After strong resistance by anti-Muslim campaigners, the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) has revoked plans for a prayer room for tourists at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung.
With only a 0.2 per cent Muslim population out of South Korea’s 51 million, the KTO was adamant to encourage a “Muslim-friendly Korea,” reported Al Jazeera.
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Gangneung city government tourism division chief Kang Suk-ho said, "We had strong opposition from some religious groups who opposed the installation and threatened protests during the Winter Olympics. We sat down with them for talks, but in the end, we had to cancel the plans.”
Kang further added he did not expect "such an extreme backlash from the group". "We thought it'd be nice to offer a prayer room facility at the Gangneung station," he stated.
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South Korea has hiked the number of prayer rooms and Halal certificates for restaurants in the last few years. There was a 33 per cent increase in Muslim tourists in 2016 from 2015 with numbers reaching 1.2 million at the end of 2017, reported KTO.
"Olympic Games should go beyond a single nation, race, culture and religion to achieve harmonisation,” the Korean Muslim Federation (KMF) voiced its frustration. Further saying, "This decision demonstrates that we, as a host country, lack thoughtful understanding.”
Lee Ju-hwa, a KMF representative stated, "Instead of claiming that the installation of a prayer room is preferential treatment given to a certain religion, we need to raise awareness that it was to consider others with different faith and beliefs."
What was meant to be a multi-faith prayer room was eliminated by the Pyeongchang Olympics Gangwon Citizens' Islam Countermeasure Association when it led demonstrations against Muslims who were attending the Winter Olympics.
"If the room was for people of all religions, why would they have an ablution area," challenged the organisation's secretary Seo.
"From what I heard from Egyptians, there are exceptional cases when Muslims don't pray, for example when they are on a plane or driving. So the same should be applied during the Games."
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"The government has already spent too much of the taxpayers' money on the Games, and we shouldn't spend more building a prayer room."
An online petition opposing the prayer room obtained over 56,000 signatures.
However, canceling the prayer room may set a “dangerous precedent” for some Muslim families attending the Olympics.
A Muslim observer who wanted to remain anonymous, said, "While it would have been great to have a praying facility at the Games, the bigger worry for us is how this can set a precedent going forward.”
"We can offer our prayers in some corner or back at our hotel; I just hope the opposition realises what little it will achieve by not having a prayer room put up," the visitor added.
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera
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