Extremist groups in Malaysia may be exploiting the controversy over a Catholic newspaper’s use of the word “Allah” for God in order to foment “sectarian hatred,” a leading Catholic priest in the region has said. Though groups have vandalized several places of worship, the situation is reportedly “under control.”
Several individuals or groups of provocateurs in the country are attacking and profaning places of worship closest to the heart of believers of several religions to provoke a reaction, the Rome-based Fides news agency reports. The process is similar to past conflicts in Indonesia, Nigeria, India, and other countries.
“There is concern now that extremist individuals or groups are seeking to foment sectarian hatred in Malaysia by using the case of the controversial use of the name Allah for non-Muslims,” said Fr. Augustine Julian, Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
Vandals have targeted 11 churches, a Sikh temple, a mosque and two Muslim prayer rooms between Jan. 8 and Jan. 21.
On Wednesday unidentified persons desecrated two mosques in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, scattering several pig heads at both. The animal is considered unclean by Muslims.
While police investigate the desecrations, Malaysian Domestic Affairs Minister Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has publicly asked that Malaysians, especially Muslims, have patience in the search for the culprits.
“We are very determined. I suspect that the goal is to lead the country into chaos. They want to cause clashes between communities of different ethnicity and religion,” the minister said.
Fr. Julian told Fides that Catholics are “comforted” because public opinion “strongly condemns” the acts and is not responding to the provocations.
“The situation is under control,” he reported.
Commenting on the incidents, the interfaith dialogue organization the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism has declared “all violence against a place of worship is a grave sin.”
“The purpose of these acts is to provoke a clash between the religious communities in the country. But all citizens who love peace and legality must not allow this to happen. Remain united,” the council statement read.
The conflict comes after reaction to the Catholic Herald newspaper’s suit that sought the freedom to use the word “Allah” for God in its Malay edition. The government has shown its willingness to reach a negotiated settlement with the Catholic Church without continuing the legal battle, Fides says.
A meeting is expected between Prime Minister Najib Razak and Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur. The meeting could be a turning point in the situation.