Malaysian Malay

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This article is about ethnic Malays in Malaysia. For other uses, see Malay (disambiguation).
Malaysian Malays
Melayu Malaysia
ملايو مليسيا
Tarik upih pinang.jpg
Malay kids playing Tarik Upih Pinang. A traditional game that involve dragging the Palm frond.
Total population
50.8% of the Malaysian Population (2010)[1]
Malaysian Malay (Varieties of Malay), English
Star and Crescent.svg Shafi'i Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Malay Singaporeans, Ethnic Malays
Native Indonesians, other Austronesian peoples

Malaysian Malays (Malaysian: Melayu Malaysia, Jawi: ملايو مليسيا) are ethnic Malays domiciled throughout Malaysia and native to the modern state. The Malaysian Malays form the largest ethnic group in the country with 50.8% of the population or 15.7 million people. They are broadly defined into Melayu Anak Jati ('Malays proper') and Melayu Anak Dagang ('trading Malays' or 'foreign Malays').

The Malays proper consist of those individuals who adhere to the Malay culture that native to the coastal areas of Malay peninsula and Borneo.[2] Among notable groups include the Bruneians, Kedahans, Kelantanese, Pahang, Perakians and Terengganuans. On the other hand, the foreign Malays consist of descendants of immigrants from other part of Malay archipelago who became the citizens of the Malay sultanates and were absorbed and assimilated into Malay culture at different times, aided by similarity in lifestyle and common religion (Islam). Among notable groups are the Acehnese, Bugis, Javanese and Minangkabau Malays.[3][4] There are also a minority of Malays who are partially descended from more recent immigrants from many other countries who have assimilated into Malay Muslim culture.

The centuries-old concept of Malayness that closely associated Malays with Islam, became the basis of a Malay identity defined in Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia. A great majority of Malays in Malaysia are the adherents of the Shafi'i branch of Sunni Islam while very small and low-profiled minority follows Twelver Shia Islam[5] and Christianity.

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.

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.[6]

This understanding of the meaning of "Malay" in Malaysia has led to the creation of an ethnoreligious identity,[6] 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.[7] As of 2010 census, Malays made up 49% of the population of Malaysia (including Malaysian-born or foreign-born people of Malay descent).


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.[8]

The earliest known inscriptions in Malay were found in southern Sumatra and on the island of Bangka and date from 683-6 AD. The Indian-derived Kawi and Palava alphabets were both used during this era. Another indigenous script known as rencong was used in southern Sumatra. While all three scripts continued to be used into the 15th century, they gradually declined with the spread of Islam. Until then, literacy was the preserve of the upper class. The Muslim faith however encouraged education even among commoners, allowing the Arabic alphabet to spread. This would eventually give rise to the Jawi script based on Arabic with some extra letters and mailing systems to be used in Malay Language. However, Rencong characters continued to be used in Minangkabau and South Sumatra (Palembang, Bengkulu and upstream), and lasted until the 18th century before the Dutch colonized Indonesia. In the 17th century, under influence from the Dutch and British, the Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet.[9][unreliable source?]

Variants of Malay in Malaysia differed by states, districts or even villages and is mostly unintelligible to Standard Malay speakers in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Johor (although most Malays can speak Standard Malay/Malaysian). The well known variants of Malay are Terengganuan, Kelantanese, Pahang, Negeri Sembilanese, Sarawakian, Perakian, Kedahan and Bruneian (including a Bruneian-based pidgin Sabah Malay).[citation needed]


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. Islam first arrived over a millennia later, primarily through Gujarati Muslims from India and, to a lesser extent, Chinese Huis. Over a period of several centuries, it became the dominant religion by the 15th century, particularly in the western coastal ports and trade centres. By the time the Portuguese arrived in Malaysia, the empire that they encountered was more cosmopolitan than their own.[10]

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.[11]


There is a community of Malaysian Malays who make up 20% of the total population of the Australian external territory of Christmas Island.[12]


Malays are the majority of the ethnic groups in Malaysia. Every state has population of Malays ranging from 50-90%. Penang, Sabah and Sarawak are the only states where Malays are less than 30%.

State Population % of Population
Johor 1,844,065 51.2
Kedah 1,315,657 63.5
Kelantan 1,537,789 89.5
Malacca 546,620 58.7
Negeri Sembilan 551,396 50.2
Pahang 1,069,688 65.9
Perak 1,295,837 52.3
Penang 582,047 30.8
Perlis 188,436 76.6
Sabah 1,045,333 29.5
Sarawak 645,820 24.5
Selangor 3,073,030 50.6
Terengganu 1,092,365 94.7
Kuala Lumpur 799,136 45.2
Labuan 30,001 32.3
Putrajaya 78,322 88.7
Source: National Census 2010, Department of Statistics Malaysia.
  • Population estimates are rounded to the nearest hundred.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Penduduk mengikut jantina, kumpulan etnik dan umur, Malaysia, 2010" (PDF). Statistics Department of Malaysia. Retrieved 2016-08-04. 
  2. ^ John O Sutter (1961). Scientific facilities and information services of the Federation of Malaya and State of Singapore. National Science Foundation by the Pacific Scientific Information Center, B. P. Bishop Museum. p. 4. ASIN B0006D0GHI. 
  3. ^ Gulrose Karim (1990). Information Malaysia 1990–91 Yearbook. Kuala Lumpur: Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd. p. 74. 
  4. ^ Suad Joseph, Afsaneh Najmabadi (2006). Economics, Education, Mobility And Space (Encyclopedia of women & Islamic cultures). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 436. ISBN 978-90-04-12820-0. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Federal Court rejects Lina's appeal in a majority decision". The Star. 31 May 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2008. 
  8. ^ "Malay (Bahasa Melayu / بهاس ملايو)". 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Malaysia culture". 
  11. ^ "Malay culture". 
  12. ^ Simone Dennis (2008). Christmas Island: An Anthropological Study. Cambria Press. pp. 91–. ISBN 9781604975109.