This study begins with the discovery of the outstanding regional and cultural diversity manifest in Seoul’s Islamic Central Masjid (Seoul Mosque). Seoul Mosque’s cultural diversity is not limited to the ethnic composition of its Muslim population at Friday collective prayer. Seoul Mosque’s construction process, its architectural structures and facçades, and the hidden or exposed decorations of the building, include elements from a number of Islamic countries. To understand why and how this remarkable diversity was incorporated into Seoul Mosque’s design, this article analyzes the history of its construction in detail.
This study delineates the influence of the particular historical context of the post-colonial era combined with that of the Cold War period in the planning and building of the mosque. The religious passion of diverse Islamic countries seeking to support a newly developing country in East Asia was one of the primary factors in the realization of Seoul Mosque. That special circumstance made possible the processes of fundraising, architectural design, installation of interior elements, maintenance, and theological education at Seoul Mosque. The strong engagement of the South Korean government, which desperately sought diplomatic allies and access to natural resources during the country’s economically crucial takeoff period, was another essential factor. The South Korean government offered public land for the Seoul Mosque site and intervened in the reorganization of the Korean Islamic Association.
The result was the exceptional mobilization of diverse Islamic countries seeking to showcase the global community of Islam in a central area of Seoul. However, this somewhat idealized picture of cultural diversity could also be seen as a paradoxical revelation of the weakness of the Korean Islamic community and its continuing dependence on the foreign Islamic community. The troublesome evolution of Seoul Mosque after the disengagement of the South Korean government—and especially the planned reconstruction project of recent years—expose the critical problem of modern Korean Islam.