Rum bottles thrown at Sarawak mosque

(Reuters) – A mosque was vandalised following attacks on 10 churches, threatening to deepen a row over the use of the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in the country.

The incident today in Sarawak is the first against a mosque after the arson and vandalism attacks on churches.

Malaysia’s deputy police chief Tan Sri Ismail Omar said police found broken glass near the outside wall of the mosque, and warned troublemakers against whipping up emotions.

“Don’t make any speculation. We are investigating this incident. The situation remains peaceful and no one should take advantage of this to create something bad,” Ismail told Reuters.

Ismail could not confirm whether the bottles thrown at the mosque were that of alcoholic beverages, which is forbidden to Muslims, but said he believed the act was vandalism.

The row stems from a court ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use “Allah” in its Malay-language editions, which caused Muslims to protest outside mosques on Friday last week.

Most of the attacks have been against churches but a Sikh temple was also vandalised on Wednesday.

The office of the lawyer representing the Catholic publication in the court case over the use of the word was broken into and ransacked on Thursday.

The use of “Allah” is common among Malay-speaking Christians, who account for 9.1 per cent of the population, especially in Sabah and Sarawak.

Opinions are split, but many Malays have expressed unhappiness over allowing the word to be used by Christians.

A page created in the online networking site Facebook to protest the use of the word by non-Muslims has so far attracted more than 220,000 users.

Berita Harian reported today that 70 Muslim-Malay groups would submit on Monday a memorandum appealing for intervention from the Malay rulers who oversee Islamic affairs in their respective states.

The government has warned that laws, including the Internal Security Act that allows detention without trial, would be deployed to keep tensions from boiling over.

A 25-year-old Malay student was charged in court yesterday with threatening public safety following a comment he reportedly made on his Facebook page offering to throw petrol bombs.

The government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is appealing the court verdict and has condemned the arson and vandalism attacks, but analysts have said he would likely lose votes among non-Muslims unhappy with the row.

Malaysia’s mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim ethnic minorities, who form 40 per cent of the country’s population, abandoned the ruling coalition in the 2008 general elections partly due to complaints over increasing religious marginalisation.

Analysts have said the arson attacks, though not an immediate risk, are raising worries among some foreign investors at a time when Najib has pledged to lure more foreign investment.

Malaysia, which between 1990 and 2000 accounted for half of all foreign direct investment into it, Thailand and Indonesia, has now lost its leading position. Najib is trying to woo them back with economic liberalisation measures.