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Friday, 8 January 2010

Malaysia church attacked over Allah

Churches in Malaysia were bracing themselves for further attacks by Muslim protesters today, hours after two arson attacks, apparently provoked by a controversy over the use by Christians of the word Allah.

Police were increasing their patrols of areas around churches and Christian communities were hiring security guards, after a Protestant church in the capital Kuala Lumpur was set on fire by a petrol bomb in the early hours of the morning. Muslim organisations have promised street protests today over a court decision which would allow use of the Allah as the Malaysian language term for the Christian God.

The word has been used for centuries in Malaysia, as well as by Christians in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia as the equivalent of the English word God. But many Malaysian Muslims in Malaysia, who make up 60 per cent of the population, say that the word Allah should be reserved to refer exclusively to the Muslim deity and that use of it in a Biblical context encourages conversion to Christianity, a crime under the country's sharia laws.

The Herald, a Catholic newspaper which published in Malaysian, won an appeal last week against a ruling which banned use of the word by non-Muslims. The judgement has been suspended in anticipation of an appeal by the government, but it has already stirred up Muslim anger in a country with a particular dread of ethnic and racial confrontation.

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