our living environment.”
After the villagers filed numerous complaints about the mosque’s construction, the district office reversed its initial position on the matter and imposed an administrative order to stop the construction work in February 2021. The Muslim landlords took the issue to court, and in December, a court order ruled in their favor, repealing the district office’s decision. This year, in September, the top court upheld the lower court’s ruling and cleared the mosque’s construction.
Residents tried to pressure the district office to find an alternative plot for the mosque, but the administration could not find a place that met all the requirements of the Muslim students. The community needs a property that is at a walkable distance from KNU, large enough to fit at least 100 worshippers at a time, and free from any potential civil complaints. “Almost all neighborhoods we reviewed opposed the construction. There is no viable alternative for now,” an official said.
Protests And Anti-Islamic Sentiments
Residents have taken physical and psychological resistance strategies to show their disapproval of the mosque being built in the neighborhood. They try to hinder the construction work by blocking the entrance of the site with vehicles. Often, they would leave pigs’ heads on top of chairs or buckets in the alley, facing the land where the construction is underway. According to Razaq, the residents also cook pork several times in the alley to annoy the Muslim students. Since the consumption of anything pig-related is prohibited in Islam, the residents’ acts are equivalent to the vandalism of a sacred place to the community.
Anti-Islamic sentiments are rampant throughout the neighborhood, evident in the many Islamophobic signs and banners placed throughout the area.
No Middle Ground
As the stand-off between the two communities prolongs, there seems to be no reconciliation in sight. According to Razaq, the Muslim community tried to bargain with the residents with some compromises, such as installing long chimneys at the mosque to control the food odor and making the building walls soundproof. But nothing has eased the other side.
Many residents stated that if the construction is successful, they would move out of the neighborhood altogether. Jang, who has lived in Daehyeong-dong for six years, is one of them. According to another resident by the surname of Yang, quite a lot of tenants have already refused to extend their contracts because of the mosque.
Even amidst the tension, the mosque is about 60% completed and is expected to be finished by the end of 2022 unless something else hinders its progress again.