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Churches Attacked In Malaysia
Developing story by Michelle MY Chan
KUALA LUMPUR, WEST MALAYSIA (ANS) -- Three churches were attacked here in the early hours of yesterday morning, an act which had been linked to a High Court ruling to allow the use of the word Allah in Christian publications.
None were injured in the attacks on Metro Tabernacle, Assumption Catholic Church and the Life Chapel (Brethren) Church, but the incident caused a stir of unease throughout the country, where the High Court on 31st December 2009 allowed the publication of the word Allah.
The country's Home Ministry, which had initiated court proceedings, had appealed against the decision, and applied for a stay of execution which had been granted.
Meanwhile, Muslim groups unhappy with the court's decision planned nationwide protests, which were allowed by the government. The attack on churches happened after permission was granted to hold protests.
Metro Tabernacle, an Assemblies of God denomination, had the first of its three-floor building gutted by a homemade firebomb. The other two churches discovered Molotov cocktails that failed to explode on their church grounds.
The Allah controversy in Malaysia interlinks the political, judiciary and religious landscapes. The debate has escalated with furore online, with argum ents from both sides over the exclusivity of the word. Muslim groups are concerned that the usage of Allah in bibles will cause confusion to Muslims as to who God is.
The word Allah had been used in pre-Islam times as a translation for "God", according to the Bible Society of Malaysia. In a statement, it said that Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei - and other places in Asia and Africa where languages are in contact with Arabic - have been using the word Allah to refer to the "Creator God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In Malay and Indonesian, the word Allah has been used continuously: first, in the printed edition of the Matthew's Gospel in Malay (Ruyl, 1629); then, in the first complete Malay Bible (Leijdecker, 1733), and in the second complete Malay Bible (Klinkert, 1879) and the translations since.
Across the South China Sea in East Malaysia (Borneo), indigenous tribes had embraced Christianity and used Allah in their bibles for many decades.
The controversy an d subsequent outbreak of violence on churches have caused concern, amid the police requesting the public to keep calm.
In a press statement, the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), said, "It should be noted that in both East and West Malaysia, there are many churches conducting their religious services in Malay as well as in their own mother tongues. The use of the word Allah is in consonant with their traditional usage all these while and should be continued in the interest of preserving national unity and harmony."
NECF urged all parties to uphold the court's decision and not to turn the issue into a religious debate nor politicized as a racial or religious affair. "The High Court decision should be respected for its bold and rational judgment based on sound constitutional principles and due considerations," it continued.
Prayer Points by NECF:
1. Body of Christ in Malaysia to rise up and stand in the gap for peace, order and calmness in the nation. Diffuse all confusion, speculation and subdue al l voices that promote unrest and tension.
2. Church leaders and Body of Christ to be clear-minded and filled with His love, wisdom and courage in the midst of intimidation.
3. Forgiveness and conviction on the part of those responsible.
4. Protection upon all churches and Christians in the nation.
5. Quick and decisive action on part of enforcement authorities, and for understanding and peace to prevail.
6. Uphold the Prime Minister, Home Minister and leaders of the country for wisdom to handle the current situation, and for God's will to prevail.
Malaysia consists of West (Peninsula) Malaysia and East Malaysia (Borneo). It is a multi-racial country with a constitution that protects the freedom of religion for its citizens, while Islam is the official religion.
However, it also has a dual judicial system, with the federal courts operating alongside the Syariah (Muslim) courts. Matters relating to a Muslim individual's religion are often referred to the Syariah court. Under Syariah law it is very difficult to leave the religion.
Christians make up about 10% of the population. Buddhists and Hindus complete the religious landscape.
Michelle MY Chan is a freelance journalist, photographer and documentary filmmaker based in Malaysia.
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