KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian church was attacked on Monday, church officials said, the ninth targeted by arsonists as a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims deepened.
The Sidang Injil Borneo Church in the central state of Negri Sembilan is the latest to be fire-bombed or vandalised in a spate of violence that began last Friday, sending tensions soaring in the Muslim-majority nation.
“This morning I was alerted by a church member who saw the door of the church had been burnt,” senior pastor Eddy Marson Yasir told AFP.
“I immediately rushed here to check, it was very smoky inside the building but we are lucky that the fire didn’t spread.”
Deputy state police chief Abdul Manan Mohamad Hassan confirmed the attack.
“We are investigating the incident with the fire department. So far we have not discovered any Molotov cocktail in the compound, so we are still probing the cause of the fire,” he told AFP.
Yasir said the church has some 400 members, mostly from the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island, who conduct their service in the national language, Malay.
“We have been using the word ‘Allah’ during the service as most our church members speak the Malay language,” he said.
The dispute erupted two weeks ago when the High Court ruled in favour of the Catholic newspaper The Herald, which argued for the right to use “Allah” as a translation for “God” in its Malay-language section.
The government insists the word should be used only by Muslims. The ruling in the newspaper’s favour was suspended last week pending an appeal, after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.
Despite the series of attacks, thousands of Malaysian Christians came out for weekly services Sunday.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has called for calm and said the government will not tolerate any threat to racial harmony.
The row is among a string of religious disputes in recent years that have strained relations between Muslim Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being “Islamised”.
About 10 per cent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Christians, including some 850,000 Catholics.