03/15/2008, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Within a year, the first Islamic school in the country will open its doors

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The announcement comes from the Korea Muslim Federation. The elementary school, where prayer will not be obligatory, is financed in part by Saudi Arabia. Within three years, a secondary school and cultural centre are planned to open.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Korea Muslim Federation announced yesterday the planned opening of the first Islamic elementary school, which will open its doors within a year, with the objective of helping local Muslims to understand their religion better, thanks in part to an official educational formation.  The federation also hopes to open "within three years" a cultural centre, a secondary school, possibly even a university.

Kim Hwan-yoo, secretary general of the organisation, explains that the institute will be named after Saudi sultan Bin Abdul Aziz: "We will present the official request to the government as soon as possible, but there shouldn't be any problems. Many Koreans have distorted information about Islam, since many years ago some Muslims did not behave well, forcibly converting some of the natives".

Therefore, Kim adds, "the main goal is that of correcting a distorted view of our religion.  School is not only for children: for us, it will be a mission".  According to the plan that will be presented to the education minister, the courses will include the study of Arabic and English.  In any case, "Students will not be obliged to worship, which will take place twice every day".

The project has "the full support of the Saudi government". Abdullah al-Aifan, Riyadh's ambassador in Seoul, has given 500 thousand dollars to the foundation as "a gift on the part of his government", and has spoken of "active support for all of the upcoming initiatives as well".

There are about 150,000 Koreans of the Islamic faith: according to the few local mosques, the fault for this low number lies "with society as well, which has  not guaranteed the adequate social infrastructure for the development of our religion".

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