Malaysia's political leaders denounce Penang church attack

Malaysia's political leaders denounce Penang church attack

THE firebombing of a church in Penang yesterday morning, after weeks of heightened tension between Christians and Muslims in Malaysia, has been condemned on both sides of the political divide.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, of the Democratic Action Party, called the attack an act of "religious extremism" and urged Penangites to stay calm, while the Penang branch of the Umno party said the attack - by unknown persons - was "violent and irresponsible".

The Christian Federation of Malaysia, in a statement on Monday, accused the perpetrators of trying to "cause chaos and ethnic enmity" for "self-interest" gains, without naming names.

At 1.30am yesterday, unknown assailants threw two Molotov cocktails into the compound of the Church of the Assumption in Penang. Nobody was hurt.

This happened hours after the church and three others found banners on their grounds bearing the words "Allah is great. Jesus is the son of Allah".

The banners were hung on their fences or put up near their entrances during Sunday church services. They said they did not know who had put the banners there.

Only one of the home-made bombs exploded while the other one landed on grass, said Penang police chief Abdul Rahim, according to a report by The Star Online yesterday. The police are hunting for two suspects.

The incident brought back memories of a spate of church bombings four years ago.

As was the case then, the attack is believed to be a reaction to the Christian community's insistence on continuing to use the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian God, something it has done for centuries.

The Selangor state authorities and many Muslims believe "Allah" is reserved for the Muslim God and see Christians' use of "Allah" as attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity.

A nationwide controversy over whether "Allah" is exclusive to Muslims has raged in Malaysia, especially after the Selangor religious authorities confiscated more than 300 Malay- and Iban-language bibles containing the word "Allah".

Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak broke a weeks-long silence on the issue to say that state governments had the prerogative over religious matters. After yesterday's attack, he urged calm.

"As a government, peace and harmony is our utmost priority and we will do all we can to ensure that we continue to maintain that based on the rule of law," he told reporters. "This is the time for us to stay calm and refrain from acting rashly as it could damage the country."

Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for a bipartisan dialogue to reach a "national consensus" on how to handle such hot-button issues.

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