Ember (2002) defines culture as the customary ways in which a particular population or society thinks or behaves. Culture consists of many aspects including language, religious beliefs, music, food preferences, and gender roles (ibid). Each country has its own unique culture, and an aspect of it which it is well-known for. For example, the British are very polite (Harzing, 2004), Finland is the cleanest country in the world (Aneki.com, 2004), the kiasu culture is extremely pronounced in Singapore (1994), and Thailand is known as the 'land of a thousand smiles' (Golfinasia, 2002). So, what about the Malaysian culture? Is there anything unique about it? In this essay, I will attempt to answer these questions by analyzing various aspects of our culture.
Malaysia is well-known for its pluralist culture. Its ethnic diversity first started taking shape around 150 years ago and is largely shaped by its history of trade (KLIA, 2004). There are three major races in Malaysia; the dominant race is the Malay, followed by the Chinese and the Indian. Malays and other indigenous races make up 59 per cent of the population, whereas Chinese and Indians make up 32 per cent and 9 per cent respectively (Bloodbook.com, 2003). The sight of many different races and religions coexisting side by side in apparent harmony has impressed many foreigners, particularly those who are from countries that are experiencing or have experienced internal upheaval due to racial conflicts.
Bahasa Malaysia (often known interchangeably as Bahasa Melayu) is Malaysia's national language. English is the country's second most widely used language. These two languages serve as a communication link between different ethnic groups (Capslock Sdn. Bhd., 2003), which are each allowed to preserve their own languages and dialects. Both have been made compulsory subjects in government schools, but the former is used as the medium of instruction.
Islam is Malaysia's official religion. The Malaysian flag bears witness to this; its portrayal of a crescent moon is a symbol of Islam. In spite of this, and although the former Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad declared Malaysia to be an Islamic state in his controversial "929 Declaration" (Lim, 2002), the constitution guarantees followers of minority religions the freedom of worship, provided they do so within the boundaries of the law. Contrary to popular belief, the renunciation of Islam is not against Malaysian law (Hong Kong Standard, 1998). It is, however, almost unheard of. On a slightly different note, should a marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim occur, the non-Muslim is expected to renounce his or her religion to embrace Islam. Other widespread religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
Malaysia is known as Asia's food paradise; food from all over the world can be found here at reasonable prices...