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No-show for Penang 'Bible-burning fest'
Publication Date : 28-01-2013
A "Bible-burning festival" organised through anonymous fliers fizzled out yesterday when nobody turned up for the event at the proposed location in Penang.
Fifty police and local council enforcement officers were stationed from early morning at a field in Butterworth where the 10am "festival" was supposed to be taking place.
Penang police had warned the public a few days earlier not to take part in the activity.
"Nothing happened, thank God," said Seberang Perai municipal councillor Francis Ong, who is in charge of the area and was at the scene. About a dozen journalists were there as well.
Everyone dispersed by noon, Ong told The Straits Times.
But a dispute over the use of the word "Allah" in Malay-language Christian publications is unlikely to be resolved soon.
The government has appealed a High Court ruling that first sparked the controversy by allowing a Catholic publication to use the word in 2009.
A local Muslim leader has also defended a sermon last Friday by the federal Islamic authority on this topic, which had warned against Muslims selling out to others.
Malay-language newspaper Berita Harian yesterday quoted Islamic Dakwah Foundation Malaysia founder Dusuki Ahmad as saying the sermon was not meant to incite hatred against Christians, but to remind Muslims of the sanctity of Islam.
The threat to burn Bibles stoked religious tensions in Malaysia over the past week, coming as it did amid the protracted dispute between Christians and Muslims over the use of the word "Allah".
On January 19, the hardline Malay rights group Perkasa had called on Muslims to burn Malay-language Bibles containing the word "Allah".
A flier talking about a "Bible- burning festival" started circulating soon afterwards, supposedly organised by the little-known Anti-Malay Language Bible Action Group. "Burn, burn… Let's teach them a lesson!" it said. No names were attached to the flier.
The tussle over the word "Allah" in Malaysia has become increasingly heated in recent years, with many Muslims adamant that it is exclusive to Islam. But some Christians argue that they have been using "Allah" in their worship for years and that the word predates Islam.
At a press conference yesterday, Penang police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi thanked the public for not participating in any Bible burning, and urged everyone not to bring up issues that will hurt Malaysia's harmony.
He also noted that seven police reports had been lodged against Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali, who was the first to raise the idea of burning Bibles. "We will be calling him soon to take his statement over the reports," he said.
Following a backlash, Perkasa has begun distancing itself from the Bible-burning festival and has denied organising it. It said it was willing to meet Christian groups for discussions.