Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia: Land of deep-rooted values

Asia Contributor
Islam in Indonesia
Grand mosque in Padang , Indonesia © Syed Rizal |

It is said that love brought Islam to the Malay Peninsula. Local folklore indicates that around the year 1390, A prince from Java named Parameswara was banished from his homeland. He then established the town of Malacca in 1403. The name derived from an Arabic word ‘Malakaut’, which means market place.

The prince then fell in love with a princess from the court of Pasai. He married her and embraced Islam taking the name Sultan Iskander Shah. Thus, Islam set foot on the Malay Peninsula in the form of love. Which is apt, as Islam is a religion of peace and love.

Further, in the year 1409, a great Chinese admiral Zheng Yi or Admiral Ho visited Malacca. He was a Muslim. With the help of Sultan Iskander Shah, he spread the ideology of Islam.

Islam in Indonesia has spread gradually through merchant activities by Arab Muslim traders. During the late colonial era, Islam was adopted as a protest against the colonialism.

Present-day Islam

Nowadays, Islam is the prevalent religion in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. This consists of approximately 225 million Muslims. At present, despite having an overwhelming Muslim majority, Indonesia is a secular state which officially recognizes six formal religions. Whereas, the constitution of Malaysia did not specify any official religion. In short, it can be said that the country is a secular state with Islam as the official religion.While Indonesia outweighs Malaysia in Islam percentage, Malaysia has broader and formalized implementation of Islam and Sharia. Moreover, it has Islamic political narratives.

Despite having the a relatively small number of Muslims in Malaysia, the country has enabled the ethnic sense and racial primacy over the non-Muslim people. Not only Islam matched the state’s portrayal of Malay, but also articulated as an eligible concept for governance and economic development.

Division of Islam in Indonesia

The Indonesian Muslims can be divided between Abangan (Nominal Muslims) and Santri ( Orthodox Muslims). Abangans are more prone to a secular lifestyle whereas Santris take solace in devotional activities in Islamic schools called Pesantren.

A small minority of Shia and Ahmadiyya Islam can be seen in Indonesia. There are around 1 or 1.5 million Shia Muslims living around Jakarta. On the other hand, the Association of Religion Data Archives estimated that there are approximately 400000 Ahmadi Muslims in Indonesia.

The country became the second-largest Muslim majority country of the world in 1945. Till now, the development in the field of Islam in unstoppable. Lots of scholars and authors had contributed to the development of Islamic interpretations and culture. Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah wrote Tafsir al-Azhar. It was the first Quranic exegesis written in the Indonesian language.

At present, other religions live in a harmony with Islam. Even people from Non-Muslim background take part in Islamic festivals and holidays. Two of the most important festivals are the Hajj and Tabuik. Indonesia is a peaceful country with a profound love for Islam.

Division of Islam in Malaysia

The division of Islam in this country is quite straightforward. The Sunni Islam of the Shafii school of thought is the official religion. Though some syncretist Islam with a touch of Shamanism is practised in rural areas. The adhan is heard five times a day in this country.

A survey in 2017 stated that Wahhabism is gaining popularity among the elite class. Therefore, there is a gradual shift from the traditional Islamic theology to theology found in the Middle East. On the other hand, the Government practice a complete ban on practising Shia Islam. This is to avoid violence between the two faiths. The number of Malaysian Shia Muslims is around 250000.

There is around 2000 Ahmadis in Malaysia. An interesting fact is that, Muslims who only follow the Quran, known as Quranists or Quaniyoon are also present in this country.


(Written by freelance journalist Shreya T)

Enjoy Ali Huda! Exclusive for your kids.