Just The Facts

Malaysia’s Complex Ties With Islam

A closer look at a country in the global headlines

A vigil wall for the missing flight. (Credit: Shahrul Azman - Shutterstock.com)


  • Malaysia provided logistical support and use of its air space for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
  • Malaysia's constitution established Islam as the state religion in 1957.

1. Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country with a complex relationship with Islam.

2. Malaysia is not known as a base for radical Islamist terrorism.

3. Malaysia’s success in managing its multi-ethnic population under the banner of moderate Islam has turned the country into an important ally for the United States.

4. Malaysia was at the forefront of nations condemning the 9/11 attacks on the United States – and it provided logistical support and use of its air space for the U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

5. Malaysia’s constitution established Islam as the state religion when the country achieved independence from Britain in 1957.

6. Malays make up 60% of the population, with a quarter ethnic Chinese and the rest Indians and other minorities.

7. The Malay part of the population is constitutionally required to be Muslims.

8. About 35% of the remaining population is Buddhist, Christian or Hindu.

9. Prime Minister Najib Razak faces pressure from his own United Malays National party (Umno). Fearful of losing the rural Malay – and overwhelmingly Muslim – vote, Umno is using religion as a wedge issue.

10. The government had designated 2014 “Visit Malaysia” year, as part of a plan to boost tourist arrivals to 36 million – 6 million more than the country’s population – by 2020.

From Focus shifts to Malaysia’s complex ties with Islam by Jeremy Grant (Financial Times)



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