Malaysia church torched amid Allah row

KUALA LUMPUR Fri Jan 8, 2010 2:27am IST

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A church in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur was firebombed early on Friday, gutting the first storey of the building in a residential area, amid a row over the use of the word "Allah" for the Christian God.

"It is confirmed that Desa Melawati church was burnt, at about 12.25 am in the morning. There were no fatalities. We are investigating the incident and suspect foul play," said Kuala Lumpur Chief Police Officer Mohammad Sabtu Osman.

A court ruling last week allowing Catholic newpaper The Herald to use "Allah" for the Christian God has been appealed by the government of the mainly Muslim nation of 28 million people.

The issue has threatened relations between the majority Malay Muslim population and the minority ethnic Chinese and Indian populations who practise a range of religions including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Malaysian Muslims, who account for around 60 percent of the population, are set to protest on Friday against the ruling.

The church that was burned on Friday was part of a group called "The Assembly of God".

Many churches in Malaysia are situated in residential or retail areas and often occupy a small lot.

According to 2007 statistics, there are 333 Assembly of God churches in Malaysia.

"There are witness reports two persons on a motorbike came near the entrance and hurled in something looking like a petrol bomb. Our church is 90 percent gutted (on the first floor)," said church spokesman Kevin Ang from the Metro Tabernacle Assembly of God.

It is illegal for non-Muslims to proselytise to Muslims although freedom of worship for the mainly Buddhist, Christian and Hindu religious minorities who make up 40 percent of the population is guaranteed under the country's constitution.

The use of "Allah" has been common among non-English speaking Malaysian Christians in the Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak for decades and without any incident.

(Reporting by Niluksi Koswanage; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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