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Religion in Malaysia

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Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia at one of the world's major crossroads, Malaysia has always been pivotal to trade routes from Europe, the Orient, India and China. It’s warm tropical climate and abundant natural blessings made it a congenial destination for immigrants as early as 5,000 years ago when the ancestors of the aborigines, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, settle here, probably the pioneers of a general movement from China and Tibet. They were followed by the Malays, who brought with them skills in farming and the use of metals. As the beginning of Ancient Malaysia, the- Negrito aborigines are considered to be one of the first groups of people to inhabit the Malaysian peninsula. When the Proto-Malays, made up of seafarers and farmers, came to the peninsula they sent the Negritos into the jungles and hills. The Proto-Malays came from China and were technologically advanced, especially in comparison to the Negritos. After the Proto-Malays came the Deuteron-Malays, which were made up of many different people - Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Proto-Malays, and Siamese. The Deuteron-Malays were proficient in their use of iron and when they united with Indonesians, they combined to make up the people known today as the Malay. Around the first century BC, strong trading links were established with China and India, and these had a major impact on the culture, language and social customs of the country. During this period, Malaysia's culture changed dramatically with the arrival of Indians. Indians initially went to the Malaysian peninsula in search of a mystical place known as the "Land of Gold." Although the places in Malaysia may not have been what they were looking for, they didn't leave, but continued to arrive in search of gold, spices and aromatic wood. In addition to trade (with goods), the Indians introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the peninsula, thus bringing temples and other cultural traditions from India. As a result, local kings in Malaysia combined what they considered to be the best aspects of India's government with their own structure, thus resulting in "Indianite kingdoms." Today, the Indian influences can best be seen in a traditional Malay wedding ceremony, which is similar to those in India. Evidence of a Hindu-Buddhist period in the history of Malaysia can today be found in the temple sites of the Bujang Valley and Merbok Estuary in Kedah in the north west of Peninsular Malaysia, near the Thai border. The spread of Islam, introduced by Arab and Indian traders, brought the Hindu-Buddhist era to an end by the 13th century. With the conversion of the Malay-Hindu rulers of the Melaka Sultanate (the Malay kingdom which ruled both side of the Straits of Malacca for over a hundred years), Islam was established as the religion of the Malays, and had profound effect on Malay society.

Chinese, Indian and Arab records show that Srivijaya to be the best trading area in the region. After seeing its great success, other areas quickly copied it thus causing a decline in Srivijava's influence. Since the Hindu kingdoms of Malaysia weren't very strong and didn't have a central power, this caused a big problem for the region.Parameswara the first King of Malacca was actually Hindu at the first place before he converted to islam. Pirates were another problem that needed to be taken care of in order for there to be a safe, secure port. This problem was taken care of with the emergence of Malacca, which was in an ideal location, thus attributing to its great success. It was founded in 1400 and within 50 years it was a major port, actually the most influential in Southeast Asia and with alliances being built with other tribes and ports, Malacca was able to "police" the waters and provide an escort for vessels that needed it. With this success, Malacca quickly became the power in control of all of Malaysia's west coast.

Malacca's power and success was quickly extinguished with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511. Since the Arabians weren't allowing vessels piloted by non-Muslims into their harbors, the Europeans realized they needed a trading port of their own. Thus bringing about capture of Malacca.After conquering Malacca, the Portuguese built an immense fort which in turn was captured by the Dutch in 1641. In 1785, the British, who needed a port for their ships to dock while in route to China, persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to let them build a fort on Penang. After the French conquered the Netherlands in 1795, the Dutch allowed England to oversee the port of Malacca rather than turn it over the French. This was the first in a series of "swaps" to and from each country regarding this area. Eventually, although it was finally given to Britain in a trade, the Dutch were the main controllers of the region. With the establishment of a port in Singapore, the British colonies (Malacca, Penang, and Singapore) came to be known as the Straits Settlements.England's monopoly on tin mining was tremendously helped with the Pangkor Agreement in 1874. This Agreement was the result of internal fighting among the Malay kingdoms over control of the Perak throne. The commotion that ensued prompted Britain to basically force the Malay rulers into signing the peace treaty. A result of this treaty was that England had greater control, which greatly helped them in maintaining their monopoly in tin mining.

Britain's control continued until the Japanese invasion in 1942, although they tried to regain control after the end of World War II in 1945. After World War II and the Japanese occupation from 1941-45, the British created the Malayan Union 1946.This was abandoned in 1948 and the Federation of Malaya emerged in its place. The Federation gained its independence from Britain on 31 August 1957.This attempt was foiled by Malaya's independence movement under the guidance of Tunku Abdul Rahman. The British flag was lowered for good in 1957 in Merdeka Square (Kuala Lumpur).In September 1963, Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah, and initially Singapore united to form Malaysia, a country whose potpourri of society and customs derives from its rich heritage from four of the world's major cultures - Chinese, Indian, Islamic and Western.The first several years of the country's history were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession from the Federation in 1965.

All of the world's major religions have substantial representation in Malaysia, the main adherents of each largely reflecting the multi-ethnic character of the population. The variety of religions found in Malaysia is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. Although Islam is the state religion of Malaysia, freedom of religion is guaranteed. The Malays are almost all Muslims. The Chinese embrace an eclectic brew of Taoism, Buddhism and ancestor worship, though some are Christians. The Indian mostly Hindu some Christian and almost all of Punjab as a Sikhism religion believers. Although Christianity has made no great inroads into Peninsular Malaysia it has had a much greater impact upon East Malaysia, where many indigenous people have converted to Christianity, although others still follow their animist traditions.

Islam came to Malaysia with the Indian traders from South India and was not of the more orthodox Islamic tradition of Arabia. Islam was adopted peacefully by the coastal trading ports people of Malaysia and Indonesia, absorbing rather than conquering existing beliefs. As in many Muslim countries, Islam in Malaysia has seen a significant revival over the past 10 years or so. It is wise for visitors to be appropriately discreet in dress and behaviour, particularly on the more strictly Muslim east coast of the peninsula. Malay ceremonies and beliefs still exhibit pre-Islamic traditions, but most Malays are ardent Muslims and to suggest otherwise to Malay would cause great offence. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the calls to introduce Islamic law and purify the practices of Islam have increased, but while the Government is keen to espouse Muslim ideals, it is wary of religious extremism. The Koran is the main source of religious law for Malays, and though few are proficient in Arabic, all Malay children are sent to learn to read the Koran. Malaysia has an annual Koran-reading competition, and passages of the Koran are read in Arabic at manyMalayceremonies.

The Chinese religion is a mix of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Taoism combines with old animistic harmony with the universe. Confucianism takes care of the political and moral aspects of life, while Buddhism takes care of the afterlife. But to say that the Chinese have three religions - Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism - is too simple a view of their traditional religious life. At the first level, Chinese religion is animistic, with a belief in the innate vital energy in rocks, trees, rivers and springs. At the second level, people from the distant past, both real and mythological, are worshipped as gods. Overlaid on this are popular Taoist, Mahayana Buddhist and Confucian beliefs.

There have been Hindu influences in Malaysia since the dawn of history, but the Hinduism of the Hindu period in Malaysian history has title connection with the Hinduism practiced in the country today. Brahmanical Hinduism which flourished at the courts of petty Malaysian states before the coming of Islam in the 15th century was an aristocratic used to bolster the authority of the ruling class, which was carried across the Indian Ocean by early Hindu traders. Relics and remains from this period have also beenfound, principally in Kedah. While The Sikh community in Malaysia owes its beginnings in the country to the British connection and in particular with the recruitment of Sikhs for the paramilitary and police units which formed the nucleus from which the modern police and military forces of the nation derived. The first of these units was the Perak Sikhs. The Sikhs believe and worship the one and only God who is formless. Hence, idol worship is denounced by the Sikh scriptures. The Sikhs' place of worship is known as a 'Gurdwara' which is open to all irrespective of race, religion, colour or sex. The Sikhs celebrate the principal festival which is also the Sikh New Year that is called Vasakhi , each April and the birthdays and martyrdom of Sikh Gurus and the installation of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib as the 'living Guru of the Sikhs for all times', amongst others.

International trade in early times played a key role in bringing Christianity to this part of the world. Some Persian traders were Nestorian Christians. Later, in the middle ages, Catholic diplomats, travellers and priests travelled through the Straits enroute to China. Among the traders residing in Melaka during the Melaka Sultanate in the 15th century were Nestorians and also Armenian Christians from what is today Eastern Turkey. Churches were established in the area with the coming of the Portuguese in 1511, the Dutch in 1641 and theBritish in 1786. However, in this early period, the Christian community was still largely an expatriate community. Chinese Christians sometimes migrated as communities as in the case of Basel Mission Hakkas to Sabah and Methodist Foochows to Sibu, Sarawak and Sitiawan, Perak. Christian missionaries played a key role in the field of education and medical services by establishing schools and hospitals in various parts of the country.Nearly all the world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are present in Malaysia. Religion correlates strongly with ethnicity, with most Muslims Malay, most Hindus Indian, and most Buddhists Chinese. The presence of such diversity heightens the importance of religious identity, and most Malaysians have a strong sense of how their religious practice differs from that of others (therefore a Malaysian Christian also identifies as a non-Muslim).

Religious holidays, especially those celebrated with open houses, further blend the interreligious experience of the population. Tension between religious communities is modest. The government is most concerned with the practices of the Muslim majority, since Islam is the official religion (60 percent of the population is Muslim). Debates form most often over the government's role in religious life, such as whether the state should further promote Islam and Muslim practices (limits on gambling, pork-rearing, availability of alcohol, and the use of state funds for building mosques) or whether greater religious expression for non-Muslims should be allowed.

The government regulates religious policy for Malaysia's Muslims, while the local mosque organizes opportunities for religious instruction and expression. Outside these institutions, Islam has an important part in electoral politics as Malay parties promote their Muslim credentials. Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist clergy often have a presence in Malaysian life through cooperative ventures, and their joint work helps to ameliorate their minority status. Religious missionaries work freely proselytizing to non-Muslims, but evangelists interested in converting Muslims are strictly forbidden by the state.
Malaysia's most prominent holy place is the National Mosque, built in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in 1965. Its strategic position emphasizes the country's Islamic identity. Countrywide, the daily call to prayer from the mosques amplifies the rhythm of Islamic rituals in the country, as does the procession of the faithful to fulfill their prayers.
Relations between different religious groups are generally quite tolerant. Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali have been declared national holidays alongside Islamic holidays. Various groups have been set up to try and promote religious understanding among the different groups, with religious harmony seen as a priority by Malaysian politicians. However, it is illegal to convert Muslims to other religions, and disputes have arisen over the use of the word "Allah" for God in religions other than Islam. Restrictions on religious freedom exist, especially for Muslims, who are often not allowed to legally convert to other religions, and are forced into rehabilitation camps if they attempt to.

All the world's major religions have substantial representation in Malaysia. The Population and Housing Census 2010 figure shows approximately these proportions of the population following these religions:
• 61.3% Islam
• 19.8% Buddhism
• 9.2% Christianity
• 6.3% Hinduism
• 1.3% Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions
• 0.7% Atheist
• 1.4% Other religions or no information

The majority of Malaysian Malay people are Muslim. Most Malaysian Chinese follow a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor-worship. Statistics from the 2010 Census indicate that 83.6% of Malaysia's ethnic Chinese identify as Buddhist, with significant numbers of adherents following Taoism (3.4%) and Christianity (11.1%). Christianityisthe predominant religion of the non-MalayBumiputra community (46.5%) with an additional 40.4% identifying as Muslims. Many indigenous tribes of East Malaysia have converted to Christianity, although Christianity has made fewer inroads into Peninsular Malaysia.The government believes the constitution provides a strong enough guarantee of religious freedom and should not be changed. Some restrictions are made on Malay texts from non-Islam religions in Peninsula Malaysia, however there are much less restrictions in East Malaysia. Headscarves are mandatory for non-Muslims in certain situations. The MyKad identity card states whether the holder is a Muslim or not.

As Islam is the state religion, the government provides financial support to Islamic establishments and enforces the Sunni form of Islam. State governments can impose Islamic law on Muslims, and the government will offer grants to private Muslim schools that allow a government-approved curriculum and supervision. The government also indirectly funds non-Islamic communities, although to a much smaller degree. The government generally does not interfere with the religious practices of non-Muslim communities. Public schools offer an Islamic religious instruction course which is compulsory for Muslim students, and non-Muslim students take a morals and ethics course.Islam is the predominant religion of the country and is recognised as the state's official religion. It is practiced by about 60 per cent of Malaysians. Many Muslim holy days are national holidays, including the end of Ramadhan, the end of the Hajj, and the birthday of Rasulullah Muhammad SAW.

Although most people in Malaya were Muslim by the 15th century, the tolerant form of Islam brought by the Sufi meant that many traditional practices were incorporated into Islamic traditions. Islam is generally practiced liberally, although in the last 20 years strict adherence to Islamic practice has increased.The official code of Islam in Malaysia is Sunni, and the practice of any other form of Islam is heavily restricted. The government opposes what it calls "Deviant" teachings, forcing those who are deemed to follow these teachings to undergo "rehabilitation". In June 2006, 56 deviant teachings had been identified by the government, including Shi'a, transcendental meditation, and Baha'i teachings. In June 2005 religious authorities reported that there were 22 "deviant" religious groups with around 2,820 followers in Malaysia. No statistics are given on rehabilitations, and the government actively monitors Shi'a groups. Restrictions have been imposed on Imams coming from overseas.

The Malaysian government promotes a moderate version of Sunni Islam called Islam Hadhari. Islam Hadhari was introduced by former Prime MinisterTun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. It is meant to encourage a balanced approach to life, and encourages inclusivity, tolerance, and looking outwards. The qualities it values are knowledge, hard work, honesty, good administration, and efficiency. The Islamic party PAS desires a stricter interpretation of Islam and the promotion of Islamic law especially in their state government in Kelantan. Due to Islam being the state religion, many mosques and other religious services are supported by the government. Control of the mosques is usually done on a state rather than a federal level.The charitable Zakat tax is collected by the government, and the government supports those wishing to make the pilgrimage to Mecca through LembagaTabung Haji (Hajj Fund Body).All ethnic Malays are considered Muslim by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.In practice, Muslims cannot convert to another religion due to the Shari'a courts denying conversion claims, and if Malay did convert they would lose their status as bumiputera.

People of non-Muslim origins are required to convert to Islam if they marry a Muslim person. Public schools are required to offer Islamic religious instruction, although alternative ethics classes are provided for non-Muslims. Many women wear the tudung (hijab), which covers the head but leaves the face exposed, although there is no law requiring this. Islamic police monitor the Muslim population. Regulation of sexual activities among the Muslim population is strict, with laws prohibiting unmarried couples from occupying a secluded area or a confined space, to prevent suspicion of acts considered islamically immoral. If a non-Muslim desires a dog, they must obtain the permission of their Muslim neighbours.

Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Syariah courts in matters concerning their religion. The Islamic judges are expected to follow the Shafi`i legal school of Islam, which is the main madh'hab of Malaysia. These courts apply Sharia law.
The jurisdiction of Shariah courts is limited only to Muslims in matters suchas marriage, inheritance, divorce, apostasy, religious conversion, and custody among others. No other criminal or civil offences are under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts, which have a similar hierarchy to the Civil Courts. Despite being the supreme courts of the land, the Civil Courts (including the Federal Court) do not hear matters related to Islamic practices.Cases concerning a Muslim and a non-Muslim are usually handled by the civil courts, although in cases such as child custody or property settlement the non-Muslim has no say.

Many Malaysian Chinese practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Although Buddhism was influential prior to the arrival of Islam, the majority of the current Chinese population arrived during British rule of Malaya. Chinese New Year is celebrated as a national holiday.For many Chinese religions is an essential part of their cultural life. It is rare for any Malaysian Chinese to be a 'pure' follower of a particular belief. Many nominally claim membership in a certain belief, yet respect beliefs from multiple religions into their lives. Traditional Chinese beliefs have become a strong influence in life, and new sects have arisen trying to integrate different religious teachings. Beliefs in Malaysia have also often adopted influence from local animism.
Around 19 per cent of the current population classify themselves as Buddhist. Each religious building is autonomous, and most Malaysian Chinese follow theMahayana branch.

Thai and Sinhalese minorities in Malaysia follow the Therevada branch. A Malaysian Buddhist Council has been created to promote the study and practice of Buddhism and promote solidarity among Malaysian Buddhists. Vesak day is a national holiday, and joint celebrations take place in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor by both branches of Buddhism.Buddhist temples often contain Daoist deities, with most deities being from the Chinese provinces of Guangdong andFujian. Malaysia has over 150 Daoist temples served by 12000 priest, with the Daoist communities sharing links with those in Taiwan and Mainland China. Although the religion is not as organised as others, a Malaysia Daoist Association was formed in 1995 and a DaoistOrganisation League was formed in 1997.[A Chinese population known as the Hui people practiced Islam yet retained Chinese culture and have unique traditions. Communities existed in Singapore, Pangkorisland, andSitiawan before the Second World War. The last established community, in Penang, was dispersed when they were evicted from their homes due to development projects.

The majority of the Tamil's who make up 9 per cent of Malaysia's population practice Hinduism. Hinduism was influential prior to Islam, but current adherents are mostly descended from migrant communities from Tamil Nadu who came to Malaya to work on British rubber plantations. A small community of migrants from North India also exists.Urban temples are often dedicated to a single deity, while rural temples are often home to many different deities. Most were brought with immigrants.Most temples follow Saivite tradition from Southern India, for the worship of Siva. The Hindu holiday of Deepavali is a national holiday. Practice of the Hindu religion in Malaysia is strongly linked with the cultural identity of Indians who reside there. Someone who converts to another religion may be ostracized by their family and the Indian community.The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is about faith, endurance and penance. When it's celebrated in Malaysia it's a dynamic, colourful, happy yet devotional event which can stretch for 3 or 4 days, and attract around one and a half million people each year.Thaipusam is a time for Hindus of all castes and cultures to say thank you and show their appreciation to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva.

The festival of Thaipusam was brought to Malaysia in the 1800s, when Indian immigrants started to work on the Malaysian rubber estates and the government offices.It was first celebrated at the Batu Caves in 1888. Since then it's become an important expression of cultural and religious identity to Malaysians of Tamil Indian origin, and it's now the largest and most significant Hindu public display in the country.Thaipusam is held in the last week of January or the beginning of February, depending on the alignment of the sun, moon and planets, and takes place 13 kilometres outside the Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur in a sacred Hindu shrine called Batu Caves.

It is estimated that there are around 130,000 Sikh in Malaysia.The Sikh community in Malaysia owes its beginnings in the country to the British connection and in particular with the recruitment of Sikhs for the paramilitary and police units which formed the nucleus from which the modern police and military forces of the nation derived. The first of these units was the Perak Sikhs.Despite the popular belief that Sikhs were brought to the then Malaya as police and soldiers, historically it is proven that Sikhs were actually sent to Malaya as political prisoners. The first few Sikhs to set foot in Malaya were Nihal Singh (better known as BhaiMaharaj Singh) and Kharak Singh, who were thrown out of India due to anti-British involvement somewhere around 1800. These prisoners were sent to the Outram Road prison in what is now Singapore. In 1865, it is believed that the process of migration of Sikhs to Malaysia started again but this time involved recruitment in the armed forces in the British Empire mainly as police, military and guards.The Sikhs believe and worship the one and only God who is formless. Hence, idol worship is denounced by the Sikh scriptures. The Sikhs' place of worship is known as a 'Gurdwara' which is open to all irrespective of race, religion, color or sex.The Sikhs celebrate the principal festival which is also the Sikh New Year that is called Vasakhi , each April and the birthdays and martyrdom of Sikh Gurus and the installation of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib as the 'living Guru of the Sikhs for all times', amongst others.No Sikh holiday has been declared a national holiday in Malaysia.

About 10 per cent of the populations of Malaysia are Christians, including Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian minorities. The most common denominations areAnglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic. Most Christians are found in East Malaysia, where Good Friday is a public holiday in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.Christmas is a national holiday, although Easter is not.Traders with links to Christianity from the Middle East arrived in what is now Malaysia in the 7th century. Catholicism was brought by the Portuguese in the 15th century, followed by Protestantism with the Dutch in 1641. As Portuguese influence declined Protestantism began to eclipse Catholicism. Christianity spread further through missionaries who arrived during British rule in the 19th century and introduced Christianity to East Malaysia. Initial conversions focused mainly on the Straits Settlements. When missionaries began to spread through the peninsula, they were discouraged from converting Malays, focusing on Chinese and Indian immigrants.
After the Portuguese conquest of 1511, Melaka became a Centre for evangelization and used as a base by Francis Xavier. Catholic priests from Siam re-established a regional major seminary in Penang in 1809.In the 19th century Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Brethren churches developed ministry to Chinese and Indian migrants. The English adventurer “Rajah” James Brooke invited Anglican and Catholic missionaries to restrain headhunting in Sarawak. Methodist influence from 1885 built on interest in English education and cemented strong ties with Foochow settlements in Sitiawan and Sibu.
During the Emergency (1948-1963) missionaries from China were encouraged to work among Chinese resettled in “New Villages.” The shoestring operation of the Borneo Evangelical Mission in East Malaysia from 1928 led to the growth of the “Borneo Injil Council” By the 1970s Christianity was denominationally and ethnically diverse and church leadership firmly national. By 2000 Christians comprised some 9% of the population.

Traditional beliefs are still practiced by the aborigine’speople. Loosely classified as animism, the beliefs are not recognized by the state as a religion. Animistic beliefs are passed down through oral tradition due to the lack of a writing system in indigenous groups, who call their beliefs traditional or customary religions. The different religions are rather varied, with different names and concepts for their supreme god and other supernatural deities. Most of the beliefs are heavily influenced by the environment, with physical features such as mountains, trees, valleys, and rivers being sacred. A close relationship with nature is nurtured, and the relationship of humans and nature is a strong part of the religion, with everyday activities such as hunting and gathering having spiritual significance.With the various religions in Malaysia, the Malaysian government has played an important role to maintain harmony in Malaysia. From the perspective of religion, it was there provision in the Constitution that Islam is the religion of the country, and other religions are freely practiced in our country in peace and harmony.

The desire and ambition to make Malaysia a developed country informative own good concordance people actually left the community on the question of tolerance, understanding and harmony among the religions. Even the efforts to bridge the gap between followers of different religions should be done continuously. The factors that hinder and help efforts to identify and subsequently known find a wise and beneficial to all parties. Therefore, various approaches should be planned carefully and be tolerant.
The fact intellectual role of various races in Malaysia should be more active and aggressive approach in promoting meetings and dialogue between followers of various religions. Openness should be the policy of intellectuals in creating understanding among religions. This provision is clearly to give protection against the strength of Islam that may challenge its position, and anyone who is a Government, the Government should respect and protect the position of Islam as laid out, and at the same time providing protection to other religions wants to adopt t

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