Jan. 10: Police officers inspect damage at the All Saints Church in Taiping of Perak state, Malaysia.
Firebombs were thrown at three more churches in Malaysia on Sunday and another was splashed with black paint, the latest in a series of assaults on Christian houses of worship following a court decision allowing non-Muslims to use "Allah" to refer to God.
Despite the attacks, thousands of Christians nationwide attended Sunday services and prayed for national unity and an end to the violence.
The unprecedented attacks have set off a wave of disquiet among Malaysia's minority Christians and strained their ties with the majority Malay Muslims. About 9 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Christian, most of whom are ethnic Chinese or Indian. Muslims make up 60 percent of the population and most of them are ethnic Malays.
Religious minorities have often complained about what they say is institutionalized religious discrimination here.
On Sunday, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the All Saints Church in Taiping town in central Perak state early in the morning before it opened, said state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah. He told The Associated Press police found burn marks on the wall but there was no damage to the building.
A broken kerosene bottle with an unlit wick was found early Sunday inside the compound of the St. Louis Catholic church, also in Taiping, said the Rev. David Lourdes. He said it appeared to be a failed attack.
In southern Malacca state, the outer wall of the Malacca Baptist Church was splashed with black paint, police said.
Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said a church in Miri town in eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island also reported an arson attempt.
"The situation is under control and the people should not be worried," he was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency. An aide confirmed his comments but couldn't give further details.
Four churches were hit by gasoline bombs on Friday and Saturday. No one was hurt and all suffered little damage, except the Metro Tabernacle Church. Parishioners there moved services after fire gutted the first floor. The other churches held regular services Sunday.
The dispute is over a Dec. 31 High Court decision that overturned a government order banning non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in their prayers and literature. The court was ruling on a petition by Malaysia's Roman Catholic Church, whose main publication, the Herald, uses the word Allah in its Malay-language edition. The government has appealed the verdict.
On Sunday, men, women and children from the Metro Tabernacle parish assembled in the cavernous, 1,800-seat meeting hall of the Malaysian Chinese Association party for the service. They lifted their hands and sang "We put all our faith in you," and "You are the God of love and peace."
"My wife was worried, but we want to be here to support the church," said Michael Chew, 40, who came with two children, aged 1 and 6.
Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said Christians won't be intimidated by the attacks, describing them as the work of an extremist minority among Muslims.
"We all have to stand together to stamp out terror perpetuated by these extremist groups," he said.
The government contends that making Allah synonymous with God may confuse Muslims and ultimately mislead them into converting to Christianity.
Still, government leaders and many Muslims have condemned the firebombings, saying it is un-Islamic to attack places of worship.
Prime Minister Najib Razak visited the Metro Tabernacle church late Saturday and announced a grant of 500,000 ringgit ($147,000) for rebuilding it at a new location, a major concession in a country where permission is rarely given for building new churches or temples.
The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.