Malaysia, truly diverse

Singapore and Malaysia. After a couple of days in the city-state of Singapore, the financial metropolis of South East Asia and migrant hub for peoples from neighbouring states as well as a large number of Europeans, we are now on our way north to Malaysia. “Malaysia truly Asia” is this country’s marketing slogan and it sounds promising. With its diversity of ethnic groups, the slogan proves itself time and time again. Fifty percent of the country is composed of ethnic Malays while 38% and 10% originate from China and India, respectively. Sometimes it seems as if some regions in the country truly are all of Asia. Moreover, there is broad spectrum of religious differences within each of the ethnic groups, making it hard to get an overview of who’s who. Many Chinese believe in Buddha, others are Taoist, while others still are Confucian or Christian. Indians are either Hindu or Muslims and the majority of Malaysians are Muslims. These and other ethnic and religious groups live side by side in freedom and respect for one another. The Chinatowns and Little Indias are small ghettos in almost every city but they are not isolated. Rather, each family lives wherever they find they prefer the ambience, as such Indians and Chinese and Malays live side by side, they are friends and they even inter-marry. Because the different immigrant groups have been living and growing up together for so many generations, they know each other’s cultural tendencies inside and out. “Unity in Difference” is lived here as it is lived nowhere else, even though the majority hold on to their traditions and languages. International movies are screened with under-titles in Malay, English and Chinese.
Of course the country is not problem-free: the Chinese dominate business and most doctors and lawyers are Indian and they both generally have larger salaries than ethnic Malaysians. This is the reason that the government has for 50 years now promoted the “Bumiputra policy” which dictates that ethnic Malaysians occupy 80% of university seats, government positions and state-run businesses. This positive discrimination, is heavily debated and gives some migrants the feeling of being second class citizens. Despite religious diversity, the dominating religion of Malaysia is Islam. Mosques are widespread in the cities of the country and believers habitually lay their work to rest five times a day to pray in them. In certain areas of Kuala Lumpur the skyline exudes “religious state” whereby skyscrapers and shopping centres are decorated with classical Islamic ornaments. The entirety of the ground structure of twin towers is based on Islamic patterns.
In Malaysia, Islam is presented as an open-minded religion which begs us to dialogue with it. Muslims invite us to question them on the status of women as well as the religion’s pillars. They give us an entirely different picture than what is portrayed in western media. Reudam, a Muslim woman who volunteers in a Mosque, says “by understanding and enlightening each other, we hope to shatter people’s fear of Islam.”