Church attacks: Voices from Malaysia

(BBC News) Several Christian churches have been attacked since Friday in Malaysia in a dispute over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.

A High Court ruling overturning a government ban on the use of Allah by non-Muslims has raised concerns among Muslim groups that by using a name so closely associated with Islam, Christians are trying to win converts.

Here, Muslims and Christians in Malaysia discuss the issues behind the attacks.

Pat Lu, web consultant, Kuala Lumpur
Pat Lu

I am one of the administrators of a Facebook group which calls for everybody in Malaysia to be allowed to use the name Allah. The group has been growing rapidly in the last few days and we now have more than 68,000 members.

Because of the Facebook group, people take me as a leader, so I’ve received many calls and messages from Christians from all over the country saying how concerned they are about the attacks.

Because violence triggers more violence we are discouraging all Malaysians, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, from joining any street protests. It’s better to participate in a cyber rally and have a dialogue online.

This has never happened in Malaysia before – attacking places of worship. Ours is a multi-cultural society, we’ve always lived in harmony.

The government should take responsibility for what’s happened. They should not mix religion with politics and they should allow people to practise their faith. It’s none of anybody else’s business how I call my God.

Hussin Zin, retired company manager, Petaling Jaya
Hussin Zin

I appreciate the concerns of some Muslims in Malaysia, but I do not condone violence. The general view here is that this is the work of extremists. Malaysian Muslims are peaceful people, we are not of the terrorist kind.

We enjoy religious tolerance in Malaysia and different religious groups celebrate their festivals together.

There are fringe elements in every society. I am not so concerned about the attacks, but about the way the government is handling this issue.

Instead of banning the word in a Christian journal, they should have pushed for an inter-religious dialogue and invited religious groups to discuss and come up with a solution.

Everyone’s been talking about this issue in the last week or so and there has been a strong reaction and many different views.

Most Muslim people, especially those who are well educated, are open-minded. The name “Allah” is used by Christians in the Middle East. Why should there be a problem? It’s between you and God.

Nordin Abdullah, businessman, Kuala Lumpur

There is a concern in the country that Muslims could be misled and confused with Christians using Allah to address God. There are concerns that certain Christian groups are trying to convert Muslims this way.

Many Muslims will agree that it’s not the use, but the misuse of the word. “Allah” means one, undividable God. It becomes misleading when used outside its historical context.

It’s against Islamic teachings to attack churches and I am sure the majority of Malaysians don’t think it’s acceptable

The main problem is the idea of Allah having a son – this is not the original context of the word.

Whatever the views on this subject, nobody wants to see any kind of tension, whether it’s ethnic or religious. The attacks on Christian churches are not the right way to respond to the issue. They are not very Malaysian. Differences should be resolved through an open discussion, not violent attacks.

It’s interesting that these attacks are happening at a time when our prime minister is promoting the idea of “One Malaysia”, where the emphasis is on the common ground, not on ethnic or religious divisions.

I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but it seems strange that this tension is happening at a good time, when things are beginning to get better for everyone.

No-one seems to have the answer. If you ask me – these attacks are not organised, they are not part of something bigger. It’s stupidity and it’s against Islamic teachings to attack churches and I am sure the majority of Malaysians don’t think it’s acceptable.

Waihon Liew, university lecturer of global religions, Rawang
Waihon Liew

The attacks are very sad because we have managed to live harmoniously in the past. I was a bit nervous that they could escalate and get bigger, but I am happy that didn’t happen.

The government is taking a lot of security measures around places of worship and I don’t feel scared about going to church. Our government is doing the right thing, they are looking to promote dialogue and better understanding of religious issues.

I believe there might be a different agenda behind these attacks, not necessarily to do with the religious issue. It’s still early to make a final decision, but it’s possible that behind it are people who do not want to see the country as a tolerant and harmonious society. But this is a small group of people.

I think the government is in a tricky situation, it is not an easy task to govern a multi-racial society and it’s not possible to please everyone. We need to find a middle ground, we need to cultivate peace and harmony, but we don’t want to compromise in terms of religious doctrine.

The name Allah belongs to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Some Muslims may not even realise that it’s been used long before Mohammad by Jews and Christians. Allah cannot be called anything else.