Malaysian Malay

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For the Malay language used in Malaysia, see Malaysian Malay (language).
For an ethnic group of Austronesian peoples predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula; East Sumatra; Southern Thailand; the Tanintharyi Region of Myanmar; Pulau Ujong; coastal Borneo, including Brunei, West Kalimantan; and coastal Sarawak and Sabah and the smaller islands which lie between these locations — areas that are collectively known as the Malay world, see Ethnic Malays.
Malaysian Malay
Melayu Malaysia
ملايو مليسيا
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Total population
19 million
50.3% of the Malaysian Population (2015)
Malay (Varieties of Malay), English
Majority - Sunni Islam, Minority - Shia Islam
Historically Animism, Hinduism and Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Ethnic Malays, Malay Indonesian, Thai Malays, Malay Singaporeans, Bruneians, Indonesian people, Burmese Malays, Cocos Malays, Austronesian peoples

Malaysian Malay or Malaysians of Malay Muslim origin (Malaysian: Melayu Malaysia, Jawi: ملايو مليسيا) are an ethnoreligious group that are recognised as Malay by the government by using the term of Malay race. The Malaysian Malays form the largest ethnic group in the country with 50% of the population or 19 million people. In Malaysia there are two types of Malay classification that is Melayu Anak Jati (refers to ethnic Malays that are native to the region) and Melayu Anak Dagang (refers to non-Malays that migrated to the region and later assimilated into Malay culture). The Melayu Anak Jati is made up of Malays that have long been established in the country such as Kedahan Malays, Bruneian Malays and others while Melayu Anak Dagang is made up of mostly native Indonesian (primarily Javanese, Banjarese, Acehnese and Buginese) but also includes Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam as well as other ethnic groups that have assimilated into the Malay culture and follow or convert to the religion of Islam (see Malayisation). All Malaysian Malays are considered Muslim by the Malaysian government (except for some cases like Lina Joy), majority followed the Shafi'i branch of Sunni Islam while very small and low-profiled minority followed Twelver Shia Islam[1] and Christianity. Most Malaysian Malay are of Austronesian stock but there are many Malays that intermarried with Arabs, Indians, Siamese and Chinese as well as Europeans, making Malaysian Malay an ethnic group of diverse origins.

There is a community of Malaysian Malay descent who make up 20% of the total population of the Australian external territory of Christmas Island.[2] Most of them are now fully Australian citizens.

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.[3]

This understanding of the meaning of "Malay" in Malaysia has led to the creation of an ethnoreligious identity,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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 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.[6][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, 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 millennia 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.[7]

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.[8]

See also[edit]