Malaysian churches fire-bombed ahead of demonstrations

BBCNEWS… Three churches have been attacked in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, ahead of planned protests by Muslim groups.

The administrative offices of one church were destroyed by a firebomb attack and one of the other two churches attacked was slightly damaged.

Some Muslim groups are angry at a court decision allowing non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God.

The government relies on the Malay Muslim vote, and will let Muslims march from mosques to churches on Friday.

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the church attacks, saying such actions would “destroy our country’s harmony”.

“The government will take whatever steps it can to prevent such acts,” he said.

Divided faiths

The controversy stems from a ban on a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, using the word Allah.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court struck down the three-year old ban on use of the word Allah – a ruling now the target of planned demonstrations.

Some major Muslim organisations, including the Islamic political party, PAS, have agreed with the court, saying other Abrahamic religions – Christinaity and Judiasm – may use the word Allah.

But some vocal groups, including the Muslim Youth Movement, Abim, have cast the use of the word Allah as a surreptitious effort on the part of Christians to try to seduce Muslims away from Islam.

The argument has continued in the media and the courts for months but had not become violent – until assailants on motorbikes were seen smashing the windows of the Metro Tabernacle Church, a Protestant church in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

The ground floor office of the three-storey church was destroyed in a blaze a little after midnight, said Kevin Ang, a church spokesman.

Kuala Lumpur police Chief Mohamad Sabtu Osman said police had found a wrench, an empty petrol tin and two scorched motorbikes at the scene.

Separately, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the compounds of two other churches before dawn, causing minor damage in one and none in the other, church officials said.

The police chief has also urged protesters not to join Friday’s planned demonstrations.

The government has appealed against the court verdict and the High Court has suspended the decision’s implementation until the appeal is heard.

About 60% of Malaysians are Malay Muslims alongside significant Chinese and Indian minorities.

Prime Minister Najib has spoken recently of a “one Malaysia” concept – something analysts now say is under severe challenge.

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