5th Nov 2021

Malaysia is an understated country in Southeast Asia. It is not known particularly for any religious wars, displaced peoples, or monopolised trade. Instead, it is a peaceful and stable country with captivating beauty. The cities offer a blend of different cultures from across Asia and are popular for their markets, street food and cosmopolitan vibes. In the rural areas, a wealth of tropical islands and beaches can be found, including untouched jungles with rich biodiversity. The Malaysians are gentle and warm-hearted people who place great value on building relationships. It is no surprise that this country has become a sought-after tourist destination! 


The roots of Islam 


Despite these outward appearances, Malaysia struggles with deep ethnic divides which are closely tied in with its Islamic roots. The Malays began converting to Islam in the 14th Century, sealing their identity as a Muslim people. From the 16th-19th Centuries, the country was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and then British Empires, ending with independence in 1957. During British rule, an agreement was signed called the Pangkor Treaty, which prevented British interference with Islamic law and Malay customs. As a result, the Malay sultans established strong and well-organised religious control which has underpinned government ever since. 


Malaysia now has a population of 32.5 million, made up predominantly of ethnic Malays and traditional tribal groups (approx. 60%), Chinese (20%) and Indians (7%). Around 60% of the population is also Muslim, as it is legally binding that to be Malay is to be Muslim. There is a vibrant evangelical church made up of Chinese and many other ethnicities. This was established around 200 years ago when gospel workers in China were forced to relocate to nearby countries. They began witnessing to the Chinese and other ethnic groups but of course could not make any attempts to reach the Muslim Malays due to the Pangkor Treaty. 


Deep divides 


Today, the Malay Muslims are 99% unreached. This is not only because proselytising is illegal. There is also a lot of disunity between the ethnic communities. The Malays are given preferential status as ‘bumiputera’ (meaning ‘sons of the soil’) and have numerous advantages over non-Malays. Religious groups are legally segregated. Intermarrying is not socially accepted and converting from Islam is against the law. Economic resources and educational programmes are seen to promote the Malay culture, for example the compulsory use of Malay language in education. Non-Malays consider government initiatives as not having the wider ‘national’ interests at heart, causing them to form tighter communities. 


Shifting ground 


All of this is important for the spread of the gospel in Malaysia. It has significantly hindered attempts to bring the good news of Jesus to the Malays, both by the local Church and by foreign workers. The good news, however, is that there is a shift beginning to happen. Over the last decade or so the Church has begun waking up to the need to reach its Muslim neighbours. This is partly an ironic side effect of having no language barriers – education in the Malay language was intended to elevate the culture but has also created affinity and understanding amongst young Malaysians. It is also believed to simply be a sovereign work of God, and an answer to many prayers for the church in Malaysia. 


Pockets of local believers are now praying for the salvation of the Malay Muslims, and some are rising to the task of sharing their faith. The country is seeing the first beginnings of a Malay underground church. It is imperative, now more than ever, that this small momentum is covered in prayer, and that the established Church is deeply encouraged in its evangelism. Let’s pray that the Lord would send more workers to Malaysia to strengthen this work and raise up more harvesters from within the existing Church. May he protect and grow what has already started there, so that many more Malays would enter into his kingdom. 

 

Pray For Malaysia 

 

  • Pray for an end to the increasing pressure for Malaysians to adopt Islamic law. Ask the Lord to restore the unity which has been lost between different ethnic communities as a result of this.
  • Praise God that the Chinese church is waking up to the need to reach its Muslim neighbours. Pray for bold and fearless witness, despite persecution.    
  • Pray for the tiny ethnic Malay church. Ask God to protect and grow what has begun, and to bring many more to a saving knowledge of him. 
  • Pray for protection over current field workers in Malaysia, as this is a particular challenge. Pray against strong attacks on marital, physical, and mental health. 
  • Ask the Lord to send more workers to the country, who can encourage and support the local church in its ministry to the Malays. 
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