KUALA LUMPUR: A church in Malaysia has been fire-bombed in an attack that gutted its ground floor, church officials said on Friday, escalating a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
A fire department official said all stations were on alert for more blazes at religious buildings, ahead of planned nationwide protests on Friday by Muslim groups angry over the use of the word as a translation for the Christian “God.”
The three-storey Metro Tabernacle church in suburban Kuala Lumpur was set ablaze in the attack which took place around midnight, said church leader Peter Yeow, 62.
“Witnesses saw four people smash the glass and throw incendiaries into the church building. They came on two motorcycles,” he told AFP at the scene as fire department forensic officers picked through the wreckage.
There were no casualties in the attack on the church, which occupies the corner lot of a row of shop houses and which Yeow said draws some 1,500 people weekly.
“The fire destroyed the administrative part of the church. We do not know if the prayer hall on the third floor suffered any damage,” he said, warning all other churches to “double their guard” against any attacks.
Anuar Harun, who headed the fire department operation, said that forensic experts were working with the police and a canine unit to probe the blaze.
“We are investigating the cause of fire. We cannot provide any more details. It is a sensitive issue,” he said when asked if it was a case of arson.
“We have asked all our fire stations to be on alert for such fires on religious premises,” he said.
The High Court last week ruled in favour of the Catholic “Herald” newspaper which has used “Allah” as a translation for “God” in its Malay-language section.
The ruling was suspended on Wednesday pending an appeal, after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict in multicultural Malaysia, where Muslim Malays make up 60 percent of the population.
The security guard at the Metro Tabernacle church, 65-year-old V. Mariappan, said he had just walked away from the main entrance of the building to use the bathroom when the building erupted in flames.
“When I came back, there was a huge fire inside the church building. There was a few loud explosions like bombs exploding,” he said, adding he saw two motorcycle helmets lying on the road in flames. – AFP