Religion in Malaysia

Malaysia has a population of approximately 28.3 million. Islam is the largest religion, representing 61.3% of the population. Buddhism accounts for 19.8%, Christianity 9.2%, Hinduism 6.3%, with Other/None at 3.4%. The Other category includes Confucianism, Taoism, animists, Sikhs, and Baha’is. Most Christians reside in the eastern states of Sarawak and Sabah. 

Islam is the official religion of the Federation of Malaysia. The Constitution of Malaysia defines native Malays as Muslims.  Most Malays adhere to Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i school of religious jurisprudence. The practice of Shia Islam is prohibited. Under Article three, section one, of the Constitution, non-Muslim religions may be practiced in any part of the Federation, but are subject to certain restrictions.

The law of many states strictly prohibits proselytizing of Muslims by members of other religions. Proselytizing of non-Muslims by either Muslims or non-Muslims generally has no legal restrictions. 

There have been reported instances of discrimination against religions other than the official religion of the country. For example, the federal and state budgets fund Muslim places of worship. Funding for non-Muslim places of worship comes from a special allocation within the prime minister’s department or state governments. Funding for non-Muslim places of worship is not given as of right.  Discretionary ad hoc grants have been given from time to time.  State governments, however, have exclusive authority over allocation of land for all places of worship. Minority religious groups have asserted that it is difficult to obtain allocation of land for non-Muslim places of worship, that non-Muslim places of worship are poorly funded and that the governments make funding decisions on an arbitrary basis. Local NGOs complain that both the federal and state governments often substantially delay permission to build or renovate non-Islamic places of worship, although they grant approvals to build mosques relatively quickly. 

Islamic religious activities are under the purview of the respective state governments and such state government have banned “deviant” Islamic groups as well as enacted laws to restrict the distribution or publication of “deviant” Muslim and Non-Muslim materials to Muslims.   

The government has required that the distribution of Malay-translated Bibles have the following inscription: “Not for Muslims.”  In addition, these Bibles may only be distributed in Christian Churches and bookshops.  In 2009 the government seized 5,100 Malaysian translated Bibles in March and 10,000 more in October 2009 for use of the word “Allah” for God.  The use of the word “Allah” has been restricted in many states of Malaysia to be solely reserved for Muslims and cannot be associated with a non-Muslim religion.

For further information see Malaysia: Law and Religion Framework Overview.