Setting the scene Malaysia

With thanks to Wikipedia

Malaysia as a unified state did not exist until the mid 20th century. Before, a set of colonies were established by the United Kingdom from the late 18th century, and the western half of modern Malaysia was composed of several separate kingdoms. This group of colonies was known as British Malaya until its dissolution in 1946, when it was reorganized as the Federation of Malaya and later recognized as an independent nation in 1957. Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo and the Federation of Malaya joined to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963. The early years of the new union were marred by an armed conflict with Indonesia and the expulsion of Singapore. The Southeast Asian nation experienced an economic boom and underwent rapid development during the late 20th century. With a GDP per capita standing at USD13,000, it has, from time to time, been considered a newly industrialized country. As one of three countries that control the Strait of Malacca, international trade plays a large role in its economy. At one time, it was the largest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil in the world. Manufacturing has a large influence in the country's economy.

The population of Malaysia is approximately 25 million. The Malays forms the majority of the population while there are sizable Chinese and Indian communities. Islam is the largest as well as the official religion of the federation. The Malay language is the official language.

Malaysia is the founding member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations and participates in many international organizations such as the United Nations. As a former British colony, it is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is also a member of the Developing 8 Countries.


 

The word Malaysia is visible on a 1914 map published in Chicago, United States. The name "Malaysia" was adopted in 1963 when the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak formed a 14-state federation. Yet, the name itself had been vaguely used to refer to unspecified areas in Southeast Asia. A map published in 1914 in Chicago has the word Malaysia printed on it referring to certain territories within the Malay Archipelago. The Philippines once contemplated to name their state "Malaysia" but Malaysia adopted the name first in 1963 before the Philippines could act further on the matter. Other names were contemplated for the 1963 federation. Among them was Langkasuka; Langkasuka was an old kingdom located at the upper section of the Malay Peninsula in the first millennium of the common era.

History of Malaysia

Archaeological remains have been found throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. The Semang have a deep ancestry within the Malay Peninsula, dating to the initial settlement from Africa over 50,000 years ago. The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to Indochina. This is in agreement with the suggestion that they represent the descendants of early Austroasiatic speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago and coalesced with the indigenous population. The Aboriginal Malays are more diverse, and although they show some connections with island Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into island Southeast Asia.

Ptolemy showed the Malay Peninsula on his early map with a label that translates as "Golden Chersonese", the Straits of Malacca were referred to as "Sinus Sabaricus". From the mid to the late first millennium, much of the Peninsula as well as the Malay Archipelago were under the influence of Srivijaya.

The Buddhist kingdom of Ligor took control of Kedah shortly after, and its King Chandrabhanu used it as a base to attack Sri Lanka in the 11th century, an event noted in a stone inscription in Nagapattinum in Tamil Nadu and in the Sri Lankan chronicles, Mahavamsa. During the first millennium, the people of the Malay peninsula adopted Hinduism and Buddhism and the use of the Sanskrit language until they eventually converted to Islam.

A Famosa in Malacca. It was built by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

Kuala Lumpur was the capital of the Federated Malay States and is the current Malaysian capital.In the early 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate was established under a dynasty founded by Parameswara, a prince from Palembang with bloodline related to the royal house of Srivijaya, who fled from Temasek (now Singapore). Parameswara decided to establish his kingdom in Malacca after witnessing an astonishing incident where a white mouse deer kicked one of his hunting dogs. He took it as a sign of good luck and name his kingdom "Melaka" after the tree he was resting under. At its height, the sultanate controlled the areas which are now Peninsula Malaysia, southern Thailand (Patani), and the eastern coast of Sumatra. It existed for more than a century, and within that time period Islam spread to most of the Malay Archipelago. Malacca was the foremost trading port at the time in Southeast Asia.

The first evidence of Islam in the Malay peninsula dates from the 14th century in Terengganu, but according to the Kedah Annals, the 9th sultan of Kedah, Maharaja Derbar Raja, converted to Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. In 1511, Malacca was conquered by Portugal, which established a colony there. The sons of the last Sultan of Malacca established two sultanates elsewhere in the peninsula—the Sultanate of Perak to the north, and the Sultanate of Johor (originally a continuation of the old Malacca sultanate) to the south. After the fall of Malacca, three nations struggled for the control of Malacca Strait: the Portuguese (in Malacca), the Sultanate of Johor, and the Sultanate of Aceh. This conflict went on until 1641, when the Dutch (allied to the Sultanate of Johor) gained control of Malacca.

Britain established its first colony in the Malay peninsula in 1786, with the lease of the island of Penang to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah. In 1824, the British took control of Malacca following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which divided the Malay Archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone. In 1826, Britain established the crown colony of the Straits Settlements, uniting its three possessions in Malaya: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The Straits Settlements were administered under the East India Company in Kolkata until 1867, when they were transferred to the Colonial Office in London.

During the late 19th century, many Malay states decided to obtain British help in settling their internal conflicts. The commercial importance of tin mining in the Malay states to merchants in the Straits Settlements led to British government intervention in the tin-producing states in the Malay Peninsula. British gunboat diplomacy was employed to bring about a peaceful resolution to civil disturbances caused by Chinese gangsters and Malay gangsters, and the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 paved the way for the expansion of British influence in Malaya. By the turn of the 20th century, the states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak, and Negeri Sembilan, known together as the Federated Malay States (not to be confused with the Federation of Malaya), were under the de facto control of British Residents appointed to advise the Malay rulers. The British were "advisers" in name, but in reality they exercised substantial influence over the Malay rulers.

Following the Japanese Invasion of Malaya its occupation during World War II, popular support for independence grew. Post-war British plans to unite the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony called the Malayan Union foundered on strong opposition from the Malays, who opposed the emasculation of the Malay rulers and the granting of citizenship to the ethnic Chinese. The Malayan Union, established in 1946 and consisting of all the British possessions in Malaya with the exception of Singapore, was dissolved in 1948 and replaced by the Federation of Malaya, which restored the autonomy of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.

During this time, rebels under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party launched guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. The Malayan Emergency, as it was known, lasted from 1948 to 1960, and involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya. Against this backdrop, independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was granted on 31 August 1957.

In 1963, Malaya along with the then-British crown colonies of Singapore, Sabah (British North Borneo) and Sarawak formed Malaysia. The Sultanate of Brunei, though initially expressing interest in joining the Federation, withdrew from the planned merger due to opposition from certain segments of its population as well as arguments over the payment of oil royalties and the status of the Sultan in the planned merger.

Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city in MalaysiaThe early years of independence were marred by conflict with Indonesia (Konfrontasi) over the formation of Malaysia, Singapore's eventual exit in 1965, and racial strife in the form of racial riots in 1969. The Philippines also made an active claim on Sabah in that period based upon the Sultanate of Brunei's cession of its north-east territories to the Sulu Sultanate in 1704. The claim is still ongoing. After the May 13 racial riots of 1969, the controversial New Economic Policy—intended to increase proportionately the share of the economic pie of the bumiputras ("indigenous people", which includes the majority Malays, but not always the indigenous population) as compared to other ethnic groups—was launched by Prime Minister Abdul Razak. Malaysia has since maintained a delicate ethno-political balance, with a system of government that has attempted to combine overall economic development with political and economic policies that promote equitable participation of all races.

Between the 1980s and the mid 1990s, Malaysia experienced significant economic growth under the premiership of Mahathir bin Mohamad. The period saw a shift from an agriculture-based economy to one based on manufacturing and industry in areas such as computers and consumer electronics. It was during this period, too, that the physical landscape of Malaysia has changed with the emergence of numerous mega-projects. The most notable of these projects are the Petronas Twin Towers (at the time the tallest building in the world), KL International Airport (KLIA), North-South Expressway, the Sepang F1 Circuit, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), the Bakun hydroelectric dam and Putrajaya, a new federal administrative capital.

In the late 1990s, Malaysia was shaken by the Asian financial crisis as well as political unrest caused by the sacking of the deputy prime minister Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. In 2003, Dr Mahathir, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, retired in favour of his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. On November 2007 Malaysia was rocked by two anti-government rallies. The 2007 Bersih Rally numbering 40,000 strong was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 10 campaigning for electoral reform. It was precipitated by allegations of corruption and discrepancies in the Malaysian election system that heavily favor the ruling political party, Barisan Nasional, which has been in power since Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957. The 2007 HINDRAF rally was held in Kuala Lumpur on November 25. The rally organizer, the Hindu Rights Action Force, had called the protest over alleged discriminatory policies which favour ethnic Malays. The crowd was estimated to be between 5,000 to 30,000. In both cases the government and police were heavy handed and tried to prevent the gatherings from taking place.

 Politics of Malaysia

Malaysia PM's office, PutrajayaMalaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. The federal head of state of Malaysia is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected to a five-year term among the nine hereditary Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection.

The system of government in Malaysia is closely modeled on that of Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative, and the judiciary has been weakened by sustained attacks by the government during the Mahathir era. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-party coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly known as the Alliance).

Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. The bicameral parliament consists of the lower house, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat (literally the "Chamber of the People") and the upper house, the Senate or Dewan Negara (literally the "Chamber of the Nation").The 222-member House of Representatives are elected from single-member constituencies that are drawn based on population for a maximum term of five years. All 70 Senators sit for three-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, two representing the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, one each from federal territories of Labuan and Putrajaya, and 40 are appointed by the king. Besides the Parliament at the federal level, each state has a unicameral state legislative chamber (Malay: Dewan Undangan Negeri) whose members are elected from single-member constituencies. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2008.The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of Parliament and is responsible to that body.

Geography of Malaysia


 

Map of Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo)The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to often densely forested hills and mountains, the highest of which is Mount Kinabalu at 4,095.2 metres (13,435.7 ft) on the island of Borneo. The local climate is equatorial and characterised by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons. Putrajaya is the newly created administrative capital for the federal government of Malaysia, aimed in part to ease growing congestion within Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur remains the seat of parliament, as well as the commercial and financial capital of the country. Other major cities include George Town, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Miri, Alor Star, Malacca Town, and Klang.

Natural resources

Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals. In terms of agriculture, Malaysia is one of the top exporters of natural rubber and palm oil, which together with sawn logs and sawn timber, cocoa, pepper, pineapple and tobacco dominate the growth of the sector. Palm oil is also a major generator of foreign exchange.

Regarding forestry resources, it is noted that logging only began to make a substantial contribution to the economy during the nineteenth century. Today, an estimated 59% of Malaysia remains forested. The rapid expansion of the timber industry, particularly after the 1960s, has brought about a serious erosion problem in the country's forest resources. However, in line with the Government's commitment to protect the environment and the ecological system, forestry resources are being managed on a sustainable basis and accordingly the rate of tree felling has been on the decline.

In addition, substantial areas are being silviculturally treated and reforestation of degraded forest land is also being carried out. The Malaysian government provide plans for the enrichment of some 312.30 square kilometres (120.5 sq mi) of land with rattan under natural forest conditions and in rubber plantations as an inter crop. To further enrich forest resources, fast-growing timber species such as meranti tembaga, merawan and sesenduk are also being planted. At the same time, the cultivation of high-value trees like teak and other trees for pulp and paper are also encouraged. Rubber, once the mainstay of the Malaysian economy, has been largely replaced by oil palm as Malaysia's leading agricultural export.

Tin and petroleum are the two main mineral resources that are of major significance in the Malaysian economy. Malaysia was once the world's largest producer of tin until the collapse of the tin market in the early 1980s. In the 19th and 20th century, tin played a predominant role in the Malaysian economy. It was only in 1972 that petroleum and natural gas took over from tin as the mainstay of the mineral extraction sector. Meanwhile, the contribution by tin has declined. Petroleum and natural gas which were discovered in oil fields offshore Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu have contributed much to the Malaysian economy. Other minerals of some importance or significance include copper, bauxite, iron-ore and coal together with industrial minerals like clay, kaolin, silica, limestone, barite, phosphates and dimension stones such as granite as well as marble blocks and slabs. Small quantities of gold are produced.

Demographics of Malaysia

Masjid Jamek is one of the most recognizable mosques in Malaysia.Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the Malays making up the majority, close to 62% of the population. By constitutional definition, Malays are Muslim who practice Malay norms and culture. Therefore, technically, a Muslim of any race who practices Malay norms and culture can be considered a Malay and have equal rights when it comes to Malay rights as stated in the constitution. About 24% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 8% of the population. About 90% of the Indian community are Tamils but various other groups are also present, including Malayalis, Punjabis and Gujaratis. There are also various non-Malay peoples who are designated as indigenous, mostly in East Malaysia. These make up about 7% of the population.

Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of the state of Sarawak's population—constitute about 66% of Sabah's population—and also exist in much smaller numbers on the Peninsula, where they are collectively known as Orang Asli. The non-Malay indigenous population is divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general cultural similarities. Other Malaysians also include those of, inter alia, European, Middle Eastern, Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese descent. Europeans and Eurasians include British who colonised and settled in Malaysia and some Portuguese. Most of the Middle Easterners are Arab descent. A small number of Cambodians and Vietnamese settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees.

Population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the Malay Peninsula, while East Malaysia is relatively less populated.

Malaysia is a multi-religious society and Islam is the official religion. According to the Population and Housing Census 2000 figures, approximately 60.3 percent of the population practiced Islam; 19.2 percent Buddhism; 9.1 percent Christianity; and 6.3 percent Hinduism. The remaining 5 percent was accounted for by other faiths, including Animism, Shamanism, Sikhism, Bahá'í, Taoism, Confucianism, and other traditional Chinese religions. Until the twentieth century, most practiced traditional beliefs, which arguably still linger on to a greater degree than Malaysian officialdom is prepared to acknowledge.

Although the Malaysian constitution theoretically guarantees religious freedom, in practice the situation is not so simple. All ethnic Malays are Muslim as defined in the Malaysian constitution. Additionally, all non-Muslims who marry a Muslim must renounce their religion and convert to Islam. Meanwhile, non-Muslims experience restrictions in activities such as construction of religious buildings and the celebration of certain religious events in some states. Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Sharia courts when it comes to matters concerning their religion. The jurisdiction of Sharia court is limited only to Muslims over matters of Faith and Obligations as a Muslim, which includes marriage, inheritance, apostasy, conversion, and custody among others. Any other criminal or civil offences are not under the jurisdiction of the Sharia Courts. As a rule, the Civil Courts cannot overule any decision made by the Sharia Courts, not even the Federal Court. The Sharia Courts has a similar hierarchy to the Civil Courts.

As a legal matter, Muslims may not apostatise very freely, as doing so involves the Sharia court. The Sharia court is governed by judges who are trained in Sharia law. Generally, one who wishes to leave Islam makes a legal declaration, but this is still not recognised by the Malaysian civil courts. One has to obtain a declaration of apostasy from a Sharia court and the court will only grant the apostasy after the court is truly convinced that the petitioner no longer has faith in Islam.

Education in Malaysia

Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) is one of the earliest boarding schools to be established in British Malaya.

Most Malaysian children start schooling between the ages of three to six, in kindergarten. Most kindergartens are run privately, but there are a few government-operated kindergartens. Children begin primary schooling at the age of seven for a period of six years. There are two major types of government-operated or government-assisted primary schools. They are the national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan) which use Malay as the medium of instruction, and the national-type schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan) which use either Chinese or Tamil as the medium of instruction. Before progressing to the secondary level of education, students in Year 6 are required to sit for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), or Primary School Assessment Examination. An exam called Penilaian Tahap Satu (PTS), First Level Assessment, was used to measure the ability of bright students, and to allow them to move from Year 3 to 5, skipping Year 4. This exam was removed in 2001.

Secondary education in government secondary schools last for five years. Government secondary schools use Malay as the main medium of instruction. The only exceptions are the Maths and Science subjects as well as languages other than Malay. At the end of the third year or Form Three, students sit for the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR), Lower Secondary Assessment. The combination of subjects available to Form 4 students vary from one school to another. In the last year (Form 5), students sit for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Malaysian Certificate of Education, which is equivalent to the British Ordinary or 'O' Levels (now referred to as GCSE). The oldest in Malaysia is Penang Free School. Penang Free School is also the oldest school in South East Asia.

Mathematics and Science subjects in government primary and secondary schools such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry are taught in English. The reasoning was that students would no longer be hindered by the language barrier during their tertiary education in fields such as medicine and engineering.

There are also 60 Chinese Independent High Schools in Malaysia, where most subjects are taught in Chinese. Chinese Independent High Schools are monitored and standardised by the

Malaysia's secondary schools are grouped into a few types, namely national schools which include daily schools and religious schools, Chinese independent schools, technical schools, residential schools, Mara Junior Science College and private-funding schools such as religious schools, international schools and private schools.

Students who wish to enter public universities must complete one and a half more years of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), Malaysian Higher School Certificate; equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels.

As for tertiary education, there are public universities such as University of Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. In addition, five international reputable universities have set up their branch campuses in Malaysia since 1998. A branch campus can be seen as an ‘off-shore campus’ of the foreign university, which offers the same courses and awards as the main campus. Both local and international students can acquire these identical foreign qualifications in Malaysia for a cheaper price. The foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia are: Monash University Malaysia Campus, Curtin University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

Students also have the option of enrolling in private colleges after secondary studies. Most colleges have educational links with overseas universities especially in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Malaysian students abroad study mostly in the UK, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, and Japan.

Healthcare

Malaysian society places importance on the expansion and development of health care, putting 5% of the government social sector development budget into public health care—an increase of more than 47% over the previous figure. This has meant an overall increase of more than RM 2 billion. With a rising and aging population, the Government wishes to improve in many areas including the refurbishment of existing hospitals, building and equipping new hospitals, expansion of the number of polyclinics, and improvements in training and expansion of telehealth. Over the last couple of years they have increased their efforts to overhaul the systems and attract more foreign investment.

The Malaysian health care system requires doctors to perform a compulsory three years service with public hospitals to ensure the manpower of these hospitals is maintained. Recently foreign doctors have also been encouraged to take up employment here. There is still, however, a compound shortage of medical workforce, especially that of highly trained specialists resulting in certain medical care and treatment only available in large cities. Recent efforts to bring many facilities to other towns have been hampered by lack of expertise to run the available equipment made ready by investments.

The majority of private hospitals are in urban areas and, unlike many of the public hospitals, are equipped with the latest diagnostic and imaging facilities. Private hospitals have not generally been seen as an ideal investment—it has often taken up to ten years before companies have seen any profits. However, the situation has now changed and companies are now looking into this area again, particularly in view of the increasing interest by foreigners in coming to Malaysia for medical care and the recent government focus to develop the health tourism industry.

The Chinese control of the country's economy meanwhile, has been ceded largely in favour of the Bumiputras/Malays in many essential or strategic industries such as petroleum retailing, transportation, agriculture and etc. The minority of Indian descent has by and large been the most adversely affected by this policy. Indicators point to a higher incidence of crime and gang related activities among the Indians in recent years.

The rapid economic boom led to a variety of supply problems, however. Labour shortages soon resulted in an influx of millions of foreign workers, many illegal. Cash-rich PLCs and consortia of banks eager to benefit from increased and rapid development began large infrastructure projects. This all ended when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in the fall of 1997, delivering a massive shock to Malaysia's economy.

While the pace of development today is not as rapid, it is seen to be more sustainable. Although the controls and economic housekeeping may not have been the principal reason for recovery, there is no doubt that the banking sector has become more resilient to external shocks. The current account has also settled into a structural surplus, providing a cushion to capital flight. Asset prices are now a fraction of their pre-crisis heights.

Infrastructure

The total length of the Malaysian expressway network is 1,192 kilometres (740 miles). The network connects all major cities and conurbations such as Klang Valley, Johor Bahru and Penang to each other. The major expressway, the North-South Expressway spans from the northern and the southern tips of Peninsular Malaysia at Bukit Kayu Hitam and Johor Bahru respectively. It is a part of the Asian Highway Network, which also connects into Thailand and Singapore. Roads in the East Malaysia and the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia are still relatively undeveloped. Those are highly curved roads passing through mountainous regions and many are still unsealed, gravel roads. This has resulted in the continued use of rivers and the necessary use of airplanes as the main or alternative mode of transportation for the interior residents.

Train service in West Malaysia is operated by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railways) and has extensive railroads that connect all major cities and towns on the peninsular, including Singapore. There is also a short railway in Sabah operated by Sabah State Railway that mainly carries freight.

There are seaports throughout the country. The major ports are Port Klang and Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor. Other important ports can be found in Tanjung Kidurong, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Kuantan, Pasir Gudang, Penang, Miri, Sandakan and Tawau.

Airports are also found throughout the country. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is the main airport of the country. Other important airports include Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Penang International Airport, Kuching International Airport, Langkawi International Airport, and Senai International Airport. There are also airports in smaller towns, as well as small domestic airstrips in rural Sabah and Sarawak. There are daily flight services between West and East Malaysia, which is the only convenient option for passengers travelling between the two parts of the country. Malaysia is the home of the first low-cost carrier in the region, AirAsia. It has Kuala Lumpur as its hub and maintains flights to Southeast Asia and China as well. In KL it operates out of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in KLIA.

The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India who native language is Tamil, there are also other Indian communities which is Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi-speaking, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. Many middle to upper-middle class Indians in Malaysia also speak English as a first language. A vigorous 200,000-strong Tamil Muslim community also thrives as an independent subcultural group. There is also a sizable Sikh community in Malaysia of over 83,000. Most Indians originally migrated from India as traders, teachers or other skilled workers. A larger number were also part of the forced migrations from India by the British during colonial times to work in the plantation industry.

Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. A small number of Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese-based creole, called Papiá Kristang. There are also Eurasians of mixed Filipino and Spanish descent, mostly in Sabah. Descended from immigrants from the Philippines, some speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia. Cambodians and Vietnamese are mostly Buddhists (Cambodians of Theravada sect and Vietnamese, Mahayana sect).

Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes other percussion instruments (some made of shells); the rebab, a bowed string instrument; the serunai, a double-reed oboe-like instrument; flutes, and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. Other artistic forms include wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving, and silver and brasswork.

Muslims in Malaysia celebrate Muslim holidays. The most celebrated festival, Hari Raya Puasa (also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri) is the Malay translation of Eid al-Adha. It is generally a festival honoured by the Muslims worldwide marking the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. In addition to Hari Raya Puasa, they also celebrate Hari Raya Haji (also called Hari Raya Aidiladha, the translation of Eid ul-Adha), Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) and Maulidul Rasul (Birthday of the Prophet).

Chinese in Malaysia typically celebrate festivals that are observed by Chinese around the world. Chinese New Year is the most celebrated among the festivals which lasts for fifteen days and ends with Chap Goh Mei. Other festivals celebrated by Chinese are the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. In addition to traditional Chinese festivals, Buddhists Chinese also celebrate Vesak.

The majority of Indians in Malaysia are Hindus and they celebrate Diwali, the festival of light, while Thaipusam is a celebration which pilgrims from all over the country flock to Batu Caves. Apart from the Hindus, Sikhs celebrate the Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year.

Other festivals such as Good Friday (East Malaysia only), Christmas, Hari Gawai of the Ibans (Dayaks), Pesta Menuai (Pesta Kaamatan) of the Kadazan-Dusuns are also celebrated in Malaysia.

Despite most of the festivals being identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, all Malaysians celebrate the festivities together, regardless of their background. For years, when Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year coincided, a slogan, Kongsi Raya, a combination of Gong Xi Fa Cai (a greeting used on the Chinese New Year) and Hari Raya (which could also mean "celebrating together" in Malay language) was coined. For years when the Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali coincide, a slogan, Deepa Raya, is similarly coined.

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