Three Malaysia churches firebombed as 'Allah' use tension mounts

Three churches in Malaysia were firebombed early Friday as religious tension continues over a court decision that allows a Catholic publication to use the word 'Allah' for God, which Catholics claim is a long-standing practice.

Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters
Church members inspect the torched Metro Tabernacle church in Desa Melawati in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

Three churches in Malaysia were firebombed early Friday morning as its government works to quell religious tensions following a court ruling – and a subsequent government appeal – that allows the country’s Christians to use the term Allah to refer to God. Only one church was seriously damaged and no one was injured.

Mosques throughout the country also small organized protests during their Friday prayer services and there are reports of cars with Christian stickers having their windshields smashed.

The controversy began when The Herald, a Roman Catholic newspaper in Malaysia, challenged a ban against the periodical using Allah in the Malay-language section of their newspaper to refer to God in a Christian context. Though Allah has been incorporated into the Malay language to mean God and the Koran teaches (Surah 29:46) that Christians, Muslims, and Jews share the same God, many Malaysian Muslims contend that Allah only refers to God for Muslims. Many allege Christians are using Allah in an effort to convert Muslims to Christianity, reports The Times of London.

Malaysian Christians argue that they have used Allah “for decades” in their Malay-language Bibles without any issues. In the court case, the Herald’s legal team argued that Allah is an Arabic word for God and that they use it in their publication to serve the needs of their subscribers in Borneo. Time magazine reported that they rejected claims of trying to convert Muslims.

Meanwhile, tensions continue to mount between religious groups in Malaysia. Muslims constitute a slight majority, with Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists comprising the rest of the population. Although Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak originally supported protests against the court ruling that began last week, The Wall Street Journal reports that he is now calling for calm and asking citizens not to blame the government for inspiring the church attacks.

As protests continue, there is concern among many Malaysians that the unrest represents an increasingly Islamicized government. In an interview with Al Jazeera Azmi Sharom, a columnist and law professor at Universiti Malaya, said that the government had been “pandering” to the groups of people who are now protesting for a long time.

A report in the Malaysian Insider, however, warns that the attacks may be “triggering a blame game with opposition leaders pointing fingers at their political rivals” for stoking religious tensions. Additionally, it reported that a number of Muslims disapprove of the recent church attacks, while there are also many Christians who disagree with using the word Allah to describe God.


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