Malaysian Malay

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For the Malay language used in Malaysia, see Malaysian Malay (language).
Malaysian Malays
Melayu Malaysia
ملايو مليسيا
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Total population
18.3 million
50.3% of the Malaysian Population (2015)
English, Malay
Sunni Islam - 99.2% Shia - 0.8%
Historically Animism, Hinduism and Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Ethnic Malays, Malay Indonesian, Thai Malays, Malays in Singapore, Bruneians, Indonesian people, Burmese Malays, Cocos Malays

In Malaysia, the Malay population is defined by Article 160 of the Malaysian Constitution as someone born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs and is domiciled in Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei. This definition is loose enough to include people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds which basically can be defined as "Malaysian Muslims" and it therefore differs from the anthropological understanding of what constitutes an ethnic Malay.[1]

This understanding of the meaning of "Malay" in Malaysia has led to the creation of an ethnoreligious identity,[1] where it has been suggested that a Malay cannot convert out of Islam as illustrated in the Federal Court decision in the case of Lina Joy.[2] As of 2010 census, Malays made up 51% of the population of Malaysia.

Definition of a Malay[edit]

The article defines a Malay as a Malaysian citizen born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs, and is domiciled in Malaysia or Singapore.


Malay is an Austronesian language spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand. The total number of speakers of Standard Malay is about 18 million. There are also about 170 million people who speak Indonesian, which is a form of Malay.[3]

The earliest known inscriptions in Malay were found in southern Sumatra and on the island of Bangka and date from 683-6 BC. They were written in an Indian script during the time of the kingdom of Srivijaya.

When Islam arrived in southeast Asia during the 14th century, the Arabic script was adapted to write the Malay language. In the 17th century, under influence from the Dutch and British, the Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet.


Cultures have been meeting and mixing in Malaysia since the very beginning of its history. More than fifteen hundred years ago a Malay kingdom in Bujang Valley welcomed traders from China and India. With the arrival of gold and silks, Buddhism and Hinduism also came to Malaysia. A thousand years later, Arab traders arrived in Malacca and brought with them the principles and practices of Islam. By the time the Portuguese arrived in Malaysia, the empire that they encountered was more cosmopolitan than their own.[4]

Malaysia's cultural mosaic is marked by many different cultures, but several in particular have had especially lasting influence on the country. Chief among these is the ancient Malay culture, and the cultures of Malaysia's two most prominent trading partners throughout history, the Chinese, and the Indians. These three groups are joined by a dizzying array of indigenous tribes, many of which live in the forests and coastal areas of Borneo. Although each of these cultures has vigorously maintained its traditions and community structures, they have also blended together to create contemporary Malaysia's uniquely diverse heritage.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Frith, T. (1 September 2000). "Ethno-Religious Identity and Urban Malays in Malaysia" (fee required). Asian Ethnicity (Routledge) 1 (2): 117–129. doi:10.1080/713611705. Retrieved 23 February 2008. 
  2. ^ "Federal Court rejects Lina's appeal in a majority decision". The Star. 31 May 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2008. 
  3. ^ "Malay (Bahasa Melayu / بهاس ملايو)". 
  4. ^ "Malaysia culture". 
  5. ^ "Malay culture".