RELIGION IN MALAYSIA

RELIGION IN MALAYSIA

Islam is the state religion. Malays are by definition Muslims and are not allowed to convert. About 60 percent of all Malaysians are Muslims (including 97 percent of all Malays and some Indians of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani descent). There are also large numbers of Hindus (mostly Indians), Buddhists (some Chinese), and followers of Chinese religions such as Taoism (mostly Chinese). Some tribal people practice local animist religions.

Religion: Muslim (or Islam - official) 60.4 percent, Buddhist 19.2 percent, Christian 9.1 percent, Hindu 6.3 percent, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6 percent, other or unknown 1.5 percent, none 0.8 percent (2000 census). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Islam is the official religion, but freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. According to government statistics, in 2000 approximately 60.4 percent of the population was Muslim, and Muslims were the highest percentage in every state except Sarawak, which was 42.6 percent Christian. Buddhism was the second most adhered to faith, claiming 19.2 percent of the population, and Buddhists constituted at least 20 percent of the total population in many states of Peninsular Malaysia. Of the remaining population, 9.1 percent was Christian; 6.3 percent Hindu; 2.6 Confucian, Taoist, and other Chinese faiths; 0.8 percent practitioners of tribal and folk religions; and 0.4 percent adherents of other faiths. Another 0.8 percent professed no faith, and the religious affiliation of 0.4 percent was listed as unknown. Religious issues have been politically divisive, particularly as non-Muslims opposed attempts to institute Islamic law in states such as Terengganu in 2003. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Malaysia is often held up as a model for other Islamic countries because of its economic development, progressive society and generally peaceful coexistence between the Malay majority and the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are mostly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

Religious Discrimination in Malaysia

Malaysia was rated as having "very high" government restrictions on religion in a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum, bracketing it with the likes of Iran and Egypt and it was the 9th most restrictive of 198 countries. Minorities say it is almost impossible to get permission to build new churches and temples. Some Hindu temples and Christian churches have been demolished in the past. Court verdicts in religious disputes usually favour Muslims.

Baradan Kuppusamy of Time wrote: Because of Malaysia's ethnic makeup, religion is a sensitive issue, and any religious controversy is seen as a potential spark for unrest. Some 60 percent of Malaysia's people are Malay Muslim, while the rest are mainly ethnic Chinese, Indians or members of indigenous tribes, practicing various faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and animism. Among Christians, the majority Catholics number about 650,000, or 3 percent of the population. Despite Malaysia's diverse national complexion, political Islam is a growing force, and the country operates under two sets of laws, one for Muslims, the other for everyone else. The authorities regard such compartmentalization as essential to maintaining social stability. [Source: Baradan Kuppusamy, Time, January 8, 2010 ***]

Freedom of Religion and Politics in Malaysia

According to Human Rights Watch: Malaysia’s constitution affirms the country is a secular state that protects religious freedom for all, but treatment of religious minorities continues to raise concerns. On August 3, 2011, Selangor state religious authorities raided a Methodist church where an annual charity dinner was being held. The authorities alleged that there had been unlawful proselytization of the Muslims present at the event but presented no evidence to support their allegations. Nazri Aziz, de facto law minister, said that since Islam allows underage marriage, the government “can’t legislate against it.” [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012: Malaysia]

Religion can be a contentious political matter in Malaysia. Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “How to reconcile the Islamists and the secularists? Anwar prefers to finesse the problem, by “concentrating on what we have in common, not what divides us.” But PAS has stated its desire to introduce hudud laws for Muslim citizens “” punishing criminal offenses with stoning, whipping, and amputation. Secularist partners in a federal government would find that hard to accept. “Any party should be free to articulate its ideas,” Anwar says. “But no issue should be forced on non-Muslims. When I argue with Muslims, I cannot sound detached from rural Malays, like a typical Malay liberal, or sound like Kemal Ataurk. I would not reject Islamic law out of hand. But without the consent of the majority there is no way you can implement Islamic law as national law.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 <>] [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 <>]

Hinduism and Christianity in Malaysia

There are a significant number of Hindus, mostly of Indian origin, in Malaysia. Hindu influences permeate Malay culture. Traditional Malaysian shadow puppetry features Hindu myths. In the Malay creation myth man battled the Hindu Monkey General Hanuman for dominance over the earth.

Hindus say it is almost impossible to get permission to build new temples. Some Hindu temples have been demolished in the past. In December 2007, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned Malaysian government actions against the country’s ethnic Indian Hindus, including the use of tear gas and water cannons against peaceful demonstrators, beatings of protesters who sought refuge in a temple and the demolition of Hindu temples and shrines. The commission said the expanding reach of Sharia, or Islamic, courts is “threatening secular Malaysia’s civil courts and the country’s commitment to religious pluralism.”

See Festivals, See Indians

Christians -- including about 800,000 Catholics -- make up about 9.1 percent of Malaysia's population. Most are Chinese. Malays are by definition Muslims and are not allowed to convert.

Malaysian Churches Becoming More Involved in Politics

In February 2008, Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Malaysia’s churches are wading cautiously into politics by urging Christians to vote for candidates in the March 2008 general elections who champion religious freedom in the Muslim-majority society. The call illustrates growing concern among religious minorities who feel their rights are being eroded by a rise in Islamic fervor, which many blame on overzealous Muslim bureaucrats in Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government. [Source: Sean Yoong, AP, February 23, 2008 ^^]

“Churches have begun handing out brochures urging Christians to examine the platforms and records of political parties on “freedom of religion, conscience and speech” before casting their ballots. “We want to hold every politician accountable,” said Hermen Shastri, executive secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia. “Many people may not vote for representatives who won’t speak up” for religious rights, he said. The federation includes the Protestant Christian Council of Malaysia, Roman Catholics and the National Evangelical Fellowship. ^^

“Although some churches have made similar calls in the past, many Christians are particularly concerned about the outcome of these elections because of what they regard as “the trend of Islamization and how that is affecting other religious communities,” Shastri said. He stressed that churches remain nonpartisan, and that the campaign is not an endorsement of secular opposition parties, which accuse the government of allowing religious discrimination to strain decades of multiethnic harmony. The Christian federation is working with its Buddhist and Hindu counterparts, which may distribute similar pamphlets at temples, Shastri said. ^^

“Several events illustrate growing religious tension in Malaysia. With the backing of Muslim politicians, Sharia courts have stepped into several high-profile cases involving conversion, marriage, divorce and child custody involving non-Muslims. In January 2008, customs officers seized 32 Bibles from a Christian traveler, saying they were trying to determine whether the Bibles were imported for commercial purposes. A government official said the action was wrong. ^^

“Prime Minister Abdullah assured minorities he was “honest and fair” with all religions. “Of course, there are minor misunderstandings,” Abdullah said in a speech to Chinese voters. “What is important is that we are willing to talk and solve our problems together.” Teresa Kok, a lawmaker representing the opposition Democratic Action Party, said the latest church foray into politics “will definitely help to create some political awareness,” but may not swing large amounts of support to the opposition. Many Christians, especially in urban, middle-class populations, traditionally support Abdullah’s National Front coalition because they “don’t want to rock the boat,” Kok said.” ^^

Malaysia Establishes Diplomatic Relations with Vatican

In July 2011, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak met with Pope Benedict XVI. Afterwards it was announced that the Vatican and Malaysia agreed to establish diplomatic relations. News reports of the meeting emphasized the importance of the visit in terms of domestic Malaysian politics. The New York Times noted that analysts say the visit “is intended to signal a wish to mend ties with the country’s Christians” and BBC reported that it is “intended to reassure Christians in his country, who have long complained of discrimination.” Most reports also note some of the current tensions, giving as an example the attempt to prohibit Christians from using the word “Allah” when referring to God in the Malay language. [Source: John L. Esposito and John O. Voll, Washington Post, July 20, 2011]

The John L. Esposito and John O. Voll wrote in the Washington Post that there are ironies in “Najib’s meeting with the pope, because the ban on the use of the word “Allah” by Malaysian Christians is in fact an action initiated by the Najib government. When the Kuala Lumpur High Court overturned the government ban, the Najib government appealed the decision. Currently the government is involved in a case dealing with the Home Ministry’s confiscation of Christian CDs using the word “Allah.” This government policy has been opposed by major opposition leaders including those leading Muslim organizations who are viewed as more explicitly Islamic in their policy orientation. Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister and a leader of the Malaysian opposition, for example, put it simply: “Muslims have no monopoly over ‘Allah’.”

Rise of Islam Rankles Malaysia's Minority Faiths

Non-Muslims worry about how they would fit in a Muslim state. Liau Y-Sing of Reuters wrote: “In a country where race and religion are inextricably linked, rising religious tension also throws the spotlight on the privileges of the majority ethnic Malays, who are Muslims by birth. Mosques are found in every nook and cranny in Malaysia but religious minorities say it is difficult to obtain approval to build their own places of worship. Non-Muslims have also complained, mainly in Internet chatrooms, about city hall officials permitting construction of huge mosques in areas with small Muslim populations. State television routinely broadcasts Islamic programs but forbids other religions to be preached. [Source: Liau Y-Sing, Reuters, July 9, 2007 <<<]

“The smoldering discontent is a worry for this multi-ethnic country which has tried hard to maintain racial harmony after bloody racial riots in 1969 in which 200 people were killed. "If the authorities do not intervene it would indirectly encourage extreme Islamists to show their muscle and their aggression towards other religious practices," said Wong Kim Kong, of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia. "That would threaten the religious harmony, national unity and national integration of the nation." <<<

"Many people of other faiths in Malaysia view the gradual erosion of their rights," said Reverend Hermen Shastri, an official at Malaysia's Council of Churches. "The government, which asserts to be a coalition that looks to the interests of all Malaysians, is not firm enough with authorities who ... take actions arbitrarily," he added. Racial and religious relations have long been a thorny point in this melting pot of Malays, Chinese and Indians.” <<<

“After taking power in October 2003, Prime Minister Abdullah espoused "Islam Hadhari", or "civilisational Islam", whose focus includes faith and piety in Allah and mastery of knowledge, with the aim of promoting tolerance and understanding. "Malaysia is one of the Muslim countries that practices moderation in all spheres," said Abdullah Md Zin, a minister for religious affairs. Some blame a small group of Muslim extremists for attempting to hijack the debate. "There are enough fair-minded Malaysians in the country who are standing together to hinder the hardliners from dominating the discourse about Islam and the relationship between state and religion," said Shastri, from the Malaysian Council of Churches.” <<<

Churches Torn Down in Kelantan

Liau Y-Sing of Reuters wrote: “Deep in the heart of a Malaysian jungle, a preacher holds a meeting under the scorching midday sun, urging followers not to lose faith after their church was demolished by the government.The razing of their simple brick church, among a spate of demolitions of non-Muslim places of worship in Malaysia, has heightened fears that the rights of minority faiths are being eroded despite provisions in Malaysian law guaranteeing every person the freedom to profess his own religion. "Why did the government tear down our church when they say we are free to choose our religion?" asked preacher Sazali Pengsang. "This incident will not stop me from practicing my faith," Sazali said, as he watched children in ragged clothes playing catch in a poor village populated by indigenous tribes people who recently converted to Christianity from their tribal faith. [Source: Liau Y-Sing, Reuters, July 9, 2007 <<<]

“The church in northeastern Kelantan state bordering Thailand is one of several non-Muslim places of worship recently pulled down by the authorities, a trend that's fuelling concern about a rise in hardline Islam in this moderate Muslim country. State governments have charge over matters relating to Islam in Malaysia and in Kampung Jias, the authorities contend that the building was erected without their approval. But the natives say the land on which the church was erected is theirs and no approval is required under Malaysian law to build a church on their own property. <<<

“In the early 1980's, the government proposed laws that placed curbs on the establishment of non-Muslim places of worship, prompting minority faiths to set up the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. This year, Chong Kah Kiat, a Chinese state minister apparently quit in protest over the state government's refusal to approve his plan to build a Buddhist statue next to a mosque. <<<

“In 2004, federal authorities intervened after state officers in the central state of Pahang flattened a church, according to Moses Soo who pioneered the church in Kampung Jias. Appeals to the prime minister resulted in compensation of about $12,000 and permission to rebuild the church, Soo said. A similar plea was made to the authorities for Kampung Jias but unlike Pahang, Kelantan is controlled by the opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), which wants to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state that punishes rapists, adulterers and thieves with stoning and amputation.” <<<

Racial Tensions in Malaysia Stirred Up Over the Use of the Word “Allah by Christians

In 2009 and 2010 racial tensions rose over a court dispute in which the Herald, a newspaper published by the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia, argued it had the right to use the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition because the word predates Islam and is used by Christians in other predominantly Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia and Syria. The High Court ruled in favour of the Herald, overturning a years-old government ban on the use of the word in non-Muslim publications. The government has appealed against the decision. [Source: AP, January 28, 2010 \\\\]

“The issue triggered a number of attacks on churches and Islamic prayer halls. Among the attacks in various Malaysian states, eight churches and two small Islamic prayer halls were firebombed, two churches were splashed with paint, one had a window broken, a rum bottle was thrown at a mosque and a Sikh temple was pelted with stones, apparently because Sikhs use "Allah" in their scriptures. \\\\

In December 2009, a Malaysian court ruled that a Catholic newspaper can use "Allah" to describe God in a surprise decision seen as victory for minority rights in the majority Muslim country. Royce Cheah of Reuters wrote: The High Court said it was the constitutional right for the Catholic newspaper, the Herald, to use the word "Allah." "Even though Islam is the federal religion, it does not empower the respondents to prohibit the use of the word," said High Court judge Lau Bee Lan. [Source: Royce Cheah, Reuters, December 31, 2009 /~/]

“In January 2008, Malaysia had banned the use of the word "Allah" by Christians, saying the use of the Arabic word might offend the sensitivities of Muslims. Analysts say cases such as that involving the Herald worry Malaysian Muslim activists and officials who see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytize. The Herald circulates in Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island where most tribal people converted to Christianity more than a century ago. /~/

“In February, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Pakiam, as publisher of the Herald, filed for a judicial review, naming the Home Ministry and the government as respondents. He had sought to declare that the decision by the respondents prohibiting him from using the word "Allah" in the Herald was illegal and that the word "Allah" was not exclusive to Islam. The Home Minister's decision to ban the use of the word was illegal, null and void, said Lau. /~/

"It is a day of justice and we can say right now that we are citizens of one nation," said Father Lawrence Andrew, the Herald's editor. Published since 1980, the Herald newspaper is printed in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. The Malay edition is mainly read by tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island. Ethnic Chinese and Indians, who are mainly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, have been upset by court rulings on conversions and other religious disputes as well as demolitions of some Hindu temples.” /~/

The tribespeople of Sabah and Sarawak, who speak only Malay, have always referred to God as "Allah," an Arabic word used not only by Muslims but also by Christians in Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia. Baradan Kuppusamy of Time wrote: “The case arose after the Home Ministry prohibited the Herald from using Allah for God in its Malay-language versions in 2007. "We have been using the word for decades in our Malay-language Bibles and without problems," the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic publication, tells TIME. In May 2008 the Catholics decided to take the matter to court for a judicial review — and won. "It is a landmark decision ... fair and just," says Andrew. During the intermittent trial in the closing months of 2008, lawyers for the church argued that the word Allah predated Islam and was commonly used by Copts, Jews and Christians to denote God in many parts of the world. They argued that Allah is an Arabic word for God and has been used for decades by the church in Malaysia and Indonesia. And they said that the Herald uses the word Allah for God to meet the needs of its Malay-speaking worshippers on the island of Borneo. "Some people have got the idea that we are out to convert [Muslims]. That's not true," the lawyers said on behalf of the Herald. [Source: Baradan Kuppusamy, Time, January 8, 2010 ***]

“Government lawyers countered that Allah denotes the Muslim God, is accepted as such around the world and is exclusively for Muslims. They said that if Catholics were allowed to use Allah, Muslims would be "confused." The confusion would worsen, they said, because Christians recognize a "trinity of gods" while Islam is "totally monotheistic." They said the proper word for God in the Malay language is Tuhan, not Allah. Lau held that the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and speech, and therefore Catholics can use the word Allah to denote God. She also overturned the Home Ministry order prohibiting the Herald from using the word. "The applicants have the right to use the word Allah in the exercise of their rights to freedom of speech and expression," she said. ***

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.

Anger by Malay Muslims Over Christians using the Word 'Allah'

"Why are the Christians claiming Allah?" asks businessman Rahim Ismail, 47, his face contorted in rage and disbelief. "Everybody in the world knows Allah is the Muslim God and belongs to Muslims. I cannot understand why the Christians want to claim Allah as their God," Rahim says as passersby, mostly Muslims, gather around and nod in agreement. [Source: Baradan Kuppusamy, Time, January 8, 2010 ***]

Baradan Kuppusamy of Time wrote: The reason for their anger is a recent judgment by Malaysia's high court that the word Allah is not exclusive to Muslims. Judge Lau Bee Lan ruled that others, including Catholics who had been prohibited by the Home Ministry from using the word in their publications since 2007, can now use the term. She also rescinded the prohibition order that forbade the Malay-language edition of the Catholic monthly the Herald to use Allah to denote the Christian God. After widespread protests, however, the judge granted a stay order on Jan. 7, the same day the government appealed to the higher Court of Appeal to overturn the ruling. ***

“The anger seemed to turn into violence after masked men on motorcycles firebombed three churches in the city, gutting the ground floor of the Metro Tabernacle Church, located in a commercial building in the Desa Melawati suburb of the capital. The attacks, which police said appeared uncoordinated, were condemned by the government, opposition MPs and Muslim clerics alike. On Friday, Muslims demonstrated in scores of mosques across the country, but the protest was peaceful. In the mosque in Kampung Baru, a Malay enclave in the city, Muslims held placards that read "Leave Islam alone! Treat us as you would treat yourself! Don't test our patience!" amid cries of "Allah is great!" ***

“To many Malay Muslims, Lau's ruling crosses the line. Prominent Muslim clerics, lawmakers and government ministers have questioned the soundness of the judgment. A coalition of 27 Muslim NGOs wrote to the nine Malay sultans, each the head of Islam in their respective states, to intervene and help overturn the verdict. A Facebook campaign by Muslims started on Jan. 4 has attracted more than 100,000 supporters. Among them: Deputy Trade Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who also waded into the controversy, saying the court is not a proper forum to decide an emotional religious issue. "The judgment is a mistake," says Nazri Aziz, Minister overseeing Parliamentary Affairs, speaking for many Malaysian Muslims. The few Muslims who have urged respect for judicial independence have been shouted down as traitors. "I can't understand how any Muslim can support this judgment," said legislator Zulkifli Noordin in a statement. ***

“Non-Muslim Malaysians worry that the vehement opposition to the Allah ruling reflects a growing Islamization in a multireligious society. Last October a Shari'a court sentenced a Muslim woman who drank beer to be caned in public; in another incident, in November, Muslims enraged over the construction of a Hindu temple near their homes demonstrated their anger with a severed cow's head. They kicked and stomped on the head, as Hindus — to whom cows are sacred — watched helplessly. As for the court ruling, bar-council president Ragunath Kesavan met Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday to discuss how to cool emotions. Says Kesavan: "We need to get the Muslim and Christian leaders together. They need to meet face to face and work out a compromise and not let this thing escalate." ***

Malaysian Churches and Mosques Attacked

In January 2010, three churches in Kuala Lumpur were attacked, causing extensive damage to one, after a court reversed the ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' to mean 'God'. Associated Press reported: “Muslims pledged to prevent Christians from using the word "Allah", escalating religious tensions in the multiracial country. At Friday prayers at two main mosques in downtown Kuala Lumpur, young worshippers carried banners and vowed to defend Islam. "We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches," one shouted into a loudspeaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque. About 50 other people carried posters reading "Heresy arises from words wrongly used" and "Allah is only for us". "Islam is above all. Every citizen must respect that," said Ahmad Johari, who attended prayers at the National Mosque. "I hope the court will understand the feeling of the majority Muslims of Malaysia. We can fight to the death over this issue." The demonstrations were held inside the mosque compounds to follow a police order against protests on the streets. Participants dispersed peacefully afterward.[Source: Associated Press, January 8, 2010 ==]

“In the first attack, the ground-level office of the three-story Metro Tabernacle church was destroyed in a blaze set off by a firebomb thrown by attackers on motorcycles soon after midnight, police said. The worship areas on the upper two floors were undamaged and there were no injuries. Two other churches were attacked hours later, with one sustaining minor damage while the other was not damaged. “The prime minister, Najib Razak, condemned the attacks on the churches by unidentified assailants, who struck before dawn in different suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. He said the government would "take whatever steps it can to prevent such acts".”

Altogether 11 churches, a Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms were attacked in January 2010. Most of the attacks were with firebombs. The Malaysian government 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.

A week after the initial church attacks a Malaysian mosque was vandalized. News services reported: “The Saturday incident in the Borneo island state of Sarawak is the first against a mosque. 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.Ismail could not confirm whether the bottles thrown at the mosque were that of alcoholic beverages, which is forbidden to Muslims. [Source: Agencies, January 16, 2010]

In late January 2010, worshippers found severed heads of pigs at two Malaysian mosques. Associated Press reported: “It was the most serious incident to hit Islamic places of worship. “Several men who went to a suburban mosque to perform morning prayers yesterday were shocked to discover two bloodied pig heads wrapped in plastic bags in the mosque compound, said Zulkifli Mohamad, the top official at the Sri Sentosa Mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Two severed pig heads were also found at the Taman Dato Harun Mosque in a nearby district, said the mosque's prayer leader, Hazelaihi Abdullah. "We feel this is an evil attempt by some people to aggravate tensions," Mr Zulkifli said. Government authorities have denounced the attacks on places of worship as a threat to decades of generally amicable relations between ethnic Malay Muslims and religious minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians who practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism. Khalid Abu Bakar, the police chief of central Selangor state, urged Muslims to remain calm. [Source: AP, January 28, 2010]

Arrests in Malaysian Church and Islamic Prayer Room Attacks

Two weeks week after the initial church police arrested eight men, among them two brothers and their uncle, in connection with the arson attack at the Metro Tabernacle Church in Desa Melawati. Bernama reported: “All of them, aged between 21 and 26 years, were held at several locations in the Klang Valley, said Bukit Aman CID director Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin said. "They are being remanded for seven days from today to help in the investigation into the case under Section 436 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years upon conviction," he told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters, here. Section 436 provides for the jail term and a fine for causing mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy any building. [Source: Bernama, January 20, 2010]

Mohd Bakri said the first suspect, a 25-year-old despatch rider, was arrested at 3.30 p.m. at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital when seeking treatment for burns on his chest and hands. His arrest led to the arrests of the seven others at various locations in the Ampang area, he said. One of them is the despatch rider's younger brother, aged 24, and another is their uncle, aged 26, while the rest are their friends, he added. He also said that the younger brother of the despatch rider had also suffered burns, on his left hand, apparently from the arson attack. All the eight suspects held jobs with private firms, employed in various positions such despatch rider, clerk and office assistant.

Mohd Bakri said Bukit Aman police had worked with Kuala Lumpur police in solving the Metro Tabernacle Church arson attack case and added that the police did not find any link between those arrested and the arson attacks on other churches in the Klang Valley."We ask the people to remain calm and allow the police to conduct their investigation to enable us to send our papers to the attorney-general for subsequent action. "Do not attempt to link the people arrested to the arson attacks on the other churches," he said.

Later Associated Press reported: “A Malaysian court charged four more Muslims with attacking churches in a row over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians. Three men and a teenager were charged in northern Perak state with throwing firebombs at two churches and a convent school on Jan. 10, prosecutor Hamdan Hamzah said. They face a maximum prison term of 20 years. The three men, aged 19, 21 and 28, pleaded not guilty, while the 17-year-old, charged in a juvenile court, pleaded guilty to the offense. Three other Muslims were charged last week with setting fire to a church on Jan. 8, the first and most serious incident in a series of attacks and vandalism at churches, a Sikh temple, mosques and Muslim prayer rooms. [Source: AP, January 2010]

In early February 2010, Associated Press reported: “A Malaysian court has charged three teenagers with trying to torch Muslim prayer rooms after attacks on churches in a dispute over the use of the word "Allah". The minors pleaded not guilty in a magistrate court in southern Johor state to mischief by fire to destroy two places of worship, Prosecutor Umar Saifuddin Jaafar said.

It brings to 10 the number of people charged with the offense over attacks and vandalism on 11 churches, a Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms last month. If convicted, all face up to 20 years in prison except for the minors, aged 16 and 17. The maximum punishment they face is a stint in a prisoners' school, Umar said. Their case will next be heard on April 6. One of the three was also charged with making a false police report, claiming he saw a suspect run away from the scene, Umar said. That offense usually carries a maximum jail term of six months.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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