Muslim Countries of the World: Malaysia

ID 118990220 © Prasit Rodphan | Dreamstime.com
ID 118990220 © Prasit Rodphan | Dreamstime.com

Malaysia is a state in Southeast Asia, consisting of two halves, separated by the South China Sea, one half (western) is at the tip of the Malacca Peninsula (‘offshoot’ from the Indochina Peninsula, continuation of Thailand), the other half (eastern) occupies the northern third of the island of Borneo, facing Vietnam.

Islam is the state religion of Malaysia. Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i madhhab is adopted in Malaysia. The choice of the madhhab is due to the fact that the first preachers of the Muslim faith were traders from Arabia, in particular from Yemen, where this madhhab was officially adopted. According to the Constitution, Malaysia is a secular state, but Islam plays a key role in the life of the country and has a dominant position in all government bodies. According to article 160 of the Constitution, every ethnic Malay is recognized as a Muslim by birth. The entire way of life of the country is governed by the rules of Sharia.

At the same time, however, Malaysia, as a secular state, guarantees freedom of religion for all religions. So in Malaysia there is a large percentage of Buddhists (20%) and Christians (10%). This coexistence of religions is a national feature of Malaysia. The country’s constitution recognizes not only Muslim holidays (for example, the Birthday of the Prophet Mawlid), but also Christian (Christmas), Buddhist (Chinese New Year), Hindu (Diwali) holidays.

The first preachers of Islam among the Malays were the Companions of the Prophet. However, until the middle of the 12th century, Buddhism, which came from its neighbours (Thailand, Cambodia), enjoyed the predominant influence on the Malay Peninsula. Indeed, Islam was able to gain a foothold among the Malays during the reign of the ruler of the Kedah region, located in the very centre of the peninsula, who, elated from the cognition of the true faith of which he had learned from the preachers, quit Buddhism and converted to Islam and, under the name of Mudzafar Shah, became the first Muslim sultan of Malaysia in 1136.

In 1957, when Malaysia gained independence from Great Britain, its national state structure was formed. The federal state includes 13 sultanates headed by sultans and 3 federal territories headed by presidents. Each sultanate has broad rights within the federation, in particular, each sultanate has its own mufti of the sultanate, who is the spiritual head of the Muslims, appointed by the sultan, and heads the Department of the sultanate responsible for religious policy. The sultans elect from among their number the Head of state known as the ‘King of Malaysia’ (since January last year it has been the Sultan of Pahang Abdullah). The King appoints the Mufti of the federal territories (where there are no sultans).

Until the late 1970s, the attitude towards Islamic values among Muslims in Malaysia was quite liberal, as in neighbouring Indonesia. For example, few women wore headscarves, let alone hijabs; the society’s lifestyle was more secular than religious. However, in the late 1980s, the picture changed. Since then, to this day, Malaysia has seen a picture of a religious revival initiated by the Malay Muslims themselves. Nowadays, for example, the wearing of a headscarf or hijab by women is a rule of good manners, observance of namaz and attendance of mosques for Friday prayers has become almost universal.

In general, Islam in Malaysia is distinguished by the maximum liberalisation of the external manifestations of Muslim righteousness with the presence of internal religiosity and the desire to observe the laws of Islam.