AP, January 9, 2010
A fourth church in Malaysia was hit by firebombs Saturday, stoking concern among Christians as a dispute rages over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
The latest incident occurred after three other churches were firebombed Friday, just days after a Kuala Lumpur court ruled non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in their literature.
The Dec. 31 court decision incensed many Muslims, who see it as a threat to their religion. Hateful comments and threats against Christians have been posted widely on the Internet, but this is the first time the controversy has turned destructive.
The court ruling followed a petition by Malaysia’s Roman Catholic Church, whose main publication, the Herald, uses the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition. The ruling also applies to the ban’s broader applications such as Malay-language Bibles, more than 10,000 copies which were seized last year by authorities because they translated God as Allah.
But the government contends that making Allah synonymous with God may confuse Muslims and ultimately mislead to them into converting to Christianity, a punishable offense in Malaysia despite a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.
It suggests using “Tuhan,” but Christians say Tuhan is more like “Lord,” and can’t replace “Allah.”
The debate has split the Muslim community. Hundreds of Muslims held peaceful protests in mosques nationwide Friday but some leading Muslim scholars, activists and opposition politicians have supported the Christians’ right to call God Allah.
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 and Syria. The confiscated Bibles came from neighboring Indonesia, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.