KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Vandals splashed a church with paint and burglars ransacked a law firm defending Christians in their fight to use the word “Allah,” adding to religious tensions in Muslim-majority Malaysia, police and officials said Thursday.
The Church of St. Elizabeth in southern Johor state was splashed with red paint before dawn, district police chief Osman Mohamed Sebot said. It was the 10th church attacked or vandalized since Friday night in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where people of different faiths have generally lived without conflict.
Meanwhile, the offices of the law firm representing Herald was broken into and ransacked, lawyers said Thursday.
Lawyer S. Selvarajah said that staff arrived at work in the morning to find several locks and steel grill doors to enter the 2nd and 3rd floor offices cut, drawers ransacked and papers strewn on the floor.
He said his partner’s laptop was missing. A mobile phone service provider’s shop and tuition center on the first floor were not broken into, he said.
“Only our office has been targeted,” he said. “It looks like it is an intimidation tactic … We anticipated something will happen. We are definitely upset about this,” he told The Associated Press.
The incident adds to the tension building up since the church attacks began Friday night. Eight churches have been firebombed by unknown attackers, including one that was partially gutted. Two other churches were splashed with paint, and another place of worship — a Sikh temple — was pelted with stones, apparently because Sikhs use the word “Allah” in their scriptures.
The attacks followed a High Court ruling on Dec. 31, allowing a Catholic publication, the Herald, to use “Allah” as a translation for God in its Bahasa Melayu language edition. The ruling, which overturned a government ban on the word, upset many Muslims in Malaysia.
Bahasa is the language of the Malay Muslims, who comprise about 60 percent of the country’s 28 million population. It is also spoken by indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo, who form more than 70 percent of Malaysia’s 2.5 million Christians.
The government, which has appealed against the High Court ruling, says “Allah” is exclusive to Islam and its use by Christians would mislead Muslims. The Christians say they have been using the word for decades, and it is the only word they have for God in their language.
The government has condemned the attacks on the churches and has vowed to uphold the freedom of religion guaranteed to minorities by the constitution.
The ban is over the use of “Allah” only in published material and not in everyday speech by the country’s various minorities.
Selvarajah said police and staff could not enter the third-floor office, in Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Jaya suburb, because the door was jammed. He said a camera in the building staircase was sprayed but he could not say with what.
Petaling Jaya police chief Arjunaidi Mohamed confirmed the break-in, saying police were investigating. He said it should not immediately be linked to recent church attacks. “It has nothing to do with the churches,” he said.