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Penang church attacked as Allah dispute escalates

KUALA LUMPUR — A church in Penang was hit with firebombs yesterday, prompting calls for calm and restraint from religious and political leaders amid concerns of escalating tension because of a dispute over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.

The Church of Assumption at Lebuh Farquhuar, Penang, on Jan 27, 2014 after it became the target of two molotov cocktails. Photo: The Malaysian Insider

The Church of Assumption at Lebuh Farquhuar, Penang, on Jan 27, 2014 after it became the target of two molotov cocktails. Photo: The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR — A church in Penang was hit with firebombs yesterday, prompting calls for calm and restraint from religious and political leaders amid concerns of escalating tension because of a dispute over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.

The authorities stepped up security after the incident, deploying an extra 250 policemen from Ipoh to join increased patrols at churches and mosques in Penang.

Penang State Police Chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi said two men on a motorcycle threw Molotov cocktails into the compound of The Church of the Assumption. One exploded but no one was injured.

The attack came after a banner was found hanging outside three churches in Penang, including The Assumption, on Sunday. The banner read: “Allah is great, Jesus is the son of Allah”.

The churches have lodged complaints with the police over the banner.

The incident has sparked worries of more widespread religious violence such as in 2010, when more than a dozen churches and other places of worship came under arson attacks and vandalism because of the tussle over the use of the word “Allah”.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he has directed action to be taken to curb any acts that can be construed as provocative and will affect race relations.

“I’ve always said that, as a government, we should place importance on peace and harmony, and we will do our best to maintain that, based on the rule of law,” he said yesterday. “It is time for us to stay calm and not to act rashly in any situation, because it will be detrimental to the nation.”

“Allah” is the Arabic word for “God” and commonly used in the Malay language to refer to God. The government has said “Allah” should be exclusively reserved for Muslims because of concerns of its use by others would confuse Muslims and tempt them to convert. Christians in the Muslim-majority nation said the restriction violates their religious rights. The row deepened after a court last October ruled in favour of the government.

Last week, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad entered the fray, insisting that the word “Allah” was exclusive to Muslims and accusing those seeking to use it of having an agenda.

Yesterday, he commented on multiracialism in Malaysia on his Facebook page, saying: “Malaysians by and large are not violent people. But for how long can Malaysia remain stable in the face of persistent violation of the good understanding and the sharing of power between the races.”

He added: “Malaysian, be they Malays, Chinese, Indians or the native of Sabah and Sarawak must banish from their minds the idea of racial dominance.”

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the government would not bow to religious extremists and racial bigots and would instead use the “weapons of social justice and sustainable development” to defeat the acts of violence and hatred in Penang.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid called for calm from all parties. “I hope that leaders of NGOs (non-government organisations), be it Muslim or Christian, will remain calm. Don’t make this out to be such a big issue that it ends up becoming a real problem,” he said.

Christian leaders also urged their flock not to retaliate. The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) Chairman Reverend Dr Eu Hong Seng called on Christians to be wise and measured in their response to such acts.

“Should these attacks be politically-motivated and calculated to try to ignite inter-racial and inter-religious tension, then all the more reason that we be wise and measured in our response,” he said in a statement.

About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 29 million people are Malay Muslims, while Christians make up about 9 per cent of the population. AGENCIES

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