Police in Malaysia have arrested four people who are suspected of placing pig’s heads at a mosque, thereby again rearing the ugly specter of ethnic and religious hatred in the polyglot Southeast Asian country.

The pig’s heads were left at a mosque last week in Taman Desa Jaya in Johor Bahru in the southern part of Malaysia.

Mokhtar Mohammad Shariff, Southern Johor’s state police chief, told Agence France Presse: We are still carrying out investigations and are on the lookout for a 40-year-old man who can help us in our investigations.”

Pigs and pork products are considered ‘haram’ (unclean) by Muslims and the act of defiling a mosque in such a way is considered an incitement of religious hatred.

The incident, which has been denounced by an array of non-Muslim politicians, brings back unpleasant memories from two years ago when Muslim prayer halls and Christian churches endured a series of attacks during the last major confrontation between the two faiths. That imbroglio was prompted by a court ruling which overturned a ban on non-Muslims using the name “Allah” for “God.”

That issue is still tied up in the courts.

However, a top Muslim official downplayed the latest “pig” incident.

District religious leader Abdul Atan Awang told media: Although the case is still being investigated, we suspect that this is more likely to be a dispute between some members of the local community and we urged everyone to stay calm until the real facts emerge.”

Jeswan Kaur, a Malaysian columnist, wrote in Free Malaysia Today: “Whoever is behind this cowardly and dastardly act has moved into the New Year with the wrong footing; be it an act of mischief or with the malignant intention of stirring anger within the Muslim community and provoking racial disharmony.”

Kaur added: “Will going to ‘war’ over this solve anything? As despicable an act as it is, it provides no reason for Malaysians of different faiths to become enervated and question the love and concern they each share for the other.”

Although Muslims represent a majority of Malaysia’s population, the country has large ethnic minority communities.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook, Muslims account for about 60 percent of the population followed by Buddhists (19 percent); Christian (9 percent) and Hindus (6.3 percent).

Suspicion has fallen on Christians over the “pig’s head” incident since Hindus and Buddhists also generally avoid eating pork.

In 1969, the country erupted in deadly race riots – although that episode primarily involved a long-simmering dispute between the native Malay people and the descendants of Chinese immigrants.