Islamic Civilization in Malaysia

This study covers the often-pressed subject of the role of Islam in the culture of Malaysia and within the everyday lives of its population. Malaysia is predominantly an Islamic country where the majority, i. e. 60%, of the population are Muslims. The other main faiths include Buddhists 19%, Christians 9%, Hindus 6%, and Chinese 4. 5%, with the rest having minor (or being without) religions. While Malaysia has a multi-cultural population, there is good tolerance between all major faiths, which co-exist in harmony.

Background It is most commonly reasoned that Islam first arrived in Malaysia with Sultan Muzaffar Shah I of Kedah (12th century), the first ruler to be known to convert to Islam after being introduced to it by Indian traders, who themselves were recent converts. During the 12th century AD, when Indian Muslim traders stepped on Malaysian soil, people of Malaysia and Indonesia adopted and absorbed the religion peacefully. By the 15th and 16th centuries it was the majority faith of the Malay people.

Meanwhile, Malaysia developed politically into its recognized nine constituent states, namely Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Kedah, Perak, Perlis, Selangor, Johor and Negeri Sembilan. Initially, the draft Constitution of Malaysia did not specify any official religion for the overall State. However, the rulers of the nine individual states felt that it was appropriate that Islam should be the official religion, collectively across all states of the developing country. The Malaysian states have constitutional monarchs or sultans.

These rulers still maintain authority over religious affairs of the states. The states of Penang, Malacca, Sarawak and Sabah do not have any sultan, but the king, Yang di-Pertuan Agong, plays the role of head of Islam in each of those states, as well as in each of the current Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya. To this day the doctrinal belief and faith, ethical and moral values of the Malays are based on Islam, which is a major contributor to the colour and cultural landscape of Malaysia.

Of course, other religious and cultural elements have been harmoniously integrated into the Malay way of life, to contribute to the overall philosophy of the country, which demonstrates that Malaysia is indeed Islamic but tolerant of other faiths in the modern age. Accounting for over half the population, the Islamic Malaysian’s are the country’s largest ethnic group and national language, dating back to its oldest indigenous generation, whom are known as “Bumiputera”, which translates as “sons” or “princes of the soil. Historically, Malaysian life was centered on the village, or “kampong”, where one would need not travel far to experience the indigenous cultural aspects of the religion. Of course nowadays this principle is equally valid in the growing cities and urbanization. Having Islam as the largest practiced religion, Malaysia still prides itself as being a multi-confessional country, with over 17 million Muslim advocates.

In comparison to the ethno-based Chinese and Hindu civilizations, and geo-based Christian civilization, Islamic civilization was the first that could be called universal, in the sense that it comprised people of many different races and cultures, on three different continents. The Islamic Civilization was European, having flourished for a long time in Spain and southern Italy, on the Russian steppes, and in the Balkan Peninsula. It was self-evidently Asian and also African, so it more than definitely unique. All the while Islamic civilization is promoted in Malaysia, it is widely elieved that the greatest success to its uprising is its inherent concept of fairness, understanding and the promotion of human and constructive relationships between religious and cultural indifferent people, derived from the Quran and the Prophetic system of governance. Till this day, the progression of Islamic faith still prevails amongst its Malaysian citizens. Islamic Influence on Malay Culture The religion itself has not only enlightened its followers, but also has introduced many significant transformations into the Malay civilisation, society, and culture.

Islam can be considered to be the prime, and underlying, influence of the development of Malaysia over the centuries, eventually into the modern day. The population has been united so that all live and prosper peacefully, regardless of origin or ethnic background. That unity has stood the test of time against any racial or ethnic discrimination, but did contribute to the mutual tolerance and understanding, and thereby integration, of various racial and ethnic groups such as Arabs, Persians, Turks, Africans, Indian and South-East Asian, including Malaysia.

In Malaysia, the diverse ethnic groups that embrace Islam emphasize the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, regardless of tribe, creed or language. The notion is universal across Malaysia, and actively encourages learning and development of individuals through Islamic study while supporting science and technological development for the benefit of the population as a whole. Indeed Islam is not limited to the Malay mainland, but is prevalent throughout northern Sumatra.

Also it is predominant in nearby Java, Indonesia, southern Thailand and the southern Philippines, which enjoy good, peaceful relationships with Malaysia. Cultural-Islamic Fusion in Malay Rituals, Practices and Festivals Most Malaysians practice the Islamic rituals of: I. Prayer and affirmation of Allah as the One God and Prophet Muhammad as the Messenger of Allah. II. Five obligatory daily prayers, and the significant Friday prayer. III. Ramadan (fasting for one month). IV. Donation of alms, or zakat and fitrah. V.

Pilgrimage to Mecca. The Malay understanding of Islam is based on the Sunni tradition. The most authoritative guide to the practices of prayer including the various post-prayer rituals, and supplications, is the teaching and writings of Sheikh Daud al-Fattani, entitled Munyat al-Musalli. Thus, the faith is disseminated and practiced throughout the region. Most Malaysians, to an extent that mosques and prayer houses are usually full, observe the Friday congregational prayers, and the Tarawih prayer during Ramadan.

Also, people will celebrate auspicious occasions by going to the mosques or musalla early in the morning, then later visiting their relatives and friends. During the two Eid celebrations, especially the Eidi l-Fitri that is considered to be the day of feasting after a month fasting period, people take much pride in proving much food that can be enjoyed by all visitors as they open their doors for “open house” celebration with family and friends, when even strangers are welcome. “Malay” ethnicity comprises the majority of the Malaysian population, providing a significant impact to the national culture.

Therefore, when there is a celebration celebrated by the Malays, it is usually enjoyed by the entire nation. Consequently, the annual monthly period of Ramadan is a good time for Malaysia, where those local or visiting, can benefit and enjoy from its culture. The annual Eid Il-Fitr period changes every year, in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar. While such tradition is deeply historical, the younger generation nowadays still appreciates the value of celebrating Eid Il-Fitr.

Malaysia’s commercial and technical development in modern times is fast paced, however, all Malaysians, and their guests, can see and be proud that the religious tradition has also developed to provide a fusion of culture and religion that is enlightening and serving modern needs. Islam and Multicultural in History The development and proclamation of Islamic culture has made significant contribution to the development of the worldwide civilization, including sciences, technologies, ethics etc.

In modern times, Islamic civilization as such, with its inherent traits, continues to influence scientists and scholars in parallel to their prime disciplines. Islam and its Influence on Local Cultures Islam positively nourishes and enriches the culture of its disciples. It regulates the both national and localized culture, the result of which is that people retain their own culture, regardless of specific geographical origin, yet they easily and happily accommodate the Islam way of life.

Islam has justified influence on national legislation and laws, providing for development and protection of individuals regardless of gender, while maintaining the “Malaysian” ethnicity and associated culture. Wherever one looks in Malaysia, there is evidence of Islamic faith and the associated way of life. This is exhibited and ranges from governmental regime to individuals’ attitudes including personal relationships and interactions and food. Also there is influence in business and commerce, e. g. Islamic financing, and to some extent in architecture.

It is fair to say that Islam is a common thread throughout Malaysian existence and identity. Islamic Art in Malaysia Islamic art can be traced back to as long ago as the seventh century in the Middle East. Aspects of Islamic art forms can be seen in metal-works, fabric, pottery, canvas oils and paints, through to its impressive writing style or calligraphy. Use of color and detail presents a picture that not only looks attractive, but also makes one think and inquire deeper. Throughout the ages the Sultans, allowing them to be used in the architecture or buildings of that period, encouraged these art forms.

Islamic art can also be found in decoration and furnishings, which serve to reinforce educational and spiritual purposes. Many of the finest examples of Islamic Art can be seen in Malaysia, through its architecture and picturesque skyline scattered with decorative domes. Here, Islamic art is a part of everyday life. Islamic art is essentially an art form that has survived the test of time through its continuous updating and evolution. It is used as a tool for increasing tourism, and an appreciation of Islamic conservatism, as most of the tourist sites are highly embellished with forms of Islamic art.

Whichever form of Islamic Art one is exposed to, it should be borne in mind that each piece shows a celebration of daily life. It opens the doorway to true beauty and a way to discover the rich history and culture. The experience of Islamic Art leaves its brilliant use of color, design and form engraved in the beholders mind. There are a variety of Malay Islamic Performing arts practices in Malaysia. Many a time, these Malay Islamic Performing arts spread sparsely to even the Southern Thai. This is due to the fact that Malays are the most dominant ethnic group in Southern Thailand.

Although it is not deemed necessary for students to attend such schools, the state Johor has made it mandatory for all Muslim children aged six to twelve to attend the schools. Being a fundamental part of the Malay-Muslim community, Islamic schools have played an outsized role in the primary education; even long before Malaysia sought out its independence. Before the British initiated mass education, traditional Islamic schools, or ‘Pondok’, were the only system of edifying the citizens of Malaysia. Islamic Movement – Tajdid and Islah Islam is a way of life, and it is not merely a religion.

Islam is viewed from three dimensions, which are Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Islam consists of five pillars, and it is mandatory that every Muslim must comply to:

  • The witness, Syahadah, which there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is the last Messenger of Allah.
  • Praying five times a day.
  • Donation of Zakat.
  • Fasting during Ramadan.

If able to, then to performing Hajj. Secondly, a Muslim will progress to the second stage of Islam that is called an Imam, which means of affirming to:

  • The existence of Allah
  • His angels
  • His books
  • His messengers
  • The Last Day (Qiyamat) Affirming the good and bad (Qada and Qadar)

Meanwhile, “Ihsan is to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you. ” Conclusion In this summation, the ancestries and development of the Islamic civilization has been examined – both the religion and the community. It is evident that the teachings of the religion have enabled the Malays to unify and expand across the country in an astonishingly brief period. It can be seen that the Islamic faith is not only a religion but also a way of life for the population of Malaysia, providing spiritual fulfillment and a real sense of purpose.

It is prevalent across the whole of society who embraces the faith openly and enjoys its benefits openly. Without Islam, modern day Malaysia would not exist in its current form and considering how well Malaysia has developed and prospered, it maintains the sense of decorum, fairness and largely benefit from the faith that the country strives upon each day. To many believers, Islam has led the Malaysians in authority, stability and extent of government, in enhancement of manners, knowledge and philosophy.


  1. The Role of Islamic Civilization in Fostering Inter-religious Understanding, online, retrieved 8 November 2012, from http://www. ikim. gov. my/v5/index. php? lg=1&opt=com_article&grp=3&sec=&key=1067&cmd=resetall
  2. Spread of Islam, online, retrieved 8 November 2012, from http://www. cyberistan. org/islamic/mmalay. htm
  3. The Coming of Islam, online, retrieved 9 November 2012, from http://www. sabrizain. org/malaya/islam. htm
  4. Strengthening Islamic cultural heritage of the Malays in Malaysia in the post global society, online, retrieved 9 November 2012, http://umkeprints. umk. edu. my/586/

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