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Map of Malaysia.
I lived in Malaysia for three years in the kind of uncertainty westerners face only in times of war. The five daily calls to prayer are the only predictable events in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The power cuts are frequent, the traffic jams continuous. Islam is the official religion, but materialism is the ruling creed. … Islam is practised with ritual precision and with perfect reverence for its Arabian dimension. All Malays, including the royal family, look up to Arabs, the white men of the East.
Shabbir Akhtar,Wikipedia British Muslim philosopher[1]

Malaysia (also known as Bolehland,[2] meaning roughly 'can-do land', also Malaysia boleh!), officially known as the Federation of Malaysia,[3][4] is the name of that country that makes up the lands between Thailand and Singapore, with a chunk of BorneoWikipedia thrown in too. Malaysia has a peculiar political atmosphere that is perplexing even to locals. There are many ethnic groups, both indigenous and immigrant (or descended from immigrants).

Generally overshadowed by its neighbors (not Brunei though), it is best known internationally for its flag carrier Malaysia AirlinesWikipedia suffering double air crashes (MH370 and MH17) in 2014 or the 1MDB scandalWikipedia involving its former prime minister Najib Razak.Wikipedia

Religion, ethnicity, and law[edit]

The National Mosque of Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur.

Muslims make up about 60% of the population, including — by constitutional definition — the entire Malay ethnic group (about 50%). The next largest ethnic group is the Chinese (about 25%), who, like Chinese people elsewhere, observe a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and other traditions. The Indian minority (about 7% of the population) includes Hindus and Muslims. Some 9% of the population is Christian. Malaysia is also the only country where candidates must state their ethnicity and religious views before sitting for a public examination.[citation needed]

Malaysia's laws are a strange mixture of secular and religious, with different standards applied to various groups. The constitution requires that every ethnic Malay be a Muslim — but the other groups can believe what they like. Muslims are legally subject to sharia law, meaning that activities such as premarital sex[notes 1] and imbibing alcohol — which are perfectly normal among the Chinese community, some of the Indian community, and tourists — are legally punishable for ethnic Malays and other Muslims. Those wishing to abandon Islam or convert to another faith may still be referred to a sharia court for punishment since the secular and sharia court might not recognize the conversion. They could be held liable for the crime of apostasy. Insulting Islam can lead to a prison sentence.[5]

The secular and sharia courts practice corporal punishment (by caning) for some offenses. Capital punishment (by hanging) is the usual sentence for serious crimes and is mandatory for convicted murderers.

In 2014, Malaysia banned the use of word "Allah" for non-Muslims.[6]

Bumiputra (de facto Apartheid)[edit]

For more information, see: Apartheid in Malaysia

Though the word Bumiputra (or Bumiputera, literally "son of the land") does not appear in the constitution, the word in Malaysian politics refers specifically to Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.[7] It effectively refers to ethnic Malays and indigenous people of Sarawak and Sabah — in contrast to ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indians, and Orang Asli. The Orang Asli are the indigenous people of the Malay Peninsula and are among the poorest and most vulnerable people in Malaysia.[8]

In contrast, ethnic Malays, who represent half the population, and most of the political power, have a constitutionally-defined program working in their favor. Some government departments have included Orang Asli as a protected class,[9][10] but this is not constitutionally enshrined. Privileges for the Bumiputra include a minimum of 30% Bumiputra ownership of stocks listed on the stock exchange, housing preferences, government contract preferences, education preferences, and automobile import preferences; in effect, institutionalized racism. Some, if not all, of these preferences have led to corruption.[11]

LGBT rights[edit]

LGBT rights are unrecognized in Malaysia. The government retains the colonial-era penal code criminalizing sodomy, and attitudes towards the LGBT community are shaped by Islamic mores.

In 1994, the government banned anyone homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual from appearing in the state-controlled media. In 2001, former Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that the country would deport any visiting foreign cabinet ministers or diplomats who are gay. Many similar examples could be cited, but you get the picture.[12]

Najib made clear in August 2015 that he believed Malaysia should not support LGBT rights. Najib stated that his administration would do its best to uphold human rights but only within the confines of Islam and that Malaysia could not defend the more "extreme aspect of human rights", such as gay, bisexual, and transsexual rights. This prompted Human Rights Watch to suggest that Malaysia withdraw from the United Nations if the government was not serious about upholding human rights for all.[13]


Since 2008, Malaysia has been regarded as a flawed democracy by Democracy Index. Even the king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is elected (not by popular vote, but on a rotating basis determined by his fellow sultans and rajas).[notes 2]

Until 2018, the prime minister has always been a member of the United Malays National Organisation,Wikipedia the party in power from independence in 1957 until 2018. Members of the opposition, including one who has held office as lofty as Deputy Prime Minister, can expect imprisonment and beatings by the police as a reward for their efforts.[notes 3] Anwar has now been elected as Prime Minister in 2022 after a shake up of the political power of multiple Malaysian parties/a political crisis since an investigation into the former Prime Minister Najib's embezzlement and Mahathir's re-election and resignation.[14]

Secular organizations in Malaysia[edit]

Due to the sparse population of atheists and agnostics in Malaysia, there is currently no official secular organization in Malaysia. There are two Facebook pages for secular Malaysians: Malaysian Atheists & Secular Humanists (MASH)[15] and Malaysian Humanist and Rationalist Movement (MyHARAM).[16]


On 13 May 1969, an opposition party won the election for the control of the state of Selangor. During the party's victory celebration, their supporters clashed with the ruling party's supporters, who also insisted on doing their own celebration. Many Malaysians (mostly ethnic Chinese) died during the incident.[17]

In 2007, the first rally for free and fair elections (BersihWikipedia) was held in Kuala Lumpur, with 30,000 attendees. The event was broken up violently by the police.[18] Subsequent Bersih rallies were organized in 2011, 2012, and 2015. The latter passed peacefully and drew a crowd estimated as high as 250,000, focusing on calling for Prime Minister Najib's resignation in light of recent corruption scandals.[19]

In 2014, after Germany defeated hosts Brazil 7-1 in the men's soccer World Cup, a Malaysian Member of Parliament, Bung Mokhtar Radin, tweeted, "WELL DONE..BRAVO...LONG LIVE HITLER."[20] He then doubled down by refusing to apologize for what might have been the oddest application yet of Godwin's Law.[21]

On 8 March 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared off course. The crash site has yet to be found, though fragments of the plane have been found.[22] On 17 July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian forces while flying over eastern Ukraine.[23]

Bomoh woo[edit]

A bomoh is a Malay word for a shaman, and initially, they mainly were traditional herbalists/healers with a bit of astrology and geomancy thrown into the mix. Until the Islamic revival started in the 1970s, bomohs went quietly about their woo-tastic business, pretty much as they had done for centuries. The serious young Islamic Malay men then began to view bomohs as deviant from the Muslim faith, and today many are viewed with suspicion (a classic case of being right for all the wrong reasons).

A notable charlatan is Raja Bomoh (king of the bomohs), who shot to worldwide attention in the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disaster. He attempted to locate the missing plane with bamboo binoculars looking inside a traditional fish trap, to great media fanfare. Days later, this was followed by the televisual ritual of banging two coconuts together. The result? (Aside from Da Fuck?) He proclaimed that the plane was suspended in the air somewhere between three "locations" — the Philippines, the South China Sea, and somewhere else. And we can't find it because it was hidden by the Bunian peopleWikipedia — a supernatural race. That cleared it all up.[24][25]

Food and culture[edit]

Food is diverse in Malaysia. Local Favourites include assam laksa, nasi goreng, sambal ikan, roti canai, and bak kut teh. Seafood cuisine is popular in Malaysia as well. Food hygiene is a major concern in Malaysia as many local food operators are not subject to as much scrutiny as their counterparts in Singapore.

Malaysia has a diverse culture of Chinese, Indians, and Malays. The Chinese celebrate their holidays together with Indians and Malays, and most of the populace is cohesive and united. Certain factions of ultranationalist Malay groups believe that Malaysia should only have Malays, but they are generally concentrated in suburbs rather than cities.

Prostitution in Malaysia[edit]

Prostitution is considered Haram (forbidden) and therefore illegal in Malaysia. However, Malaysia's Chinese and Indian communities are exempted from such rules so long they do not provide their services to the Muslim communities or dress provocatively in public. Many spas located in hotels provide package services that include an hour of massage that ends with sex. Pubs in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, and Penang also have prostitutes. Some Malays work in this industry, but it is rare to find any, as the punishment is usually death by hanging. Most prostitutes are from China, Vietnam, or Thailand.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. or even 'close proximity' (khalwat) between the sexes
  2. Malaysian royalty enjoyed complete immunity from legal prosecution until the 1993 amendment of the constitution following some particularly egregious abuses by royalty.
  3. Including an anti-homosexual witch-hunt.Wikipedia


  1. Perspective of an Ex-defender of the Faith by Shabbir Akhtar (22 August 1997) Voice of Dharma.
  2. 5 Traits Of 'Bolehland' That Could Work In Europe by Red Bull (January 13, 2016) Red Bull
  3. Understanding the Federation of Malaysia. The Star. 18 October 2015. Archived from the original on 5 November 2015.
  4. [1] Malaysia's Constitution of 1957 with Amendments through 2007
  5. Malaysian Singer Arrested for “Insulting Islam” in Video Intended to Promote Religious Harmony
  6. Malaysia court rules non-Muslims cannot use 'Allah', BBC, 14 October 2013
  7. The full Malaysian Federal Constitution
  8. Study and Review of the Socio-Economic Status of Aboriginal Peoples (Orang Asli) in Peninsular Malaysia for the Formulation of a National Development Plan for the Orang Asli
  9. Being ‘mixed’ is no privilege
  10. Orang Asli not Bumiputera, say experts
  11. The NEP and corruption: Why Malaysia is lagging behind
  12. Old poison, new bottle by Charles Santiago (April 13, 2012) Free Malaysia Today (archived from June 9, 2012).
  13. Quit UN if not keen to defend human rights for all, watchdog tells Putrajaya
  14. "Malaysia election 2022: Anwar Ibrahim named PM, swearing in at 5pm". South China Morning Post. 24 November 2022. 
  15. Malaysian Atheists & Secular Humanists - MASH Facebook.
  16. - Malaysian Humanist and Rationalist Movement Facebook.
  17. May 13, 1969: Truth and reconciliation
  18. Malaysia police break up protest
  19. A sea of yellow in Kuala Lumpur as protesters demand Najib's resignation
  20. WELL DONE..BRAVO...LONG LIVE HITLER... by Bung Mokhtar Radin (9:30 PM · Jul 8, 2014) Twitter (archived from September 5, 2022).
  21. Stephanie Burnett, "A Malaysian Legislator Tweets Praise to Hitler After Germany's Soccer Triumph," 'Time', July 9th, 2014. Accessed June 16th, 2019.
  22. Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappearance entry on Britannica Encyclopedia
  23. "Three men found guilty of murdering 298 people in shooting down of Flight MH17" - The Guardian
  24. Missing MH370: Bomoh vows result with fish trap hook, bamboo binocular
  25. Missing MAS flight: Shaman arrives to help find missing plane