The population is concentrated in the peninsula of Western Malaysia. It covers only 40 percent of the country’s area, but 80 percent of the residents live there. There are also all the major cities. The move from rural to urban has been extensive, and in 2019, 75 percent of residents lived in cities. The largest cities are the capital Kuala Lumpur (1.5 million residents in 2010) and neighboring towns in the Klang Valley: Subang Jaya (1.6 million) and Klang (1.1 million) and Johor Bahru in the far south (1 million).
The population is ethnically heterogeneous. Chinese make up just over 20 percent of the population. They are leading in trade and business and live in most of the cities. Indians, especially Tamils and Sikhs, are also mainly urban and constitute just over 5 percent of the country’s residents. The proportion of Chinese and Indians in the population has decreased over the past decades.
According to Countryaah data, the majority of the residents are called bumiputra, which means that they belong to people groups that existed in the area even before the colonial era. This includes primarily Muslim Malays, which constitute just over half of the population as well as dajaks in Sabah and Sarawak (about 10 percent). The Malays are almost invariably Muslims. They feed predominantly on wetland cultivation, sometimes extended with rubber tapping, as well as on the coasts of fishing. The houses are traditionally built on piles and form villages (kampong), which is the smallest socio-political unit in society. Traditional society was made up of a series of kingships or states (negri), and rank differences within the hierarchical order of societies are marked by the form of speech.
In Malaysia, there are also millions of guest workers, mainly from Indonesia and countries in South Asia. A significant part of them are illegally staying in the country.
In Western Malaysia there are at least 18 smaller groups, including senoi and semang, which represent the area’s indigenous people (orang asli). Some of them are traditionally sweaty, while others are (or until very recently) collectors and hunters. These groups have predominantly maintained their traditional animistic religion, but some have converted to Islam. The cultural diversity of Western Malaysia also includes Creole populations such as the Portuguese Christian Church in Malacca.
Official language is Malay under the designation Bahasa Malaysia. It is spoken as a mother tongue in various varieties by nearly a third of the population. Other important languages are various southern varieties of Chinese and Tamil. In Western Malaysia, about twenty monkhmer languages are spoken by smaller groups in the indigenous population. In eastern Malaysia, the indigenous people speak various Austronesian languages, such as iban and bajau. See also population and Ethnography above.
Today, over 60% of Malaysia’s population is estimated to be Muslims, of which almost all are Sunni. The earliest archaeological evidence for the presence of Islam in the country dates from the early 1300s. Trade around the city of Melaka (founded in 1403) was dominated early by Arabs. This trade helped to make Arabic the dominant language, which further favored the spread of Islam. Melaka became not only an Islamic knowledge center but also a hub for international trade, making the city a sought-after barter for countries in Europe with colonial ambitions.
In 2010, about 20% of Malaysians were Buddhists. Buddhism came to Malaysia with Indian traders and Buddhist priests in the next few centuries before our era. Many of today’s Chinese in Malaysia practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. As for the Buddhist element, the Chinese follow the Mahayana tradition while Thai and Sinhalese, both of whom are in the minority, follow theravada. To promote Buddhism and create solidarity between different Buddhist traditions, a Malaysian Buddhist Council has been created.
Portugal conquered Melaka in 1511 and with that Christianity gained hold in the country. Today, almost 10% of the population is expected to be Christian. Among these, the Catholic Church is the largest with over 4% of the country’s population as members. Protestantism was introduced when the Dutch entered Melaka in 1641, which led to the suppression of the Catholic Church. However, it recovered during the British colonial empire in the 19th century. Today, Protestants make up just under 3% of the population, and the largest among them are Methodists, with just over one percent of the population as members. There are also a number of charismatic and Pentacostal churches in the country, which together have just under one percent of the population as members. With the British colonial empire came a large number of Chinese from southern China. to work in mines and in commerce. Likewise, labor was imported from India to work on plantations. In 2010, it is estimated that over a percent of the population confess to Confucianism, Daoism or other traditional Chinese religion and that about 6% of the population are Hindus.
About 3% of the population mainly adhere to traditional indigenous religion. In addition, there are small groups of eg. Sikhs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Baha’is.
In the 1957 Malaysia Constitution, the country is defined as secular, but the constitution also contains many regulations that in practice make Islam a state religion.
To be allowed to operate in the country, a religious organization must be registered with the Ministry of the Interior or registered as a company. It is forbidden for religious groups to try to convert Muslims. Nor is it allowed for a Muslim to convert from Islam. In some states, this is a crime punishable by a fine, imprisonment or sentence. Anyone who wants to convert to another religion must apply for permission from a Sharia court, where it is rarely granted. Instead, the convert is sent to a rehabilitation center where he or she is trained in the form of Islam accepted by the government. The same measure can also affect members of what the government considers Islamic sects, e.g. Ahmadiya and Shia, who are considered a threat to the security of the country and who deviate from what is considered acceptable in Sunni.
The state and the states finance Muslim places of worship. The states govern the mosques, appoint imams and regulate the content of their sermons. The mosques are used by the government to convey political messages. Non-Muslim religious groups also receive financial support from the state, but are often disadvantaged by the state governments, for example. granting building permits for places of worship and burial places.
The country has two parallel and mutually independent legal systems, one secular and one Islamic based on Sharia. The latter is administered by the states through Islamic courts that have jurisdiction over all Muslims, especially in family matters. National ID cards indicate religious affiliation. Muslims must have a special photo ID showing both husband and wife to prove that you are married. This way you can see which are the objects of Sharia law.
In public school, teaching Islam is compulsory for Muslim children. Non-Muslim students must attend non-religious courses in morals and ethics. Private Muslim schools that follow the government’s curriculum and allow state inspection receive financial support from the government.
The religious censorship is extensive. The Prime Minister’s Office includes a national fatwa council made up of Islamic lawyers and other Islamic scholars. Their fatwas are legally binding on Muslims, but whether they are enforced is decided at the state level. In recent years, the Council has issued fatwas that prohibit Muslims from engaging in yoga, prohibiting girls from dressing or behaving like boys, prohibiting smoking and prohibiting surrogate motherhood.
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The following days are national holidays Hari Raya Puasa (Id al-fitr), Hari Raya Qurban (Id al-adha), Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and Muharram. According to thesciencetutor, the Buddhist Vesak festival as well as the Christian Christmas are also national holidays. The Hindu festivals Dipavali and Thaipusam (celebration of the full moon January/February) are celebrated in large parts of the country and have weekend status in some states.