Church Firebombed Over Use of the Word 'Allah'

Two petrol bombs have been thrown at a Malaysian church, igniting fears of more violence as a religious dispute over the use of the word 'Allah' rages.

An unidentified assailant hurled the petrol bombs at a shrine fronting the Church of the Assumption in the northern state of Penang, said the church's priest Dominic Santhiyagu.

Only one ignited, causing just minor damage, he said.

But the incident stirred memories of a wave of such attacks on places of worship - mostly churches - four years ago during an earlier bout of divisions over the dispute in the Muslim-majority country.

'We are shocked by the incident. We must remain calm and pray,' Santhiyagu said.

Santhiyagu said police were investigating the attack. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Conservative Muslims have raised pressure in recent weeks for Malay-speaking Christians to stop using the word 'Allah'.

They say the word - which also is used by Malay Muslims to refer to the Islamic creator - is exclusive to their religion and must not be used by non-Muslims in multiracial Malaysia.

Muslim ethnic Malays make up more than 60 per cent of the country's 28 million people, which also includes sizeable Chinese, Indian and other minorities.

About 2.6 million people in Malaysia are Christians.

Earlier on Sunday, officials at the Penang church had found a banner hung on its fence saying 'Jesus is the son of Allah.' Another such banner also was reportedly found at a nearby church.

Christian officials speculated the banners and petrol bombs could be the work of provocateurs seeking to further inflame the 'Allah' dispute.

Some government critics have alleged right-wing elements allied to the Malay-dominated ruling coalition were stirring up the issue to increase Muslim support for the government.

'We look to the relevant authorities to take the necessary action to haul in extremists who thrive on causing unrest,' said Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.

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