Fifth Church Attacked in Malaysia in Allah Feud

By: Eileen Ng - AP Writer
By: Eileen Ng - AP Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Another church was hit by a firebomb early Sunday, the fifth assault in three days of unrest following a court decision that allows Christians and other
non-Muslims to use "Allah" to refer to God.

Hundreds of worshippers whose parish church was partly gutted in
the firebomb attack last week gathered at a makeshift prayer hall
for their Sunday service and called for national unity and an end
to violence.

On Sunday, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the All Saints
Church in Taiping town in central Perak state early in the morning
before it had opened, said state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah. He
told The Associated Press that the building was not damaged but
police found burn marks on the floor.

Four churches were hit by gasoline bombs on Friday and Saturday.
All except the Metro Tabernacle, who parishioners moved their
services, suffered little damage, and no one was hurt. The other
three held normal services Sunday.

The unprecedented attacks have set off a wave of disquiet among
Malaysia's minority Christians and strained their ties with the
majority Malay Muslims.

The dispute is over a Dec. 31 High Court decision that
overturned a government order banning non-Muslims from using the
word "Allah" in their prayers and literature. The court was
ruling on a petition by Malaysia's Roman Catholic Church, whose
main publication, the Herald, uses the word "Allah" in its
Malay-language edition. The government has appealed the verdict.

About 9 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Christian,
most of whom are ethnic Chinese or Indian. Muslims make 60 percent
of the population and most of them are ethnic Malays.

On Sunday, men, women and children from the Metro Tabernacle
parish assembled in the cavernous, 1,800-seat meeting hall of the
Malaysian Chinese Association party for the service. They lifted
their hands and sang "We put all our faith in you," and "You are
the God of love and peace" during the Sunday service.

"My wife was worried, but we want to be here to support the
church," said Michael Chew, 40, who came to the service with two
children, aged 1 and 6.

The service was in English, as are most Christian services in
mainland Malaysia though some are in Chinese and Tamil languages.
Such services do not use the word "Allah." Only the
Malay-language prayers for indigenous tribespeople in the remote
states of Sabah and Sarawak use "Allah," as they have for
decades.

Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of
Churches of Malaysia, said Christians won't be intimidated by the
attacks, describing them as the work of extremist minority among
Muslims.

"What is clear is that it is done by extremist groups. It does
not reflect the majority Muslims in the country. We all have to
stand together to stamp out terror perpetuated by these extremist
groups," he told The Associated Press.

The government contends that making Allah synonymous with God
may confuse Muslims and ultimately mislead them into converting to
Christianity.

Still, government leaders and many Muslims have condemned the
firebombings, saying it is un-Islamic to attack places of worship.

Prime Minister Najib Razak visited the Metro Tabernacle church
late Saturday and announced a grant of 500,000 ringgit ($147,000)
for rebuilding it at a new location, a major concession in a
country where permission is rarely given for building new churches
or temples.

The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is
commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as
Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.


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