KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 — Churches today demanded that the government resolve the Allah issue and charge the rest of the culprits responsible for attacking other churches, following the conviction of two siblings for torching the Metro Tabernacle church.
Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Rev Dr Thomas Philips said the convictions alone did not resolve the root cause of the church arson attacks as the Allah case was still pending in court.
“The root cause is still not resolved as the Allah issue is still in the courts,” Philips told The Malaysian Insider today.
Although the Catholic Church won a landmark ruling last New Year’s Eve which allowed Catholic weekly The Herald to use the word “Allah” in its publications, the government won a stay of execution, preventing the Church from using the word until the case is dealt with in the Court of Appeal.
The Sessions Court here today sentenced siblings Raja Muhammad Faizal Raja Ibrahim and Raja Muhammad Idzham Raja Ibrahim each to five years in prison for torching the Metro Tabernacle church earlier this year.Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri called on the government to charge those responsible in a string of attacks against nine other churches following the Metro Tabernacle church torching.
“The government must be seen to be serious in this matter,” said Shastri.
“Not all have been brought to book.
Nine churches throughout the country were attacked in one week since the torching of the Metro Tabernacle church on January 7 this year.
The attacks against the churches drew international coverage and sparked outrage among leaders on both sides of the political divide, with the Najib administration promising to take stern action against the perpetrators.
Besides the Metro Tabernacle church in Desa Melawati here, the Assumption Church and Life Chapel Church in Petaling Jaya also fell victim to arson attacks.
The attacks against them, however, were not as serious as the torching of the Metro Tabernacle church that gutted the church’s administrative office.
Although National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia (NECF) chairman Rev Dr Eu Hong Seng welcomed the sentence against the church arsonists, he criticised the government’s move of banning Christians from using the word “Allah” as “ludicrous”.
“No government should take it upon themselves to dictate what is written in the scriptures of other faiths,” said Eu, adding that the government should allow Christians to use the word “Allah”.
Philips pointed out that the sentence against the church arsonists would not deter religious extremists from violence as long as the Allah case remained stuck in the courts.
“Without solving all this, we are just prolonging the consequences... it will still be able to rouse the emotions and passions of extremist groups,” said Philips.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has stressed recently that the “Allah” controversy should not be brought up by either BN component parties or Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as the matter was still being tried in court.
The apparent gag order came after the MCA called on Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to use his authority to rescind the ban on non-Muslims’ use of the word “Allah”, which earned a stern warning from Muhyiddin who questioned the BN component party for sharing the same stand as the DAP on the issue.
Hishammuddin also said recently that the government has no reason to retract its appeal, apparently backtracking on his earlier remarks expressing regret over the decision by his predecessor in the Home
Shastri nonetheless said that the act of sentencing the Metro Tabernacle church arsonists was a good first move.
“For now, we are pleased that action has been taken,” he said.
“This signals to all Malaysians that such acts are not tolerated, (which is) violence against places of worship,” he added.
Sessions Court judge S.M. Komathy Suppiah said in her judgment today that the court needed to send a strong message that such a “dastardly” act of desecrating a place of worship could not be tolerated.
“Individuals who commit arson attacks on places of worship deserve little or no mercy from the courts. The message from this court must be loud and clear. Don’t play with fire,” she said.
Despite sentencing siblings Raja Muhammad Faizal and Raja Muhammad Idzham to five years in prison, Komathy granted a stay of execution pending an appeal by the defence to the High Court.
The siblings were charged under section 436 of the Penal Code for committing mischief with fire, with the intention of destroying the Metro Tabernacle church earlier this year.
The punishment for the offence is a maximum imprisonment of 20 years, while a fine is at the discretion of the court.
Christians make up around 9.1 per cent of the country’s mostly Muslim population, including a Catholic population of nearly 800,000.