KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Vandals threw a rum bottle at a mosque in the first attack on a Muslim house of worship after almost a dozen similar assaults on churches in Malaysia the past week, police said Saturday.
Police have dismissed the attacks as vandalism, but they have caused disquiet in multiracial Malaysia and raised fears of more widespread religious tensions.
One Sikh temple and 11 churches have been hit, most of them with molotov cocktails, since Jan. 8. One church was partially gutted, though the others sustained only minor damages. No arrests have been made.
The unrest follows a Dec. 31 court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. The verdict upset Muslims who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million people. The government has argued allowing Christians to use the word will confuse Muslims and entice them to convert.
The bottle was thrown at a mosque in eastern Sarawak state late Friday and found smashed near an outer wall inside the compound, said local police chief Abu Bakar Mokhtar. He said they didn’t know if it contained any alcohol when vandals threw it. Most Muslims consider alcohol illegal. Abu Bakar blamed “naughty boys” for the incident.
In the latest church attack late Friday, vandals smashed a window of a church in southern Negeri Sembilan state, said Saiful Azly Kamaruddin, a district police chief. He said the attack also appeared to be vandalism, and added police have stepped up patrols and deployed more plainclothes officials in the area.
The unrest centers on the court ruling, in which the Herald, the main newspaper of the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia, argues it has the right to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition because it predates Islam and is commonly used by Christians in other predominantly Muslims countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia and Syria. It is also used in Malay-language Bibles.
The government has condemned the attacks and assured Christians, who make up some 9 percent of Malaysia’s population, they are safe. But the attacks aren’t abating. The office of lawyers representing the Herald in their legal fight was also ransacked earlier this week.