Churches in Malaysia bracing for further attacks


(Times Online) – Churches in Malaysia were bracing themselves for further attacks by Muslim protesters today, hours after two arson attacks, apparently provoked by a controversy over the use by Christians of the word Allah.

Police were increasing their patrols of areas around churches and Christian communities were hiring security guards, after a Protestant church in the capital Kuala Lumpur was set on fire by a petrol bomb in the early hours of the morning. Muslim organisations have promised street protests today over a court decision that would allow use of Allah as the Malaysian language term for the Christian God.

The word has been used for centuries in Malaysia, as well as by Christians in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia as the equivalent of the English word God. But many Malaysian Muslims in Malaysia, who make up 60 per cent of the population, say that the word Allah should be reserved to refer exclusively to the Muslim deity and that use of it in a Biblical context encourages conversion to Christianity, a crime under the country’s Islamic laws.

The Herald, a Catholic newspaper published in Malaysian, won an appeal last week against a ruling that banned use of the word by non-Muslims. The judgment has been suspended in anticipation of an appeal by the Government, but it has already stirred up Muslim anger in a country with a particular dread of ethnic and racial confrontation.

The early-morning attack destroyed the first floor offices of the three-storey Metro Tabernacle Church, although the worship hall itself was undamaged and there were no injuries. Petrol bombs were also thrown into the Assumption Catholic Church and the Life Chapel Protestant church in the adjacent town of Petaling Jaya, but neither caused damage.

“There are witness reports two persons on a motorbike came near the entrance and hurled in something looking like a petrol bomb,” Kevin Ang, a spokesman for the Metro Tabernacle Church, said. “Our church is 90 per cent gutted.”

The inspector-general of police, Musa Hassan, said: “Since last night, I have instructed all patrol cars to patrol all church areas. We are monitoring all churches.”

On Thursday, the website of the Malaysian judiciary was vandalised by a hacker with the alias “Brainwash” who left threatening messages apparently related to the court ruling. “Mess with the best, die like the rest,” read one message. “Allah only restricted to Muslim only.”

Since the court ruling on New Year’s Eve, the website of the Herald, the Catholic Church’s largest newspaper in the country, has also been vandalised with profanities by hackers.

Followers of Islam make up a small majority of Malaysia’s 28 million people, and throughout the country’s short independent history, its rulers have struggled to contain tensions between Muslim Malays, and the country’s large Chinese and Indian populations, who follow Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Most of the readers of the Herald are Christian tribes people in the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo.

After violent anti-Chinese riots in 1969, the country instituted a policy of positive discrimination in favour of Malays which went a long way to contain tensions, but has also provoked resentment among Indians and Chinese. Sharia, which applies only to Muslims, forbids conversion and mandates harsh punishments for religious crimes, including caning for those caught consuming alcohol.

“There should not be a cause for concern because some people have got the idea that we are out to convert [Muslims], but not at all, there is no question of this,” the editor of the Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew, said.

 “We believe these actions to create a climate of fear and a perceived threat to national security so as to pressure the court in reversing its decision.”