News / Asia

Malaysian Churches Firebombed in Dispute Over Use of Word 'Allah'

Three Malaysian churches have been firebombed in as tensions over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims intensify.

The churches in the capital Kuala Lumpur were hit by incendiary devices early on Friday ahead of planned protests by Muslims over a High Court decision to end a ban on the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

The court has suspended its December 31 decision pending an appeal by the government. The government imposed the ban, saying use of the word could lead to confusion and conversions among members of the Islamic faith.

The first-floor office in the three-story Metro Tabernacle Church was worst hit, destroyed in a blaze a little after midnight. There were no injuries in any of the attacks.

Police have urged Muslims not to take part in planned street demonstrations.

Father Lawrence Andrew is the editor of the Catholic newspaper The Herald which challenged the government ban in the courts. He says people with grievances over the use of the word should act within the law.

"It is unfortunate, it is irresponsible and there is no respect for the rights and property of others," he said.  "They should approach the proper channels and not flex their muscles on the people. It is becoming the law of the jungle right now and they should stop this."

About 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Malay Muslims, while the rest are ethnic Chinese, Indians and indigenous tribes. The minorities follow Christianity, Hinduism and other religions.

Malay-speaking indigenous tribes, living in Sabah and Sarawak, are the main readers of the Herald's Malay-language edition. Catholic officials say "Allah" is the only word they know for God.

Protests by Christians here in Sabah were called off on Wednesday because of fears of a government crackdown and claims that police were being dispatched in force.

The word Allah has been part of religious teachings within Christian circles in Malaysia for more than 370 years.

Multi-ethnic Malaysia has kept racial tensions under control since race riots hit the country in the late 1960s. However, in the past few years, minorities have increasingly complained of government discrimination and argue that the nation's Sharia court, which rules on family matters for Muslims, is unfair to them.

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