Religion in Malaysia

Founded on a secular constitution with Islam as the 'symbolic' national religion, Malaysia is a fairly moderate Muslim country.
Founded on a secular constitution with Islam as the 'symbolic' national religion, Malaysia is a fairly moderate Muslim country.

Situated between devoutly buddhist Thailand and largely Islamic Indonesia, Malaysia is a country that combines the state religion of Islam with a fairly secular culture. Although sixty percent of Malaysia's population is Muslim and places of worship are a frequent sight in the country, people that follow another religion, or that follow no religion, will have no issues traveling in Malaysia.

Founded on a secular constitution with Islam as the 'symbolic' national religion, Malaysia is a fairly moderate Muslim country. Islamic iconography and literature are used in the Malaysian flag and in a range of national documents, forming an important part of national identity. Despite this, most of Malaysia's legal code, at least for non-Muslims, is based on the former British legal system.

Around sixty percent of the Malaysian population are Muslims, including all ethnic Malays and a variety of Malaysian residents from other cultures. Malaysian Muslims follow a variety of Islamic laws and deal with their legal affairs through an entirely separate court system from the remainder of the country, which is governed by a secular, non-religious court system and constitution.

It's important to note that Muslim visitors to Malaysia are also governed by these laws, and may be legally punished for breaking them – acts like consuming alcohol or pork are dealt with through the Muslim court system. For non-Muslim visitors, the Muslim courts are of no concern and will not be of any importance during your time in the country.

Due to its large Chinese population Buddhism is also popular in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, and throughout Peninsular Malaysia as a whole.
Due to its large Chinese population Buddhism is also popular in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, and throughout Peninsular Malaysia as a whole.

Freedom of religion is allowed in Malaysia and visitors that wish to practice their own religions will have no trouble doing so. Due to its large Chinese and Indian populations, two of the popular minor religions in Malaysia include Buddhism and Hinduism. Both of these religions are popular in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, and throughout Peninsular Malaysia as a whole.

There is a minority Christian community in Malaysia, particularly in the northern area of Peninsular Malaysia. Around ten percent of the Malaysian population is Christian, with areas that were a major point of Portuguese colonization – such as Malacca and Penang – home to large communities and many places of worship.

It's worth noting that there are restrictions on Christian activity in Malaysian Borneo, which is one of the country's most devoutly Muslim regions. However, these mostly concern church officials and are designed to prohibit the act of 'recruiting' from Islamic communities. As such, they're unlikely to affect any visitors looking to quietly practice their faith.

Finally, several smaller minority religions including Sikhism and Baha'i exist in Malaysia, although they generally have a very small presence outside of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia's Jewish community, which was once centered in Penang during the late 20th century, has declined substantially and now has no dedicated place of worship.

As in many other multicultural countries, religion in Malaysia is spread throughout different ethnic communities and different parts of the country. Major population centers such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang are significantly more tolerant than rural parts of the country, and visitors from non-Muslim religions will likely feel more comfortable openly practicing their religions here than elsewhere.

While its Islamic courts and 'rehabilitation camps' for skeptical Malay Muslims may raise eyebrows for Western visitors, Malaysia is a fairly tolerant and secular nation. If you're staying in a major city or popular tourist destination, practicing your religion should be no issue whatsoever. From historic churches to beautiful mosques and temples, Malaysia's religion is an important part of its identity, but it's not a part that will oppress or endanger foreign visitors.