Malaysia: several churches attacked

All Saints Church, Taiping

All Saints Church, Taiping

At least six churches in Malaysia have been targets of vandalism and firebombs since Friday, with attacks reported in Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country.

A Molotov cocktail was hurled at the Anglican All Saints Church in Taiping town in Perak state on Saturday. Broken bottles and paint thinners were found at the St Louis Catholic Church in the same town, the BBC reports. Church officials said a petrol bomb, which did not go off, was found at the convent school next to the parish, according to the Malaysian Insider.

Police believe the attacks were unrelated to four incidents in the central areas of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya on Friday and Saturday, and "were probably just mischievous acts by opportunists".

The attacks follow growing anger among some Muslims that the country's High Court allowed the Catholic Herald weekly to use the term "Allah" to describe God.

The BBC report also quotes police and church officials saying bricks and stones were thrown at glass windows of the Good Shepherd Catholic church in Miri, a logging and oil town in Sarawak state on Borneo.

In the southern Molucca state, the outer wall of the Molucca Baptist Church was splashed with black paint, police said.

Meanwhile, the AFP reports that Christians defied the attacks by turning up in the thousands for Mass and services on Sunday.

On Saturday, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur told Fides: "Last night, there were minor attacks and minor damage to four Christian churches in Kuala Lumpur, including the Catholic Church of the Assumption in Petaling Jala. Gestures of this kind are a rarity in Malaysia. We condemn all violence and all those who seek to create unrest in society and conflicts between religious communities. Several leading Muslim groups have joined us in condemning the violence, expressing their solidarity."

Among these groups is the the PAS (Party Islam Se-Malaysia), an influential Islamic party in Malaysia that has discouraged any form of protest, stressing that the word "Allah" belongs to the theological tradition of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity.

The Archbishop said: "Currently the situation is under control, the government and the police have acted swiftly to quell any form of violent protest, which was very well contained. Assaults, with crude explosives, are isolated acts done by small groups, probably by individuals filled with 'fervor' from the Friday prayer of the Muslims.

"Today everything is calm. We are confident that order and security will be guaranteed tomorrow, when our churches will be full for Sunday mass. There is a bit of fear among the people, but we hope that everything goes well."  Christians in this matter, emphasized Archbishop Pakiam, "are praying and keeping the peace, without retaliating. And we will not do so in the future. We want to be a community that lives in dialogue and spreads peace throughout the nation. Certainly these episodes and the controversy surrounding the term 'Allah' can have a negative impact on Christian-Muslim dialogue. It will take time and patience to overcome this impasse."
The Archbishop explained that "the Church, in taking the case to the High Court, has sought to defend its case by appealing to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which allows freedom of worship and religion. In the Malay language, there is only the word "Allah" to refer to God, and it is therefore unconstitutional to apply restrictions on language or religion to Christians Malaysians who speak in Malay language."

The Church has confidence in the justice of the state and has filed the appeal in accordance with the law, he explained, saying "In fact, given the government's announcement to appeal to the Supreme Court, while the matter is still sub judice we will not use the word Allah. We want to clarify the issue peacefully and civilly."
In Malaysia, Islam is the state religion, but the constitution guarantees freedom of worship and religion to other religious communities. The Islamic religion is professed by 50% of the 28 million Malaysian citizens, almost all of whom are of the Malay ethnic group. Ethnic minorities (Indians and Chinese) include minority religious communities: Christians (8%, among which 900,000 Catholics), Buddhists (7%), Hindu (7%), followers of traditional religions (25%), other religions (5%).

Source: Fides

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