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Culture, Society and Religion

Malaysia - Culture, Society and Religion

Multicultural Society

Malaysia’s rich and varied social and geographical history mean that its culture has been influenced by a wide range of individual beliefs. It is a multi-racial country which is leading the way in terms of social integration and mutual cultural awareness and respect. There are three principle races in Malaysia. Firstly there are the Malays, who are traditionally Muslims and who make up the largest sector of the Malaysian population. The next racial group is formed by the Chinese people living in Malaysia, the majority of whom are Buddhists; and finally there is the Indian sector of the population who are mostly Hindus. But in addition to these main racial groups, there are also a large number of Sikhs and Christians who live and practise in Malaysia.

Respect for all

Although Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, all three of the above religions are extremely important across the whole country. The Constitution of Malaysia lays down the right of each religion to practise freely in an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance. Respecting more than one religion and cultural tradition has given Malaysia an incredibly rich culture. The different races all have customs and traditions which give the country as a whole a very colourful heritage.

The most important festivals celebrated by each religion are public holidays observed by the whole nation, so people get a lot of days off work! Each festival is celebrated by everyone, regardless of race or religion, giving the country a very inclusive feel as the public respect and observe each other’s differences.

Dress Codes

Despite most people adhering to one religion or another, most Malaysians wear western clothing. But during special occasions they go all out, wearing traditional dress with all of the accessories to match. It is not uncommon to see women whose hair and torsos are covered, but this is a choice that they themselves take. There are no laws dictating clothing regulations for Malaysian women. Although the country is very liberal and westernised in many ways, remember to be respectful. If travelling out of the major cities, make sure you don’t wear clothes which are too revealing as this could be offensive, especially to the more traditional slightly older generation.

Festivals and Public Holidays

The following days are all national holidays in Malaysia, but most of the dates change year on year as they are subject to lunar phases. You will find a calendar marked with all the public holidays by following this link:


Listed below are some of the festivals which are celebrated with public holidays each year in Malaysia:

- Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Malay)
- Thaipusam (Indian)
- Chinese New Year (Chinese)
- Hari Raya Aidil Adha (Malay)
- Awal Muharram (Malay)
- Wesak Day (Chinese & Indian)
- Sabah Kaamatan Festival
- Sarawak Gawai Festival
- The Birthday of SPB Yang Di Pertuan Agong
- Prophet Muhammad's Birthday
- National Day
- Moon Cake Festival (Chinese)
- Deepavali (Indian)
- Christmas (Indian & Chinese)

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