— Malaysian prosecutors charged three Muslim men Friday in the firebombing of a
church — the first suspects in a string of assaults on places of worship amid a
dispute over whether non-Muslims can refer to God as "Allah."
Arson attacks, vandalism and other
incidents at 11 churches, a Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer
halls in recent weeks have been a blow to decades of multiracial harmony in
this Muslim-majority country.
The attacks, which started on
churches, followed anger among Muslims over a December 31 court verdict that
allowed non-Muslims to use "Allah" as a translation for
"God" in the Malay language. Many Malaysian Muslims believe the word
should be exclusive to their religion, and that its use by others could confuse
some Muslims and even tempt them to convert.
Three suspects pleaded innocent in
a Kuala Lumpur district court Friday to starting a fire that partially gutted a
Protestant church on January 8, said government lawyer Anselm Charles
Fernandis. It was the first and most serious of all the attacks on churches, most
of which suffered only minor damage.