Local Customs – Muslims in Malaysia

Amidst of the chaotic world where we all live in today, I think it is quite important for me to write this article. At least, for you, the readers of my website, I just wish that you will get an alternative point of view for this particular subject. As you might probably have known, Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. This means, out of the 31 million Malaysia’s population, the majority of it are identified as Muslims (about 61%). Although people might only associate the Malay people as Muslims here, there are also Chinese and Indian that identify themselves as Muslims too. For you that maybe did not aware yet, not all Muslims are Arabs, there are Asians that can be further divided into other races, so yeah, you maybe have bumped into people that you never imagined as Muslims – not the typical one as being portrayed in the media.

Religious affiliation in Malaysia

From this pie chart of the religion distribution in Malaysia, you can see that we are pretty much a very diverse group of people, that managed to live together and build up this very great nation. Through thick and thin, and fairly long history of the colonial era, Malaysians have managed to work together to compromise each other and live a good life. Although there are still cases where some evil people tried to promote racism and hatred, I can proudly say that we managed to survive those wicked plans and continue to live with each other presence harmoniously. For you that maybe live in a single race state, Fyi, it is actually hard to operate as a multi-racial country, it takes a lot of mutual efforts.

One thing that may be made Muslims in Malaysia unique is, all of us are Sunni, unlike some Muslims countries in the Arab world that further divided into other sects of the religion. So, consume this as an additional information, if you want to comprehend this fact, there are Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims, and Shia Muslims can be further divided into smaller classification. That what happens in some Arab countries where these differences in tribes and sects finally caused political imbalances and jeopardize the stability.

These differences actually caused by the differences in political affiliation dated back from the ancient days and could also be due to differences in the school of thoughts. It is so complicated that I think it needs another article to explain it. As I only want to give the sneak peek of the local customs, this will only be a post to introduce you to Muslims in general and specifically Muslims in Malaysia. This post maybe to help you prepare physically or mentally before stepping your foot in Malaysia.

So, let’s start.

Imagine yourself checked into a hotel anywhere in Malaysia. Especially in places a little bit away from the city, you may be awakened up from your sleep during the dawn, when you hear the sound of ‘Adhan’. Or maybe, you hear it any other times of the day from every corner of the town, from the Mosque’s minarets. Don’t be surprised, adhan is the indicator for prayer times that called all Muslims to go to the Mosque and perform their prayer of that time.

If you never heard adhan before, listen to this kid in the video who recited the adhan for one of the Mosques in Selangor, Malaysia at Masjid Sultan Abdul Aziz, Shah Alam. His voice is so beautiful.


It can be quite an emotional experience when you hear adhan for the first time, it is an experience of itself. Or even when you hear it out loud after a long time. I remember, when I lived in the UK, it is not permissible for mosques to recite adhan in public, meaning, the mosque could only recite it internally. In a way, it does not serve the real purpose to literally call people to prayer as only people in the building can hear it. So, after a very long period of not hearing adhan in Manchester, when I traveled to Beirut and heard this call to prayer from every corner of the city, I just broke into tears, it is just so beautiful. You can watch the video below to see the reaction of this British lady.

What time and when do Muslims pray?

In short, there are five prayer times daily. They are called as;

  • Subuh – The dawn prayer, around 6 a.m. in Malaysia
  • Zuhur – The afternoon pray, around 1.30 a.m. in Malaysia
  • Asar – The evening prayer, around 4.30 p.m. in Malaysia
  • Maghrib – The dusk prayer, around 7.30 p.m. in Malaysia
  • Isyak – The night prayer, around 8.30 p.m. in Malaysia

One thing you will notice, I put the time in Malaysia because it is different from one place to another throughout the world. Especially for places that have four seasons, the prayer times will constantly change. When I was in the UK, there was time when Maghrib was on 4 p.m during winter and 9.45pm during summer. Or, Subuh on 8.15 a.m during winter and 3.00 a.m. during summer. So, it all depends on the sun actually, and mind you that these prayer times will also affect another Muslims’ act – fasting during Ramadhan, which I will write on another article. So, for you that are planning to visit Malaysia or any Muslims countries, please expect to hear these adhans five times daily.

Which way do Muslims pray

For you that may have visited a mosque before, you will probably notice that there is a spacious empty hall inside it, and you will normally enter it from the back of the hall. This hall will be carpeted and it spans until a part of the hall that will look like something in the picture below. This will be the place where an ‘imam’ – the guy who leads the prayer stands and all other people follows. This place is called as ‘Mihrab’.

Mihrab in a Mosque

Mihrab; the arch structure, is where the imam stands to lead the prayer, meanwhile, the stair that leads to a small dome beside it is called as Minbar. Minbar will be the place where an Imam/Khatib deliver his sermon during Friday prayer.

The direction of this Minbar will face directly towards Kaabah in Mecca. Every Muslims need to face this direction whenever we are praying no matter where we are in this world. It actually symbolizes the unity of the Muslim nations; praying and facing the same direction – Kaabah. So, maybe, if you ever stumbles upon Muslims praying in the park, or at your office, and you wonder why they face that direction, it is because of this, no matter whether they are facing a tree, a stair (yes I used to pray under a stair at my university), a chair, a corner or just an empty space, it is actually because we are facing Mecca not that we worshiped those items.

 

Kaabah - Mecca

The black cube building is named as Kaabah – located in Mecca. Muslim also called it as facing the Qibla. Depending on your location in the world, there will be unique bearing/direction that you need to point, to face the Qibla.

One thing that you might notice when you enter any mosque is the fact that there are no statues inside of it, unlike churches where you can find crosses or Jesus and Mary, it is forbidden in Islam to symbolize the God (Allah) into a literal matter, as the foundation of Islamic teaching itself is nothing in this world is similar to God.

Muslim’s Greeting

As you probably know, the greeting when two Muslims meet is “Assalamualaikum” – the phonetic pronunciation is – As (the A sound is as in apple plus s sound behind it), Sa (as in some), La (as in luck), Mu (moo), A (the A sound is as in apple, although the advanced pronunciation maybe a little bit too hard for people that never speaks Arabic), Lai (lie), Kum (just say comb). Follow these sounds and I can guarantee you will pronounce it perfectly, not like a typical tourist. Lol.

The greeting itself is actually an Arabic phrase means ‘Peace be upon you’. It is the teaching of the prophet to always pray for peace for everyone that we meet, even it is a stranger. Just say this to greet people you meet in Malaysia, they will surely respond it back with the phrase “Waalaikumussalam” which means peace be onto you too. This simple teaching actually debunks the idea of Islam as a terrorist religion. Those religious extremes had gone astray from the true teaching of Islam which is spreading peace. Therefore, please do not be horrified and terrified to visit Muslims countries as the foundation of the religion itself is peace and love.

That’s all for this article, Insha Allah (another Arabic phrase means – if God wills and there are nothing that stops me), I will write an article about the Mosques for you to visit in Malaysia.

Thank You for reading this.
Don’t forget, spread PEACE.
Assalamualaikum!

 

Posted in Local Customs, Off the Beaten Path, Travel Malaysia Guide.

4 Comments

  1. I have to admit that with all of the crazy things going on in the world, I was not sure what to expect from this page. However, almost immediately I knew I was wrong and I was so glad I got the opportunity to read the information you shared. There are so many things that we do not know about the cultures around us, and there are so many things that can lead us in one direction or another telling us what to think and assumptions we should make. The information you provided here helps to take a step back and see the more personal side of things and I for one have a new view and profound respect for some of the things I did not know about this culture. This was great information! I will be sharing this with others as it is very valuable!

    • Hi Tatiana, thanks for the kind words.
      I believe this is what St. Agustus means by his words – “The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page”
      we travel because we learn other culture, going out of our way to learn that all those lines on the world’s map are only manmade borders.

      You and I, We and Them are all the same. We are all human being that lives in different parts of a place that we called home.
      I just hope that one day, people will stop fighting and hating each other, regardless of our religion, race and skin colour.

      Assalamualaikum!

  2. Very interesting article! I always enjoy learning about different customs and cultures from around the world. I have done quite a bit of traveling in Asia, but have not yet made it to Malaysia. Some day I hope! I like the details you have included about Muslim prayer, and the boy in video really does have an incredible voice. Peace be upon you!

    • Hi Jason, i personally think that traveling should make us a better person with a wider horizon. Beaides foods, I like to observe local culture and customs when I am on the road. Hope you will visit Malaysia soon!

      Thanks

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