SEOUL, March 13 (Korea Bizwire) — The Seoul Metropolitan Government said on March 12 that it is preparing to build prayer rooms for Muslims in a couple of the city’s major tourist areas, with the rooms expected to be available for use as early as this summer.
The reason South Korea’s largest city is rolling up its sleeves and looking to increase facilities for Muslims is the growing numbers of tourists hailing from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where K-pop and other elements of the so-called Korean Wave are gaining greater appreciation.
A total of 985,858 Muslim tourists visited South Korea in 2016, 33 percent more than the 740,861 the year prior, according to figures from the Korea Tourism Organization. In addition, the percentage of Muslim visitors among all tourists has risen steadily from 5.3 percent in 2014 to 5.7 percent in 2016.
Despite the rise in Muslim arrivals, data shows that facilities catering to Muslim-specific continues to remain too few in number.
Statistics from the Korea Tourism Organization last year showed there were 78 prayer rooms nationwide, the majority of them situated at schools and hospitals or dispersed throughout the country in Islamic centers of worship.
In Seoul, where the vast majority of tourists stay, only 14 prayer rooms were listed. Excluding the one at Itaewon’s Seoul Central Masjid, three of them are at tourist sites, four of them on university campuses and six in hospitals.
A Seoul city official said satisfaction pertaining to religious matters among Muslim visitors was low, as a large proportion of them enjoyed visiting shopping areas such as Myeongdong and Dongdaemun Market that have insufficient prayer rooms.
A survey of 700 Muslims conducted by the Korea Tourism Organization in 2016 found that 76 percent reported visiting Myeongdong. Other popular locations were Dongdaemun (64 percent), Namsan (63.3 percent) and Itaewon (62.4 percent).
Seoul is considering opening its planned new prayer rooms at visitors’ information centers in major tourist areas, among other possibilities. The rooms will be a minimum 6.6 square meters in size, with separate spaces for men and women and furnished with a Koran and a device to indicate Qibla, the direction of Mecca.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)