Prayer Profile
The Malay of Malaysia

[IMAGE] While the Malay are spread throughout Southeast Asia, the majority live in the nation of Malaysia. They make up about half of the population, sharing the nation with Chinese and Indian minorities. Malay live primarily on the eastern coast of the peninsula of Malaysia and in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. They speak a Malayo-Polynesian language they call Bahasa Malaysia.

The Malay have lived in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, but their recorded history begins in the A.D. 1400's when they converted to Islam. They were divided into many small, competing kingdoms called sultanates, until they were united by British influence into one federation in 1909. Malaysia was granted independence by the British, and since the late 1970's, the nation has industrialized rapidly, its economy one of the fastest growing in the world. Nevertheless, most Malay of Malaysia remain poor farmers and fisherman, and the economy is dominated by the Chinese living in the nation.

What are their lives like?
Most Malay living in rural areas grow rice as their main food crop. Rubber is the major cash crop; nearly every farmer is involved to some extent in the rubber industry. Fishing is also an important occupation. In the cities, Malay are becoming involved in factory work and in governmental jobs.

Since much of Malaysia is covered by jungle, the Malay settle along the coast, rivers, and roads. In villages, houses are built on pilings four to eight feet off the ground and have thatched roofs. The more wealthy Malay have houses with tiled roofs and wooden planks for floors. Local trade is conducted in the larger towns which have markets to serve the surrounding region. An increasing number of Malay have settled in major cities.

Most families consist of a husband, a wife, and their children. While Islamic laws permit men to have up to four wives, the majority have only one. With the consent of a male parent or guardian, women are allowed to marry when the couple registers with a local religious leader. When marriages are arranged, the couple is notified and must give consent. Divorce is easy and frequent because a man has the right to end his marriage simply by declaring his intention to do so. Children are highly valued, and adoption of a relative's child by childless couples is common.

For recreation, the Malay enjoy socializing in coffee shops. They also enjoy celebrating religious festivals and engaging in religious discussions. One of their favorite pastimes is playing Sepak Raga, a game similar to volleyball.

What are their beliefs?
Religion is a major source of ethnic identity: the Malaysian constitution states that to be a Malay, one must be Muslim. However, even though the Malay identify strongly with Islam, they continue to practice many aspects of their pre-Islamic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. For example, they commemorate many important events in life such as birth, marriage, and death with non-Islamic rituals. It is common for Malay who live in rural areas to believe in ghosts, goblins, and spirits; and if medicine is unavailable, a shaman (witch doctor) will often be brought in to treat an illness. For these reasons, other Muslims see the Malay as poor Muslims who have distorted the doctrines of Islam.

What are their needs?
Over 80% of Malay are rural farmers and fisherman who struggle to earn a living. Health care, clean water, electricity, education, transportation, and communication are all inadequate.

Although evangelical tools to reach the Malay are available, only a tiny minority of the people have become Christians. The western region of Malaysia, Peninsular Malaysia, forbids Christian witnessing to Muslims; yet the government continuously tries to convert Christians and other religious minorities to Islam. The government has imposed numerous restrictions on churches. In Eastern Malaysia, there is considerably more religious freedom, but Islam is still favored. Much prayer and added laborers are needed to reach the Malay with the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to send Christian laborers into Malaysia who understand the culture and religion.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are presently working with the Malay.
  • Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Malay.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Malay through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that the Malaysian government will give the people the freedom to share the Gospel with their countrymen.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Malay bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Malay by the year 2000.

See also the following Malay Groups:
The Creole Malay of Sri Lanka, and The Diaspora Malay (Cluster Profile).

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Malay
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Their language: Malay (Bahasa)
  • Population: (1990) 5,950,500
    (1995) 6,698,300
    (2000) 7,416,300
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Shafiite) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 1,340
  • Scriptures in their own language: Bible
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 5
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 2,747,600 (41%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 202,300 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 2,545,300 (38%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 3,950,700 (59%)
  • Country: Malaysia
  • Population: (1990) 17,891,500
    (1995) 20,139,900
    (2000) 22,298,700
  • Major peoples in size order: Malay 33.2%
    Han Chinese (Hokkien) 8.7%
    Tamil 7.2%
    Han Chinese (Hakka) 7.1%
  • Major religions: Muslim 50.5%
    Chinese folk-religionist 24.3%
    Christian 8.9%
  • Number of denominations: 41

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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