Malaysia has created an interfaith panel to advise the government on divisive religious issues, an official said Wednesday.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism was formed to promote greater understanding between the Muslim majority and minority faiths after recent events indicated growing tension between religious groups.
Koh Tsu Koon, an official in the prime minister's department, said committee members will exchange ideas on religious issues, according to Agence France-Presse. They will also offer recommendations to the government and cabinet to help them better understand the issues and make more informed decisions.
The council was formed in response to some dozen churches that were attacked or firebombed after a judge ruled in favor of non-Christians using the word Allah for God in December.
Arabic speaking non-Muslims have for centuries used the word Allah to refer to God.
The Malaysian government had banned the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims but the judge ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. The ruling sparked considerable tension between the Muslim and Christian communities in Malaysia.
In addition to the firebombing of churches, the ruling also resulted in attacks on a Sikh temple, and several mosques and Muslim prayer halls.
Heads of pigs were also found near two mosques in January. Muslims consider pigs to be unclean so the act was considered a great offense.
Despite the heightened religious tension, some Muslim groups in Malaysia opposed the idea of the interfaith committee. They argue that it would put Islam on the same level as other religions.
In spite of the protest from Muslim groups, the government created the interfaith committee.
"The government has finally accepted the reality that we need such a committee to address religious issues," said the Rev. Thomas Philips, president of the interfaith panel.
Philips said the panel held its first meeting Tuesday with about a dozen religious leaders and government officials. Initial discussions included the Allah controversy.
Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country with 60.4 percent of its population being adherents of Islam. In general, the different faith groups have been able to live harmoniously so the recent sectarian incidents have come as a surprise to Malaysians.
Buddhists make up 19.2 percent of the population and Christians are at 9.1 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.