Malaysia mosque vandalized amid "Allah" row

First incident against mosque after 11 attacks on churches


A Malaysian mosque was vandalized following attacks on 11 churches, threatening to deepen a row over the use of the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian God in this mainly Muslim but multiracial country.

The Saturday incident in the Borneo island state of Sarawak is the first against a mosque after the arson and vandalism attacks on churches, and could stoke anger among Malay Muslims who make up 60 percent of the country's 28 million population.

Malaysia's deputy police chief Ismail Omar said police found broken glass near the outside wall of the mosque, and warned troublemakers against whipping up emotions.

"Don't make any speculation. We are investigating this incident. The situation remains peaceful and no one should take advantage of this to create something bad," Ismail told Reuters.

Ismail could not confirm whether the bottles thrown at the mosque were that of alcoholic beverages, which is forbidden to Muslims, but said he believed the act was vandalism.

Don't make any speculation. We are investigating this incident. The situation remains peaceful and no one should take advantage of this to create something bad

Deputy police chief Ismail Omar

The use of "Allah"

The row stems from a court ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use "Allah" in its Malay-language editions, which caused Muslims to protest outside mosques on Friday last week.

Most of the attacks have been against churches but a Sikh temple was also vandalized on Wednesday.

The office of the lawyer representing the Catholic publication in the court case over the use of the word was broken into and ransacked on Thursday.

The use of "Allah" is common among Malay-speaking Christians, who account for 9.1 percent of the population, especially in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Opinions are split, but many Malays have expressed unhappiness over allowing the word to be used by Christians.

A page created in the online networking site Facebook to protest the use of the word by non-Muslims has so far attracted more than 220,000 users.

The Berita Harian Malay language newspaper reported on Saturday that 70 Muslim-Malay groups would submit on Monday a memorandum appealing for intervention from the titular Malay rulers who oversee Islamic affairs in their respective states.

Stoking nationalism

The Malaysian government has strongly criticized the attacks on churches, but has been accused of stoking Malay nationalism to protect its voter base after the opposition made unprecedented gains in 2008 elections.

In Geneva, the World Council of Churches said it was disturbed by the attacks and called on the Malaysian government to take immediate action.

Malaysia's mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim ethnic minorities, who form 40 percent of the country's population, abandoned the ruling coalition in the 2008 general elections partly due to complaints over increasing religious marginalization.

Analysts have said the arson attacks, though not an immediate risk, are raising worries among some foreign investors at a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to lure more foreign investment.

Malaysia, which between 1990 and 2000 accounted for half of all foreign direct investment into it, Thailand and Indonesia, has now lost its leading position. Najib is trying to woo them back with economic liberalization measures.