What Should I Know About Malaysia?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Malaysia is a large Islamic country in Southeast Asia. All told it covers 127,000 square miles (330,000 sq. km), making it a bit larger than Italy. It consists of two main parts: peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. The peninsula is a part of mainland Asia, sharing a border with Thailand. Malaysian Borneo is part of the large island of Borneo — sharing that island with Brunei and Indonesian Borneo. These two large sections are separated by the South China Sea.

Between the peninsula and the island of Sumatra lies the Strait of Malacca, arguably the most important shipping lane in the world. It is through this channel that an enormous amount of goods are transported from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean — and therefore from India to China and Indonesia. The Strait of Malacca is, as a result, one of the most heavily pirated sections of water in the world, although piracy does appear to be on the decline with the intervention of various navies.


The area that is now Malaysia was once part of a much larger Malay group, which included many of the islands now a part of the nation of Indonesia. For thousands of years this area has been an important location in the world, as it linked so many of the great civilizations through its important shipping lanes. It was probably first settled some 60,000 years ago. Around 300 BCE India began taking an interest in Malaysia, both for its resources and as a meeting point with Chinese traders. Buddhism and Hinduism therefore became established, and held on through various Empires until about 1400 AD, when Islam became the dominant religion. During the era of European conquest the area was squabbled over by various colonial powers, with the artificial division created by the Dutch and the British having perhaps the most lasting impact, separating what is now Indonesia from the rest of Malaysia.

The modern state of Malaysia was created in 1963, after having officially declared independence in 1957. While the country for this period was relatively free and open as a society, this came to a fairly abrupt end in 1969. Following brutal race riots and subsequent state crackdowns, the government of Malaysia adopted a "coalition" system which effectively has imposed one-party rule. The nation is comprised of just over 50% ethnic Malay, with the rest of the population consisting primarily of Chinese, Indians, and various indigenous groups. The nation is quite religiously diverse, with about 60% of the population subscribing to Islam, 20% to Buddhism, 10% to Christianity, and just over 6% to Hinduism. Even with this diversity, however, the country remains an Islamic nation, ruled by sharia law, with a number of restrictions on the free practice of religion — particularly in some states.

Economically, the country flourished following the state’s consolidation of power, with its economy growing by leaps and bounds until the East Asian Financial Crisis caused a substantial slowdown. That bump notwithstanding, Malaysia’s economy continues to grow slowly, and the country offers many excellent opportunities for visitors.


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Post 3

Muslims are governed by Shariah only in marriage and family matters. The rest is by civil law derived from England.

Post 1

Malaysia is not 'ruled by shariah law'; only the Muslims in Malaysia are subject to shariah law.

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