The Media Project is a network of mainstream journalists who are Christians pursuing accurate and intellectually honest reporting on all aspects of culture, particularly the role of religion in public life in all corners of the world. It welcomes friends from other faiths to such discussions and training.

Tensions over the word 'Allah' flare in Malaysia

Tensions over the word 'Allah' flare in Malaysia

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- The Metro Tabernacle Church, a storefront with metal shutters, sits gutted, black smoke stains on the concrete pillars bearing witness to the intense fire that destroyed the property.

The attacks on this and more than a dozen other houses of worship in January, followed in February by the caning of three Muslim teenagers for extramarital sex and a kerfuffle this month over an insulting act during a Christian service have prompted some soul-searching in Malaysia.

Though religious tensions have occasionally simmered in this multicultural society, these were the first attacks in recent memory, and left some Malaysians wondering how committed their nation remains to its relatively tolerant brand of Islam and what the cost could be to its global image, foreign investments and tourism trade.

"It hurts your international reputation," said Kharis Idris, director of the MyFuture Foundation, which promotes multicultural engagement. "Church burning doesn't sound good in any country. If it goes on, it will be bad for the economy. And if someone were to kill someone, all hell could break loose."

The spark for the wave of violence was a successful challenge by the Herald, a Catholic weekly, of a government ban on continued use of the word "Allah" by Christians to describe God. The court has stayed its late-December decision pending a government appeal...

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