Pig heads displayed at court-approved Mosque site in South Korea
Pig heads and signs with hateful words against Muslims displayed at a construction site for a court approved mosque in the Daegu region of South Korea have attracted opposition from locals condemning it to be an act of pure islamophobia.
Residents in the city of Daegu for the past year, have been trying to block the mosque near Kyungpook National University from being built.
They physically blocked access to the site by putting up banners and throwing pork barbecue parties.
Recently, three pig heads were placed on stools at an alley outside the construction 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.
A report by SCMP stated that during the event, pig heads were put on stools at an alley outside the mosque construction site.
The walls of houses next to the construction site were displayed with banners that said “We’ll fight against the mosque construction till our last breath”.
Pig’s feet and tails were strung alongside these banners.
A group of local human rights activists called on the UN rapporteur on religious freedom to urge South Korea’s central and local government officials to intervene and stop the residents’ obstruction of the construction work and remove the pig heads immediately.
The appeal was made by the task force for a peaceful resolution of the mosque issue after local authorities failed to heed an earlier request from the Muslims to remove the pig heads.
However, the 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.
History of the conflict
Muslim students have been gathering in a two-story house that acted as a cultural and religious centre and a mosque in Daegu since 2014 to worship.
They were given the go-ahead by the administration by the end of 2020 to appropriately convert this centre into a mosque.
However, since then, they have encountered opposition from neighbourhood residents who frequently protest to halt the construction work.
“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,” Razaq said.
“In the beginning, some of us were called terrorists when we met the demonstrators. They covered the site with anti-Islamic signs and distributed flyers with Islamophobic messages in the streets. It calmed down a bit after the South Korean Human Rights Commission (in October 2021) ruled that this form of protest was discriminatory,” a report by France24 quoted Razaq as saying.
However, in the last few months, the people who are against the construction of the mosque have started to play loud music during prayer time, or put pig heads in front of the mosque, he alleged.
He added that when students went to pray and saw pigs’ heads, they were horrified.
“It’s not just because it’s a pig’s head, it could have been any animal, apart from the religious dimension, it’s quite violent to be confronted with that, to put that in front of someone’s house,” Razaq said.
The Muslim student added that critics had stated in the Korean press that it was a tradition.
“Why they doing it in front of the mosque? And if it’s such a widespread tradition, how come I’ve never seen this in the three years I have lived in South Korea?” he asked.
Residents deny Islamophobia
Residents who were interviewed by the Korean press denied any allegations of Islamophobia and stated that they just did not want a religious structure in the middle of their neighbourhood since it would invade their privacy due to the increased traffic and noise.
However, Razaq didn’t appear persuaded by the residents’ assertions.
“Even if they say it is not Islamophobia, their actions speak for themselves. Why then don’t they say anything about the huge church next door? They also complain a lot about the smell and the noise. But having a finished, modern mosque, unlike what we have today, would change all that,” he said.
Specifically, in February, locals protested the mosque’s construction. In February 2021, a petition requesting the project’s cancellation was delivered to the Daegu Buk-gu district office with more than 10,000 signatures.
They claimed the proposed mosque would make noise, clog the small alley, and lower the neighbourhood’s real estate value by discouraging potential tenants and purchasers from investing in a Muslim-populated neighbourhood.
The municipal authorities mandated an immediate halt to the construction in response to the petition.
The construction halt order was then overturned by the Daegu District Court after a motion by Muslim students, and the decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in September of this year. However, locals continue to protest the mosque’s development.
The Korea Muslim Federation estimates that there are 200,000 Muslims in the nation, or 0.4% of the 52 million people living there.
Notably, there is no recognised state religion in South Korea. In the 2015 census, 15.5 percent of South Koreans identified as Buddhist, while 28.9 percent claimed to be Christian.