The Malaysian police has arrested eight people suspected in an arson attack on a church that took place after the High Court’s recent controversial “Allah” ruling.
Federal criminal investigation chief Bakri Zinin told reporters Wednesday that the eight suspects are being held for investigation on the firebombing of the Metro Tabernacle church, located in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.
The Metro Tabernacle was the first of eleven churches attacked by unknown assailants after the High Court ruled last month that it is unconstitutional to ban non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” to refer to God. Arabic speaking non-Muslims, including Christians, have for centuries used “Allah” as a translation for “God.”
Zinin said authorities are investigating whether the eight detained suspects are also involved in the other church attacks. He also urged Malaysians to remain calm and not to “threaten racial and religious harmony,” noting that the police believe it has “solved this case.”
A spokesman for Metro Tabernacle church also said he believes “the situation was under control.”
“We have put this behind us,” said Peter Yeow to Agence France-Presse. “We are trying to get out of the limelight and go on with our lives and relocate our church rather than look at who is to blame. We will let the police do their job.”
According to a police statement, the eight arrested suspects are all between the ages of 21 and 26 and are Muslim Malays. Three of the suspects are relatives, while the others are friends.
Malaysia, though having a predominantly Muslim population, has enjoyed relative harmony between religious and ethnic groups.
However, the Dec. 31, 2009, ruling that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam and that the government does not have the right to ban non-Muslims from using the word sparked tension between the Muslim and Christian communities.
The Roman Catholic Church had filed the case two years ago when its weekly Malaysian publication, The Herald, was barred from using the word “Allah.”
Though the government had a ban on the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims in place since the 1980s, the law was never enforced. Just in the last few years did the government begin to enforce the law and confiscate Bibles that contained the word “Allah.”
In response to the High Court’s decision, the government appealed the ruling on Jan. 4. It maintains that “Allah” is an Islamic word and use by non-Muslims could confuse Muslims into converting to those faiths.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 60.4 percent of Malaysia's 25.7 million people ascribe to Islam. Around 19.2 percent, meanwhile, is Buddhist, and 9.1 percent is Christian.
Since the attacks, Malaysian churches have called on believers to pray for the country as it experiences difficult times in terms of national unity.
“Pray that the events will lead to unprecedented spiritual openness among the Malaysian population,” the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship in Malaysia recently urged.
“Pray for the Church to be free from all confusion, speculation and manipulation; that she may know His will to pray effectively.”
The High Court’s ruling has been suspended pending the appeal.