Malay of Malaysia

The Malay of Malaysia

Sharing a nation

Although found throughout Southeast Asia, the majority of ethnic Malays live in Malaysia. Making up half the population, the Malay share the country with Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Malay live primarily on the eastern coast of the Malaysian peninsula and in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo.

Since much of Malaysia is covered by jungle, the Malay settle along the coast, rivers and roads.

Strong communities

Malaysia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but most of the Malay still live in rural villages called kampungs. Even in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, many Malays live in reserved sections which maintain much of the traditional characteristics of the kampung.

The houses in traditional villages are built on pilings four to eight feet off the ground and have thatched roofs. The more wealthy Rural Malay have houses with tiled roofs and wooden planks for floors. A growing percentage of the Malays of Malaysia live in attached urban and suburban housing.

Rubber is the major cash crop, and fishing is also an important occupation. In the cities, Malay are involved in factory work and government. While Islamic laws permit men to have up to four wives, the majority have only one. Children are highly valued, and adoption of a relative's child by childless couples is common. Divorce is easy and frequent, because a man has the right to end his marriage simply be declaring his intention to do so. One favorite pastime is the Malay game sepak takraw, which is similar to volleyball. One of the major differences is that a player can only use his head and feet to move the ball, not his hands.

"To be Malay is to be Muslim"

Although Malaysia itself is home to many other religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, it is against the law to evangelize a Muslim. And more than 99 percent of the ethnic Malay of Malaysia are Muslim.

In fact, the Malaysian constitution states that to be a Malay, one must be Muslim. So religion is a major source of ethnic identity. The tight community life of the kampungs also makes it difficult for a Malay to become a Christian, because he or she would probably be forced to leave the village and family.

Significant persecution is a reality for the handful of Malays who have entrusted their lives to Christ.

Though small in number, there is a strong and growing Chinese and Indian church. To this point, the church has not impacted the Malays of Malaysia with the Gospel.

The Bible in the Bahasa Malaysia language is under revision, but it is available in Bahasa Indonesia, which is very similar to Malaysian.

  Population: 9.5 million
Religion: 99.9% Muslim (Sunni)
Language: Malay
Geographical location/s: Malaysia

Profile: Economic Transformation

Malaysia is a study in contrasts, ranging from the vast virgin rainforests located in the heart of the country, to the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers, in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

Since the late 1970s, the country has rapidly industrialized. When the United States and Japan first began manufacturing computer chips here, Malaysia primarily exported raw commodities, such as timber and rubber. Now it is the world's primary exporter of semiconductors.

In the past, the ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indian populations (brought in by British colonial rulers) resented each other. The Chinese were the wealthiest in the country, the Indians were successful with small businesses and professions, and the Malays were poorer, but held controlling political power. These tensions resulted in rioting and violence in 1969, which in turn led to the establishment of an emergency government. Some of these same racial tensions remain today.

In 1971, parliamentary rule was restored, and the administration put into place the New Economic Policy (NEP), an affirmative action plan to help Malays and other indigenous peoples gain economic equality.

During the economic expansion in Asia in the 1990s, Malaysia saw significant economic growth. This resulted in a large construction boom and increased government led infrastructure projects. Malaysia was also impacted by the Asian economic downturn of 1997.

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