83 T a i n t e d w i t h s u s p i c i o n Lee is one of the roughly 35,000 Koreans devoted to Islam. Some are second-generation Korean Muslims, like Lee’s sons. But most are converts. “I had no exposure to Islam until a few years ago, but it cre- ated a curiosity in me,” one recently converted Korean said. “I began to study and become more dedicated, and realized there is a community of Koreans who practice Islam.” He admits it was a huge and challenging decision in Kore- an society to convert to something so unfamiliar, noting that any true growth of Islam in this country will likely continue to be a result of immigration to the heavily Buddhist, Christian or otherwise agnostic country. “As a Korean, I can say I think we don’t particularly try and understand other cultures,” he said. However, he also noted that this indifference affords a large degree of tolerance from the general public. Even so, worshippers have reported incidents of persecu- tion that are both ideologically driven and targeted. One man specifically asked not to be named because, according to him, there have been several incidents in which members of Christian extremist groups have interviewed worshippers at the mosque and used responses out of context “to slander” the Seoul Muslim community. The atmosphere can be tainted with suspicion, and worshippers can be wary of visitors to the mosque. This sort of negative propagation is incredibly damaging to a community that already experiences heavy misperceptions from Koreans. Lee Hee-soo, a professor in the De- partment of Cultural Anthropology at Hanyang University, agrees with the imam that Koreans lack a basic un- derstanding of Islam, and actions like those of Christian extremist groups are major catalysts that contribute to what he characterizes as Islamophobia, es- pecially in the absence of qualified per- sonnel to propagate the Islamic mes- sage properly. “(There is) full ignorance of Islam among Koreans due to distorted infor- mation,” Lee said, “as well as negative ‘image-making’ by radical Christian groups and the Western media.” Several students including Medilah, a Malaysian student at Hanyang University, have reported similar experiences. “From the very first year I’ve lived in Korea, extremist mis- sionaries would knock at my door,” Medilah said. “At first, they ask very simple questions, but then suddenly they’ll be- come very aggressive and try and debate with me, get me to say something I don’t mean — it’s very disturbing.” ‘ ( T h e r e i s ) f u l l i g n o r a n c e o f I s l a m a m o n g K o r e a n s d u e t o d i s t o r t e d i n f o r m a t i o n , a s w e l l a s n e g a t i v e “ i m a g e - m a k i n g ” b y r a d i c a l C h r i s t i a n g r o u p s a n d t h e W e s t e r n m e d i a . L e e H e e - s o o , H a n y a n g U n i v e r s i t y p r o f e s s o r