By Mike Bouwer, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BosNewsLife)-- A Malaysian court sentenced two Muslims Friday, August 13, to five years imprisonment for torching a Protestant church, the first of several attacks on places of worship that shocked the nation this year.
The January 7 attack in suburban Kuala Lumpur, which sent tensions soaring in the multi-ethnic country, was "appalling and despicable", said Sessions Court judge S. M. Komathy Suppiah.
"You both by your shameful and dastardly acts, you have shamed the country," she told Raja Mohamad Faizal Raja Ibrahim, 24, and Raja Mohamad Idzham Raja Ibrahim, 22. "The message from this court must be loud and clear: Don't play with fire," she told the two brothers, who appeared visibly upset.
Religious tension increased after a December 2009 court ruling in Malaysia, which said a Roman Catholic newspaper could use the word "Allah" in its publications to describe the Christian God was upheld.
The attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur was the first in a series of attacks in which eleven churches, three mosques, Muslim prayer rooms and a Sikh temple were attacked since the court ruling was handed down.
The arson attack took place after the ruling, as Muslims rejected the court's decision that non Muslims may use the word Allah in Malay
language publications. Opponents said using the word Allah in Malay language publications may "confuse" Muslims into converting to
The attacks threatened the religious harmony in a country of 28 million, two thirds of which are Muslim. The two brothers' defense was described by the court as deceitful. The men, who were apprehended after one of them required help for burn injuries, have denied wrong doingm saying the noticed burns had been suffered at a barbecue later in the evening.
In delivering the five-year sentence the judge allowed the men to go free on bail until their appeal is heard.
A spokesman with the Council of Churches of Malaysia praised the court's decision as a reminder that violence against religious places,
no matter what the religion, would not be accepted, and that the sentence was an indication that the majority of Malaysians are "peace loving".
Ethnic Chinese and Indians in Malaysia practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism, and have complained about discrimination in the past, which the Malaysian government has denied.