Introduction / History While the Malay are spread throughout southeastern Asia, the majority are located in the country of Malaysia. There, they make up about 1/3 of the population, sharing the country with Chinese and Indian minorities. The dispersal of the Malay was in progress by the fifth century A.D. when the Malay began to dominate local trade in southeastern Asia and long distance trade between northwestern India and southern China. Their domination of sea trade continued until the 1500s and even into the European colonial period.
In addition to sea trade, some Malay may have been transported as slaves in the 1700s; others were political exiles. The most important Malay minorities live in Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, and Thailand. In Thailand, they are the majority population of the four southernmost provinces. There are smaller communities in Madagascar, Taiwan, Myanmar, Yemen, the United Kingdom, and the southern Philippines. In these countries they may be referred to as "Coastal Malay."
What are their lives like? Generally, the Malay tend to be a rural people. Even in countries such as Singapore, they are found living together in villages, or kampungs. Most of the Malay are wet rice farmers. They may also work on small rubber tree plantations. Others work as laborers on large agricultural estates. Many urban Malay have found employment as government clerks, technicians, factory workers, sales persons, or small businessmen; very few have professional occupations. Certain traditional Malay arts and crafts still flourish, such as the making of batik cloth and the production of metals.
In general, courtesy is a very important aspect of Malay society. Most of their groups are loosely structured, their commitments are not strong, and loyalty to a group is not as important as being courteous. The "pure Malay" is considered to be kind towards women, children and animals; introspective; polite; slow to speak; passive; and indolent. Yet, when angered, a Malay may lose all self-control and get into a frenzy. Of course, there are many variations of what a "true Malay" is, depending on the countries in which they now live. Cleanliness is typically a feature of most Malay homes. As Muslims, they generally do not eat pork or drink alcohol.
Most Malay families consist of a husband, his wife, and their children. In Malay society, marriage is expected of every person. According to Islamic law, a man may have as many as four wives. However, most marriages are monogamous (having only one wife). Although many marriages are arranged, the consent of both parties is required. There are no descent or kinship groups among the Malay.
The strongest characteristic of Malay identity that remains consistent regardless of their location is their adherence to the Islamic faith. Malays worldwide recognize a Malaysian law that defines a Malay as "a person belonging to any Malayan race who habitually speaks Malay (or any Malayan language) and professes the Muslim religion."
What are their beliefs? Even though the Malay identify strongly with Islam, they continue to practice many aspects of their pre-Islamic religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and ethnic religions. 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. Also, if medicine is unavailable, a shaman (priest or priestess who communicates with the spirits) 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.
The Malay observe the traditional Islamic holidays. Muslim rites are also performed at the beginning and ending of every ceremony (even those that are Hindu-Buddhist in content), especially weddings.
What are their needs? Although tools such as the Bible, evangelistic literature, the Jesus film, and Christian broadcasts are available to the Malay, few have accepted Jesus as Savior. In the countries of Malaysia and Brunei, it is illegal to evangelize Muslims. However, the Malay living in other countries have freedom of religion. Christians in these countries must seize the opportunity to share Christ with the Malay.
Increased intercession and missionary efforts are needed to see the Malay reached with the Gospel. Perhaps Christian teachers and businessmen will have the most opportunities to share the love of Jesus with them.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among each of the Malay groups.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Malay.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film and Gospel broadcasts among the Malay.
* Ask the Lord to send Christian businessmen to minister life to the Malay in various countries.
* Pray that God will give the small number of Malay believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth many Malay churches for the glory of His name!