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.

Muslim woman to be caned for drinking

Islamic brutalityCNEWS…KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Muslim part-time model will be caned next week, becoming the first woman in Malaysia to be given the punishment under Islamic law, after she pleaded guilty to drinking beer, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

An Islamic court in July ordered that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, be lashed six times with a rattan cane after she was caught drinking alcohol in a raid on a hotel night club in eastern Pahang state last year.

Prosecutor Saiful Idham Sahimi said Kartika will be the first woman to be caned under Islamic law after she chose not to appeal the sentence.

“This is the first case in Malaysia. … It is a good punishment because under Islamic law a person who drinks commits a serious offence,” he said.

On Tuesday, the court set a one-week period starting next Monday for the sentence to be carried out in a woman’s prison, Saiful said. It is up to prison authorities to decide when to cane her during that period.

He said Kartika will remain in prison during that time and will be released “as soon as possible” after the caning is carried out.

Saiful said the rattan cane to be used on Kartika would be lighter than the one used on men, and its purpose was to “educate” rather than punish.

Muslims, who make up about two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people, are governed by Islamic courts in all civilian and Islamic matters. Most alcohol offenders are fined, but the law also provides for a three-year prison term and caning.

Non-Muslims are governed by civil courts, which also impose caning for offences such as rape and corruption. Women, children and men above 50 are exempt under civil law. Caning, administered on the buttocks, breaks the skin and leaves permanent scars.

Kartika said earlier that she wanted authorities to cane her soon so that she can resume her life with her husband and children. Some politicians and women’s rights activists have criticized the penalty as too harsh.

A woman and a man, both Muslims, were also arrested during a series of raids in Cherating, a beach town in Pahang state, on the night when Kartika was detained. Both were also sentenced to caning, but they have appealed.

Malaysian clubs and lounges typically serve alcohol and are not legally required to check if customers are Muslims before serving them.