Malaysia’s simmering religious and racial conflicts could worsen after worshippers Wednesday found the severed heads of wild boars at two mosques, amid a dispute over whether Christians can use the term “Allah” as a translation for “God.”
Muslims consider pigs unclean, and leaving boar heads at a mosque is a potentially inflammatory insult, mirroring an incident last year when Muslim activists flung a severed cow head on a proposed site for a Hindu temple near Kuala Lumpur.
ReutersPolice outside a mosque in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday examine a boar’s head, considered deeply insulting.
Wednesday’s incident is considered the most offensive case of sacrilege against a Muslim place of worship since a storm erupted over the use of the Arabic word “Allah.” It threatens to further upset this resource-rich, racially diverse country and complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts to build a multiracial support base before national elections, which must be held by 2013.
Adding to tensions, the trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges—the second he has faced in little more than a decade—is scheduled to begin next week. Mr. Anwar leads a multiracial opposition alliance trying to replace Malaysia’s government after 57 years in power. Prosecutors accuse him of sodomizing a young male aide in 2008—an illegal act in Malaysia. Mr. Anwar, 62 years old, says the story was fabricated to destroy him.
Malaysia’s High Court ruled on Dec. 31 that the Malay-language pages of the Roman Catholic Church’s weekly newspaper could use the term “Allah” as a translation for “God.”
That decision—which the government is appealing—triggered protests among Muslims who say the Arabic word should be reserved solely for Islam. They say they worry that the Christian use of the term could inadvertently trick Muslims into converting. The newspaper said it was the most appropriate local translation.
Since the ruling, 11 churches have been attacked around Malaysia, and the administration office of one church in Kuala Lumpur was burned to the ground. A Sikh temple also has been attacked, as have two Muslim prayer rooms.
Khalid Abu Bakar, chief of police in Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur, where one of Wednesday’s incidents occurred, said a group of men who went to Sri Sentosa Mosque to perform morning prayers at 5:30 a.m. found the two animal heads in plastic bags on the grounds. Their mouths were stuffed with bank notes. Authorities reported a similar incident nearby.
Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said the government would find the perpetrators. “We are dead serious about this,” he told a news conference. “We will bring them to justice.”
Mr. Khalid said police hadn’t identified any suspects and were continuing their investigation. He urged people to remain calm, as did Zulkifli Mohamad, the top official at the Sri Sentosa mosque.
The attacks this month have rocked the fragile racial and religious balance in this predominantly Muslim country of 28 million people, where relations between Muslim ethnic-Malays, who make up 60% of the population, and Malaysia’s ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities are generally amicable.
Since taking office in April 2009, the prime minister, Mr. Najib, has set out to win over the support of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities, but the High Court ruling has complicated his efforts. Political analysts say that to maintain the ruling National Front coalition’s strength in Malaysia’s Muslim-Malay heartland, his government needs to be seen visibly defending the Islamic faith from perceived threats.
That stance, however, unsettles many of Malaysia’s non-Muslim minorities, who fear the country has adopted an increasingly politicized form of Islam in recent years.
Opposition leaders, including Mr. Ibrahim, a Muslim, have said there is no theological argument against non-Muslims using the word “Allah,” and that the term is commonly used by minority Christian communities in Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East. Many Malay-speaking Christians in eastern Malaysia also use the term for “God.”
Separately, the Associated Press reported that Malaysia has arrested 10 terror suspects under its Internal Security Act, including nine foreigners allegedly with ties to an international network of militants. Authorities declined to give the suspects’ nationalities, their organization or their objectives. Over the past decade, Malaysian authorities have held more than 100 militant suspects, most of whom have been members of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network, which has its headquarters in neighboring Indonesia.
“This is a very serious threat to the security of our country,” the AP quoted Mr. Hishamuddin as saying.
—Celine Fernandez contributed to this article.
Write to James Hookway at email@example.com