Islam is a Middle Eastern
religion based on the revelations of Prophet Mohammed in the 7th
century A. D.
A Moslem is obliged to confess his faith, to pray five times daily,
to pay a tithe of his income to the mosque, to fast during the month
of Ramadan, and to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in his lifetime.
The earliest prayer, Subuh, is at about 5.45 a.m. to 6 a.m. to
coincide with the first blush of dawn. The Zuhur hour is at
noon, Asar at 4 p.m., Maghrib at dusk and Isyak after dark.
Not every Moslem observes all the hours of prayer, but they are
heard from the tower or verandah of Mosques and Surau. Sung by
a gifted cantor in the old days, prayers are recordings, replayed
and amplified, nowadays.
Moslems wash their faces, hands and feet before prayer, and put on
special clothes. Men wear long sleeves, long trousers or a
cotton sarung and cover their heads with a songkok or, if they have
performed the pilgrimage, a flat white cap. Women drape a
voluminous garment around themselves either to go to the mosque or
when praying at home.
One month of the Moslem calendar is devoted to ritual fasting,
called Puasa in Malaysia. No food may be consumed from before
dawn till after dark. Night is turned into day with a
"breakfast" after the evening prayer, a dinner at midnight
and a sustaining pre-dawn meal before subuh prayers.
Confucianism and Buddhism
Most Chinese would say
they are "Buddhists" or "Confucianists" without
any elaboration. The picturesque Chinese temples hold
figurines of various gods and often a Buddha as well, but are not
strictly speaking Buddhist.
Buddhism and Confucianism appeal to the intellect. A popular
version of Taoism is considered the "religion of the
masses". It venerates a multitude of gods, each with his
or her own powers. Gods are simpler to grasp than the
refinements of Buddhist philosophy. Regional and local gods,
provincial heroes deified, and worthy ancestors hold a place in the
The Chinese who migrated to Malaysia over the centuries brought
along their own gods and learned men, the Confucian scholars.
The village temple was often the site of the local school and the
temple committee was also the school committee.
Temple festivals are calculated according to the lunar
calendar. The beginning of New Moon is usually a festival,
celebrated with lighting incense sticks or burning "hell
money" in big-bellied incinerators. "Hell
money" are banknotes of huge denominations, sold for a few
dollars per bundle, which mortals use to pay celestial debts.
The Indus valley
civilization dates back to three millennia B.C.; aspects of Hindu
religion are equally ancient.
Hindus revere a pantheon of gods, including the Lord Shiva who rides
on a bull and his consort Durga who bestrides a tiger. The
august couple symbolize creation, preservation and
destruction. The main feature of Hindu religion is that there
is no compulsion. Pious Hindus have a little shrine in the
house where lamps are lit and offerings of flowers and fruit are
made daily, but no divine wrath threatens if this ritual is
omitted. People go to the temple as and when it suits them,
not because it is the holy day of the week.
By living a good life, a Hindu can ensure that he will be
reincarnated as a good person in his next life. A miscreant
may be born as a low animal or an insect! Hindus may consult
an elaborate horoscope before taking important decisions; a
religious man will interpret it.
Malaysian Indians celebrate a number of festivals, among them
Deepavali, which traditionally marks the end of the business year
among some communities. The house is cleaned and the family
decked out in their best clothes. Deepavali means festival of
light, and at dusk, house and garden are dotted with candles and
twinkling oil lamps.
The first Christian
churches in Malaysia were built in Melaka after 1511 by the
Portuguese. In 1553, the remains of St. Francis Xavier were
temporarily interred in the Cathedral there until they found a
permanent resting place in Goa.
The Portuguese cathedral suffered the fate of many a pioneering
religious edifice: when the Dutch took Melaka in 1641, they
converted it to their own, protestant, form of Christianity and
renamed it St. Paul's. They added Christ Church to the town's
landscape, a blood-red building in the Northern Renaissance style
that may still be visited today.
There were Christian churches in Penang too. All of them
mostly served the foreign trading community. The Malay
inhabitants of the Peninsula remained Moslems.
In the early 19th century there was considerable missionary activity
in Sarawak and North Borneo, and today both East Malaysian States
have a significant number of Christians. The clergy is no
longer "imported" but consists of local priests and
pastors. Bishops, Moderators, Officers and Presidents of the
Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army and major Protestant churches are