Church Buildings Attacked in Malaysia Following Court Decision

by | Jan 11, 2010 | Charisma Archive

Church Buildings Attacked in Malaysia Following Court Decision

In unprecedented acts that stunned Christians in Malaysia,
suspected Islamists have attacked eight church buildings since the country’s
High Court ruled that a Catholic weekly could use the word “Allah.”

Firebombs were thrown into the compounds of four
churches in Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Petaling Jaya on Friday; three
more attacks occurred on Sunday in Taiping, Melaka and Miri; and
another church building was hit today in Seremban. There were no reports of
injuries.

Judge Lau Bee Lan delivered the controversial court
ruling on Dec. 31, arguing that the Herald had a constitutional right to
use the word “Allah” for God in the Malay section of its multi-lingual
newspaper. The ruling caused an uproar among many Muslim groups widely reported
to have called for nationwide protests after Friday prayers, asserting that
“Allah” can be used only in the context of Islam. Among groups calling for
protests were the Muslim Youth Movement and the National Association of Muslim
Students.

Inflammatory rhetoric has emerged in the escalating
conflict; at a protest in Shah Alam since protests began on Friday, a speaker at
one rally urged listeners to “burn churches,” according to the online
news site Malaysian Insider. The crowd reportedly stood in stunned
silence.

Malaysia’s Home Ministry filed an appeal against the
High Court decision on Jan. 4. Two days later, the court allowed a freeze on the
decision to permit the Herald to use the word “Allah” pending hearing in
the Court of Appeal.

The attacked churches were Metro Tabernacle
(Assembly of God) in Kuala Lumpur, and three churches in Petaling Jaya: Life
Chapel (Brethren), Assumption Church (Catholic) and Good Shepherd Lutheran
Church (Lutheran); also damaged were All Saints’ Church (Anglican) in Taiping,
Melaka Baptist Church in Melaka (vandalized but not firebombed), Good Shepherd
Church (Catholic) in Miri (pelted with stones) and Sidang Injil Borneo
(Evangelical Church of Borneo) in Seremban.

Though there were no casualties, a number of the
church buildings were damaged in the attacks. Metro Tabernacle suffered the
worst damage, with the ground floor of its three-storey building, which housed
its administrative office, completely gutted. The main door of the church in
Seremban was charred.

The Rev. Ong Sek Leang, senior pastor of Metro
Tabernacle, reportedly said that the church harbors no ill feelings toward the
culprits and would forgive those responsible, but that it does not condone the
acts.

Most of the other church buildings suffered minor
damage, though the Assumption Church was spared when the Molotov cocktail thrown
into its compound failed to go off. The Melaka Baptist Church building was
splashed with black paint, while stones were thrown into the Good Shepherd
Church building in Miri.

The Malaysian Insider reported on Friday that two other churches received telephone threats from unknown sources.

Christian leaders, government and opposition
leaders, and Non-Governmental Organizations have condemned the attacks. Police
have promised to increase security around church buildings, but
Inspector-General of Police Chief Musa Hassan told the Malaysian Insider that
churches must beef up their own security since there is a shortage of police
personnel.

Malaysia’s population is about 60 percent Muslim, 19
percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. About 6 percent are Hindu, with 2.6
percent of the population adhering to Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional
Chinese religions.

Shocked

The spate of church attacks shocked the Christian
community and nation, as acts of violence on places of worship are unprecedented
in Malaysia.

Ramon Navaratnam, Chairman of the Centre of Public
Policy Studies, said in a press statement on Friday that the attacks
marked a “troubling trend” and “a low point in our nation’s history.”

The same day, Malaysian Bar Council Chairman
Ragunath Kesavan said in a press statement that the attacks were “shocking and
offensive” and that “all right-minded Malaysians must condemn it as indecent and
unacceptable.”

Christian leaders strongly denounced the attacks and
have asked the government to safeguard the community and its places of worship.
They have also called on the government to take firm steps against the
perpetrators while paving the way for greater understanding between the
different religious communities.

The Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of
the Council of Churches Malaysia, called on the government to “show zero
tolerance for the use, threat or incitement, of violence as a means to pressure
the decision of the court.” The Rev. Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the National
Evangelical Christian Fellowship, called on the government “to take the
necessary steps to educate those who lack understanding and are ‘easily
confused’ to be mature-minded in a progressive democratic society.”

Leaders on both sides of the political divide have
also denounced the attacks, while a number of opposition leaders – including
Anwar Ibrahim, adviser to the People’s Justice Party – put the blame on the
United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the leading partner in the ruling
coalition government. Anwar reportedly accused UMNO-owned newspaper Utusan
Malaysia
of having incited Muslims over the court decision.

A number of local commentators have also criticized
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein for not
defusing rising tensions in the initial days of the court ruling. They have also
come under fire for saying they would allow public demonstrations by Muslim
groups to proceed, and that they would take action “only if things got out of
hand.”

Despite the attacks, a check with parishioners of
several churches in the Klang Valley showed Christians were undeterred by the
acts of violence and continued to gather for worship yesterday.

Urging Christians to pray, Sam Ang,
secretary-general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, told
Compass, “We see this as an opportunity to trust in the Lord and to revitalize
our faith, especially for second-generation Christians.”

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