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Malaysia church attacks continue in use of 'Allah' row

11 January 10 10:54 GMT
By Rachel Harvey
BBC South East Asia correspondent

Another Christian church has been attacked in Malaysia - the ninth such incident since Friday.

No one was injured in the attack on an evangelical Christian church, but buildings were damaged by what appear to have been home-made petrol bombs.

In another case a church was vandalised with black paint.

The attacks appear to have been triggered by a High Court ruling last month that overturned a government ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah".

The government is appealing against the decision.

Deep resentments

The latest attack caused limited physical damage - just a burned door and a charred entranceway.

But the political implications may be more serious.

Tensions have flared after Malaysia's High Court ruled that a Roman Catholic newspaper, the Herald, was permitted to use the word Allah to describe God in its Malay language editions.

Muslim groups argue that Christians using a word so closely associated with Islam could be a ploy to win converts.

Christians make up around 9% of the population in the majority Muslim state. Most non-Muslims are ethnically Indian or Chinese.

The row over the use of the word Allah has exposed deep resentments over the treatment of minorities and freedom of religion in Malaysia.

A government minister told foreign diplomats on Monday that the church attacks were the work of extremists.

"These were not just attacks on houses of worship," he said. "These were attacks on the values and freedoms all Malaysians share."

Under the slogan "One Malaysia", the government has made racial harmony a central policy. Its commitment to that policy is now being severely tested.

The "Allah" ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and even nearby Indonesia, which is the world's world's largest Muslim nation.

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