A Malaysian church was attacked with firebombs early on Monday, police said, sparking concerns of escalating tensions amid a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
Penang state police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi said two men on a motorcycle threw firebombs into the compound of The Assumption Church. No one was injured.
The attack came after a banner was found hanging outside three Penang churches, including The Assumption, on Sunday. The banner read: “Allah is great, Jesus is the son of Allah.” The churches have lodged complaints with police over the banner.
Abdul Rahim was quoted by the online edition of The Star newspaper as saying only one of the firebombs exploded as the other one fell on the grass.
Abdul Rahim couldn’t be immediately reached to confirm his comments, but a Penang police officer, who declined to be named as he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media, confirmed them. He did not give any further details. Phone calls to the church went unanswered.
The incident in Penang has sparked worries of more widespread religious violence such as in 2010, when more than a dozen churches and other places of worship came under arson attacks and vandalism because of the tussle over the use of Allah.
Allah is the Arabic word for God and is commonly used in the Malay language to refer to God. The government says Allah should be exclusively reserved for Muslims because of concerns its use by others would confuse Muslims and tempt them to convert.
Christians in the Muslim-majority nation said the restriction violates their religious rights.
The row deepened after a court last October ruled in favour of the government. Earlier this month, Islamic authorities seized more than 300 Malay-language Bibles from the office of a Christian group because they used the word Allah. Bibles in the Iban language, which is used by an indigenous group on Borneo island, were also seized for using the word Allah.
About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 29 million people are Malay Muslims, while Christians make up about 9 per cent of the population.