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Muslim residents gather for prayer near the mosque’s construction site in Daehyeon-dong, Daegu. Photo: Handout

Pig heads at South Korea mosque site condemned as ‘pure Islamophobia’

  • Some residents in a neighbourhood in Daegu have been blocking access to a mosque construction site for a year, including throwing a pork barbecue party
  • The moves have sparked claims of Islamophobia, with activists calling on UN Special Rapporteur on religious freedom to urge South Korea’s government to intervene
South Korea
Rights activists and Muslim students in South Korea have condemned the Islamophobic act of displaying pig heads at a construction site for a mosque that has attracted vehement opposition from locals.

Residents in the southeastern city of Daegu have for the past year been trying to block the mosque near Kyungpook National University from being built, including physically blocking access to the site, putting up banners, and throwing a pork barbecue party.

In the latest incident, three pig heads were placed on stools at an alley outside the site. The first one was put there on October 27, followed by another on November 14 and the third on December 6, according to Mian Muaz Razaq, a representative of Muslim students at the university. Students who go to the site to pray pass through the alley every day.

“We’ll fight against the mosque construction till our last breath,” read one banner that decorates the wall of a home next to the construction site, as pigs’ feet and tails are seen strung along the wall.

Razaq denounced the residents actions as “pure Islamophobia”.

“They held rallies against Islam, they called us terrorists, they hung banners against our religion, they distributed hate pamphlets against Muslims in our area, what can these acts be called? This is pure Islamophobia,” he said.

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A group of local human rights activists called on the UN Special Rapporteur on religious freedom to urge South Korea’s central and local government officials to intervene to stop the residents’ obstruction of the construction work and “remove the pig heads immediately”, a spokesman said on Monday.

The appeal to the United Nations made by the task force for peaceful resolution of the mosque issue came after local authorities failed to heed an earlier request from the Muslims to remove the pig heads.

City officials said they had no power to clear the pig heads without approval from residents as they were useful items bought by private citizens.

The petition also requested the UN Special Rapporteur recommend the government and local authorities to publicly condemn all forms of discrimination based on a particular religion or race, conduct education on the duty of religious neutrality and anti-racism for all public officials of Daegu City, and remedy all damage.

Locals opposing the construction of a mosque in Daehyeon-dong have illegally placed objects around the project site. Photo: Handout

The conflict pitted residents in Daehyeon-dong subdistrict near the Kyungpook National University and Muslim students enrolled at the university who started the construction of the mosque after acquiring a local government permit in 2020.

The two-storey mosque, with a total floor space of 245 square metres, is being built on a site previously used as a prayer centre.

The residents objected to the construction and submitted a petition signed by more than 10,000 people to the Daegu Buk-gu district office in February 2021, calling for the project to be stopped.

The residents said the proposed mosque would create noise, crowd the narrow alley and undermine the neighbourhood’s real estate value as potential buyers and tenants would turn away from an area frequented by Muslims.

The local government ordered an immediate halt to the construction.

The Muslims students then took the issue to court, where the Daegu District Court nullified the construction halt order. The ruling was affirmed by the Supreme Court in September this year.

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South Korea has no official state religion, but in the 2015 census, 28 per cent of South Koreans said they belonged to Christianity, with another 15.5 per cent described themselves as Buddhist.

The number of Muslims in the country is estimated to be around 200,000, or 0.4 per cent of the 52 million population, according to the Korea Muslim Federation.

Despite the court ruling, residents continue obstructing the construction.

“Why should we put up with it? Who would like to have a mosque frequented by many people right next door to your home?” Kim Jung-ae, a representative of residents opposed to the proposed mosque, told This Week in Asia.

The alley is part of private land belonging to residents, she stressed.

“We want to continue with our way of living, no matter what may come”, she said.

An illegal tent has been erected on a street in Daehyeon-dong to prevent vehicles carrying construction materials from entering the building site. Photo: Handout

Razaq said the Muslim community was open to dialogue from day one and offered solutions to residents’ concerns, but “unfortunately the response of the neighbours and the people who were supporting them was very rude”.

“They just wanted us to go away from this place, and nothing less,” he told This Week in Asia. “Now as the construction is resumed, and they are trying their best to annoy us [with actions such as] placing pig heads, I am not sure what kind of dialogue is possible in such a situation.”

Razaq said it was “very disappointing” that authorities had failed to implement the rule of law by allowing residents to obstruct the construction and block the street despite the court orders.

“About pig heads, they are also silent,” he said.

Seo Chang-ho, a representative of activists who campaigned for the peaceful settlement of the conflict, called on the government to actively intervene to enforce the court ruling to let the construction proceed.

“Should government authorities continue failing to take actions for fear of upsetting residents, it would set a bad precedent,” he said.