Thousands of Malaysian Christians came out for weekly services Sunday despite three new attacks in a campaign of fire-bombings that has sent tensions soaring in the Muslim-majority nation.
Two more churches and a Catholic convent school were targeted early Sunday, police said, although no one was injured.
Molotov cocktails were thrown at the All Saints Church and the school in Taiping, in the northern state of Perak, and a bottle of kerosene was found in another church nearby before Sunday services.
Six churches have now been attacked since Friday in an escalating row over the use of the word “Allah” as a translation for the Christian God by non-Muslims.
Islamic groups have staged protests in response to a court ruling last week that gave a Catholic newspaper the right to print the word following a long-running dispute with the government over the issue.
“I think that people’s faith is greater than what’s happening around so they continue to go to church and pray for themselves as well as for the nation,” Council of Churches secretary-general Hermen Shastri told AFP.
“But of course we are not blind to potential threats so churches have taken measures to increase security around their compounds, and (are) trusting the police and other enforcement agencies to keep a lookout for any suspicious individuals.”
About 1,000 worshippers at the Catholic Church of Assumption in Kuala Lumpur, one of four in the Malaysian capital targeted by the arsonists, were briefed by parish priest Phillips Muthu on the incident and told to be patient.
“I told them we don’t want to blame any people, any quarter, any religion. We are peaceful and we are here to offer our prayer for the nation,” he told reporters at the church, where a fire-bomb damaged part of the grounds.
“Of course we are afraid after the incident, but life has to go on.”
Deputy natural resources and environment minister Joseph Kurup, who was at the church with his family, urged the Catholic community to remain calm and let the authorities investigate.
One worshipper who only wanted to be identified as Lee said reactions to the court ruling from sections of the Muslim community had been “quite shocking”.
“But I think the majority of Malaysians are still peace-loving and we should have dialogue to resolve this,” she said.
A police car was stationed outside the nearby Protestant Life Chapel church, which had a Molotov cocktail thrown into its porch, and volunteers stood guard and checked worshippers’ cars.
The 1,000-strong congregation of the Metro Tabernacle church, the worst damaged in the attacks, moved its service to a hall offered by Malaysia’s ruling party.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has called for calm and said the government will not tolerate any threat to racial harmony in the multicultural nation, home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Tensions were heightened last week when the High Court ruled in favour of the Catholic “Herald” newspaper, which has been using “Allah” as a translation for “God” in its Malay-language section.
The government has argued the word should be used only by Muslims. The ruling was suspended on Wednesday pending an appeal, after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.
The row is among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being “Islamised”.
About 10 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Christians, including some 850,000 Catholics. — AFP