4th church attacked in 'Allah' protest

2010-01-09 20:28

Kuala Lumpur - A fourth church in Malaysia was hit by firebombs on Saturday, stoking concern among Christians as a dispute rages over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

The latest incident occurred after three other churches were firebombed on Friday, just days after a Kuala Lumpur court ruled non-Muslims could use Allah to refer to God in their literature.

Bishop Philip Loke said two firebombs were thrown at his Good Shepherd Lutheran Church early on Saturday but missed the glass windows, hitting the building wall instead.

He said church members discovered two burned patches on the wall at midday and found glass splinters on the ground. There was no damage to the three-storey building in the Petaling Jaya suburb in central Selangor state.

"Why resort to violence? These attacks are a cowardly act and a crime against the Christian population," Loke told The Associated Press.

Many Muslims are angry about a December 31 High Court decision overturning a government ban on Roman Catholics' using Allah for God in the Malay-language edition of their main newspaper, the Herald.

Bibles

The ruling also applies to the ban's broader applications, such as Malay-language Bibles, 10 000 copies of which were recently seized by authorities because they translated God as Allah.

Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the attacks indicated the work of amateurs.

"We don't think the attacks were planned or coordinated. We believe they were carried out by hooligans or mischievous pranksters trying to take advantage to stir the situation," he said.

Investigations were ongoing but there were no witnesses so far who could help in the probe, he said.

The government contends that making Allah synonymous with God may confuse Muslims and ultimately mislead to them into converting to Christianity, a punishable offence in Malaysia despite a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.

The debate has split the Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslims held peaceful protests in mosques nationwide on Friday, but some leading Muslim scholars, activists and opposition politicians have supported the Christians' right to call God Allah.

About 9% of Malaysia's 28 million people are Christian, including 800 000 Catholics, most of whom are ethnic Chinese or Indian. Muslims make 60% of the population and most are Malays.

Mass cancelled

At least one church cancelled its Friday Mass while others beefed up security.

The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt and Syria. The confiscated Bibles came from neighbouring Indonesia, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Bassilius Nassour, a Greek Orthodox bishop in Damascus, Syria, called the Malaysian government's position "shameful".

"It shows Malaysia to be a backward, pagan state because God teaches freedom for everyone, and the word 'Allah' is for everyone," he said.

- AP
Read more on:    malaysia  |  religion
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