The Debate Over What To Call God Just Turned Violent In Malaysia

by
Sameera Ehteram
A Malaysian church was attacked with firebombs early on Monday, escalating tensions in a long-running dispute over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

Malaysian Church

A Malaysian church was attacked with firebombs early on Monday, escalating tensions in a long-running dispute over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

According to the police, two men on a motorcycle threw Molotov cocktails into the compound of The Assumption Church. Fortunately no one was injured.

The attack came after unknown people hung a banner outside five Penang churches with the slogan, "Allah is great, Jesus is the son of Allah," printed in English.

The churches said they had nothing to do with the banner and that it was put up to create animosity between Muslims and Christians.

"We are worried. We have been living in harmony all this while," said John David, a supervisor with the Penang Catholic Church.

In Malaysia, people of all faiths use the word ‘Allah’ in Malay to refer to their Gods. Christians argue that the word entered their language from Arabic and has been used for centuries and that the restriction violates their religious rights.

Earlier this month, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad addressed the issue by saying, ‘Christians and Jews know very well that in all their bibles, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and in the King James and other versions the word Allah had never appeared as the name of God. It is only after Islam and the Quran that the world became acquainted with the word Allah for God.

In their effort to spread Christianity in the Malay speaking world the Christian missionaries used the word Allah for reasons best known to themselves. Whatever, the word Allah for God is not derived from Jewish or Christian sources.’

He went on to say, ‘Religious confrontations can lead to very serious consequences. It can lead to violence and killings even. This peaceful country will not be peaceful anymore if we have religious violence.’

He agreed it was against freedom of expression but ‘freedom even in a liberal democracy have limits if we really want democracy to work.’

Read more: Malaysian Religious Communities Embattled Over What To Call Their God

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.

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