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
19 million
50.3% of the Malaysian Population (2015)
Malay, English
Majority - Sunni Islam with a small minorities practice Shia
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 49% 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 AD. They were written in a Sanskrit script during the time of the kingdom of Srivijaya. The Malays also have their own script called tulisan Rencong in Malay, or known as Rencong script. Rencong characters were used in Ancient Malay literature (the time before the arrival of Indians to the Malay Archipelago). Rencong letter is original Malay letters used by the Malays in ancient times in the writing system of Ancient Malay Language. Besides Rencong, Kawi and Palava (which both from India) were also used in Old Malay literature. However, the characters Rencong is the only writing that was created by the Malays without outside of the Malay Archipelago influence. After the spread of Islam in the Malay Archipelago, the Malay people try to continue using the Rencong characters (and Kawi and Palava) to write about Islam. They found that the three of it were not suitable because the words from Rencong, Kawi and Palava were not be able to pronounce new words from the Quran and Hadith, appropriately. Either creating or adding a new letter on the letter Rencong, Kawi or Palava, the Malay people decided to leave the three types of writing. The Malay people decided to experiment with Arabic letters to spell the words in the Malay language. As a result, they created the Jawi Script based on Arabic letters with some extra letters and mailing systems to be used in Malay Language. However, Rencong characters were continue 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.[4]

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, Pahangiese, Negeri Sembilanese, Sarawakian, Perakian, Kedahan and Bruneian (including a Bruneian-based pidgin Sabah Malay).


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 millenia later primarily through Gujerati 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.[5]

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.[6]

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. ^
  5. ^ "Malaysia culture". 
  6. ^ "Malay culture".