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.
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 a 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 many Malay ceremonies.
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 been found, 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 the
British 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.