Malaysia is a Southeast Asian federalconstitutional monarchy. It is made up of thirteen states and three federal territories and has an area of 330,803 square kilometers (127,720 square miles), divided by the South China Sea into two almost equal-sized areas, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo). Peninsular Malaysia is bordered by Thailand on both land and sea, as well as by Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia on the sea. East Malaysia is bounded on land and sea by Brunei and Indonesia, as well as by the Philippines and Vietnam. Kuala Lumpur serves as the capital, while Putrajaya serves as the federal government’s seat. Malaysia is the 44th most populated nation in the world, with a population of over 30 million. Tanjung Piai, Malaysia, is the southernmost point of continental Eurasia. Malaysia, located in the tropics, is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations, home to a significant variety of endemic species.
Malaysia derives from the Malay kingdoms that existed in the region prior to the country being annexed by the British Empire in the 18th century. The Straits Settlements were the first British possessions, and their creation was followed by the Malay kingdoms becoming British protectorates. Peninsular Malaysia’s territories were initially united in 1946 as the Malayan Union. Malaya was reorganized in 1948 as the Federation of Malaya, and gained independence on 31 August 1957. On 16 September 1963, Malaya was unified with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore. Singapore was ejected from the federation less than two years later, in 1965.
The nation is ethnically and culturally diverse, which plays a significant influence in politics. The majority of the population is Malay, with significant minorities of Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, and indigenous peoples. The constitution proclaims Islam to be the official religion while allowing non-Muslims religious freedom. The political system is heavily influenced by the Westminster parliamentary system, while the judicial system is founded on common law. The monarch, also known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is the head of state. Every five years, he is elected king from among the nine Malay states’ hereditary rulers. The prime minister is the head of government.
Malaysia has had one of the finest economic histories in Asia since independence, with its GDP increasing at an average of 6.5 percent per year for almost 50 years. Historically, the economy has been fueled by natural resources, but it is growing in areas like as research, tourism, trade, and medical tourism. Malaysia now boasts a newly industrialized market economy, ranking third in Southeast Asia and 29th globally. It is a founding member of ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Malaysia comprises two geographical regions, the Peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia, separated by the South China Sea.
The Malay Peninsula (Semenanjung Malaysia) encompasses the entire Malay Peninsula located between Thailand and Singapore and are also known as West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat) or slightly archaic Malaya (Tanah Melayu). It is home to the majority of Malaysia’s population, the capital and largest city of Kuala Lumpur and is generally more economically developed. The Malaysian peninsula consists of flat areas on the east and west coast, separated by a mountain range called Banjaran Titiwangsa.
About 800 km east of the Malaysian Peninsula lies East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur). East Malaysia occupies the northern part of the island of Borneo, which is shared with Indonesia and tiny Brunei. Much of the development in East Malaysia is concentrated in the cities of Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu. Outside the big cities and small towns there is an impenetrable jungle where once headhunters roamed and coastal plains rose to mountains. East Malaysia is rich in natural resources and the hinterland of Malaysia is rich in industry and tourism.
Malaysia is a cosmopolitan and multicultural society. While Malaysians form a 52% majority, 27% of Malaysians are Chinese (who are particularly visible in the cities), 9% are Indian, 12% are members of the indigenous people (often called Orang Asli, Malay for “original people”) and there is a diverse grouping of 1.5% “others”, including Thai communities in northern border states and the Portuguese clan in Malacca. The majority of the population (including virtually all Malaysians and a significant minority of Indians) adheres to Islam, the official religion, and there are significant minorities practicing Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and animism.
Malaysia shares many cultural similarities with its neighbors Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei due to its common history. Since the first great kingdoms in the region were Hindu kingdoms with much influence from India, Malay culture has significant Indian influences. This is most evident in Malay cuisine with its relatively heavy use of curries, although local rather than Indian spices are used, meaning that Malay curries often have a unique local flavor that is different from their Indian counterparts. Malaysia’s minorities continue to cultivate their own culture, with Chinese and Indian communities continuing to preserve the traditions that originated in their ancestral homelands.
In the 2010 census, Malaysia counted 28,334,135 people, making it the 42nd most populous country. 91.8 percent of the population are Malaysian citizens. Malaysian citizens are divided according to ethnicity, with 67.4 percent being considered bumiputera. The largest group of bumiputera are Malaysians, who are defined in the constitution as Muslims who practice Malay customs and culture. They play a dominant political role. Bumiputera status is also granted to certain non-Malayan indigenous peoples, including ethnic Thais, Khmer, Khams and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. Non-Malayan bumiputera represent approximately half of the Sarawak population and approximately two-thirds of the Sabah population. Indigenous groups also exist in significantly smaller numbers on the peninsula, from where they are collectively recognized as Orang Asli. The laws on who gets bumiputera status vary between states.
Other minorities lack bumiputera status. 24.6 percent of the population is of Chinese descent, while those of Indian descent make up 7.3 percent of the population. The Chinese have historically been dominant in the business and trade community and make up a large part of the population of Penang. Immigrants from India, most of them Tamils, came to Malaysia in the early 19th century. Citizenship of Malaysia is not granted automatically for those who were born in Malaysia, but is given to a child who is born outside Malaysia from two Malaysian parents. Dual national citizenship is not permitted. Citizenship in the states of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is different from citizenship on the Malaysian peninsula for immigration purposes. Every citizen receives a biometric smart chip ID card called MyKad at the age of 12 and must carry it with them at all times.
The education system provides non-compulsory kindergarten education, followed by six years of compulsory primary education and five years of optional secondary education. The schools in the primary school system are divided into two categories: national elementary school that teach in Malay and elementary school that teach in Chinese or Tamil. Secondary education lasts five years. In the last year of secondary education, students take the Malaysian Education Certificate exam. Since the introduction of the enrollment program in 1999, students who have completed the 12-month program at enrollment colleges can enroll in local universities. However, only 10 percent of places in the enrollment system are open to non-Bumiputera students.
Infant mortality in 2009 was 6 deaths per 1000 births, and life expectancy at birth in 2009 was 75 years. With the goal of making Malaysia a medical tourism destination, 5 percent of the development budget of the state social sector is spent on health care. Population is mostly concentrated on the Malaysian peninsula, which is home to 20 million out of roughly 28 million Malaysians. About 70 % of the population is urban residents. Kuala Lumpur is the capital and largest city of Malaysia and the most important trade and financial center. Putrajaya, a specially built city built in 1999, is the seat of government, as many executive and judicial departments of the federal government have been relocated there to reduce the growing congestion in Kuala Lumpur. Due to the growth of labor-intensive industries, the country is estimated to employ over 3 million migrant workers. About 10 percent of the population. NGOs based in Sabah have estimated that out of the 3 million people that comprise the population of Sabah, approximately 2 million can be considered illegal immigrants. There are approximately 171,500 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. Approximately 79,000 of this population were born in Burma, while 72,400 of them came from the Philippines and approximately 17,700 from Indonesia.
The Malaysian constitution clearly indicates that they guarantee freedom of religion and at the same time make Islam the state religion. According to the 2010 population and housing census, ethnicity and religious beliefs correlate strongly. About 61.3% of the country’s population practice Islam, 19.8% of the population practice Buddhism, 9.2% are Christians, 6.3% are Hindu and 1.3% are practicing Confucianism, Taoism and other Chinese traditional religions. 0.7% declared no religion and the remaining 1.4% practiced other religions or gave no information. Sunni Islam of the Shafi’ischool of Jurisprudence is the predominant sector of Islam in Malaysia, compared to 18% non-denominational Muslims.
The Malay Constitution clearly defines the meaning of “Malay”, considering the fact that Malaysians are Muslims, regularly speaking Malay, practices Malay customs and lives or has ancestors in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. Statistics from the 2010 census show that 83.6% of the Chinese population identify themselves as Buddhists, with a significant number of followers belonging to Taoism (3.4%) and Christianity (11.1%), as well as small Hui Muslim communities in areas such as Penang. The majority of the Indian population follows Hinduism (86.2 %), with a significant minority identifying themselves as Christians (6.0 %) or Muslims (4.1 %). The predominant religion of the non-Malayan Bumiputera population is Christianity (46.5 %), and the remaining 40.4 % identify themselves as Muslims.
Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of the courts of Syariah in matters affecting their religion. Islamic judges are expected to follow the Shafi’i School of Law of Islam, which is Malaysia’s main Madh’hab. The jurisdiction of the courts in Syariah is limited to Muslims, including in matters such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, apostasy, religious conversion and custody. No other crimes or civil offences fall under the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts, which have a similar hierarchy to the civil courts. Although the civil courts are the highest courts in the country, they do not hear matters related to Islamic practices.