The Plural Societies And National Policies Of Malaysia

Characteristics of the Plural Societies at Tanah Melayu During the Colonial Era

Characteristics of the Plural Societies at Tanah Melayu During the Colonial Era

One of the features of the plural societies at Tanah Melayu during the colonial period was the presence of different ethnic communities. According to Muhamat et al. (2012), the British brought laborers from China and India when they acquired settlements in Malaysia. Due to this migration, the area was populated by Indian, Malay, Chinese and some other ethnic communities (Muhamat et al. 2012). The second characteristic was that the ethnic communities were divided based on their economic activities. For example, Indians were mainly involved in real estate, Malays in farming, and Chinese were entrepreneurs (Muhamat et al. 2012). These divisions were beneficial to the British because they ensured the communities remained divided.  

The third characteristic of the plural societies in Tanah Melayu was the practice of different religions. Some of the religions that were practiced are Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism (Muhamat et al. 2012). These religious practices also made it difficult for the communities to interact because they incorporated practices that differed. For instance, the Chinese ate pork while Muslims did not. Therefore, the fourth characteristic of these societies was the segregation witnessed among them. Evidently, the different attributes mentioned earlier illustrate where the segregation stemmed and what made it persist.  

The fifth characteristic is the stereotyping that was practiced by the plural societies. According to Muhamat et al. (2012), Malays regarded as shrewd businesspersons while the Chinese attributed Malays with laziness. These viewpoints further strengthened the divide among these communities, which eventually resulted in hostility. From this explanation, it is clear that another characteristic of the plural societies was hostility towards each other. The sixth characteristic of these communities is their distinct norms. For instance, Muslim Malays did not eat pork and Chinese circumcision (Muhamat et al. 2012). These norms were used by each society as an identifier. Overall, these communities have differences in their clothes, food, language and traditional rituals.

Culture and Norms Practiced in Malaysia

 One of the cultures that were and is still being practiced in Malaysia is Chinese, which is the second largest population. According to Abdullah et al. (2013), the language used by this community is Mandarin. The Chinese have their schools where their children learn using this language. However, the Chinese mainly communicate using Hokkien. Some Chinese are Buddhists, others are Daoist, and the rest are Confucianist (Abdullah et al. 2013). In regards to marriage, ceremonies are usually carried out in restaurants. In this culture, marriage is done after dates involving divination rites (Countries and their culture n.d.). Finally, intermarriages were not frequent in the past.  

Culture and Norms Practiced in Malaysia

The other culture practiced by Malaysians is the Malay culture, which occupies the highest population. Abdullah et al. (2013) state that the language spoken in this culture is Malay and the religion practiced was Islamic religion. Therefore, their food cuisine lacked pork. Additionally, the cuisine of Malays is mainly comprised of rice, fruits and spicy dishes (Countries and their culture n.d.). In regards to kinship, Malays valued their siblings more than their ancestors, which makes kinship horizontal. For marriage, the feast is usually conducted at home with meals inclusive of rice with oil because it symbolizes marriage (Countries and their culture n.d.). Lastly, when looking for spouses, gifts are exchanged.  

The last culture practiced in Malaysia is the Indian. Abdullah et al. (2013) state that Tamil is the primary language used by Indians and their main religion is Hinduism. Based on this religion, beef is not a common feature in their cuisine that is mainly comprised of rice and noodles (Countries and their culture n.d.). In the Indian culture, dates are conducted together with divination rites, and marriage ceremonies contain rituals. Additionally, men were valued more than women in regards to traditional occupational roles, which means women mostly stayed at home doing chores (Countries and their culture n.d.). Lastly, intermarriages were not frequent in the past.

Steps Taken by the Government to Create Harmony

One of the steps that the Malaysian government has taken to promote harmony among its ethnic communities is the development of national policy. Husin (2012) states that the policy aimed to unite these communities using national cultural values. The policy entailed the determination of an official language, which was Malay. Under this policy, the government has ensured that the language is used in schools to teach and in the country’s major newspaper (Muhamat et al. 2012). Additionally, the language is being used to publish books used in the country. As a result, it has become the language used to communicate with people of different ethnicity.

After establishing the national language, the government identified Islam as the national language. Under this policy, the citizens were also allowed to practice any other religion freely (Husin 2012). Lastly, the government permitted the citizens to incorporate different values that promoted unity. However, instead of unity conflict developed because the cultural values implemented were mainly derived from the Malay culture. Those that supported that policy argued that Malay was a culture that had been practiced there for a long time while the Chinese claimed that their culture was worth preserving. Evidently, the government had made an effort in creating harmony in the country.

Steps Taken by the Government to Create Harmony

Additionally, the Malaysian government placed a ban on the discussion of sensitive issues that may create conflict. For example, the citizens were not allowed to talk about the national language or religion (Muhamat et al. 2012). Another step taken by the government is related to the economic development. As mentioned earlier, Chinese were mainly involved in the economic sector, which created conflict between the Chinese and Malay. Using the New Economic Policy (NEP), the government aimed to increase the participation of Malay in the economy by 30% (Muhamat et al. 2012). Moreover, structural changes were conducted that enabled the participation of Malays in professions, public corporations, and government institutions. Eventually, Malays migrated to the urban areas making it easier to interact with other ethnic communities.

National Education Policy

Before Malaysia attained independence, the education system was decentralized. After independence, the National Education Policy was established to create a holistic approach towards the education system. This policy aimed to develop a blueprint that would be used to provide education, which would drive growth in all sectors of the economy (Faizli 2012). Faizli (2012) states that after the implementation of the policy, Malaysia developed a one education system despite its multiethnicity. Additionally, the country managed to have approximately 20 and 70 public and private universities respectively in 2012 (Faizli 2012). Moreover, the colleges were more than 300, which shows that the education system managed to unify and drive change in the country through this policy. It is worth noting the system has undergone various changes over the years to keep up with the economic and technological needs of the country.

National Culture Policy

As mentioned earlier, the National Culture Policy was established to create harmony in the country by unifying the different ethnic communities. This change was required because of the effect of the British colonial era, which had formed plural societies. Furthermore, the plural societies encouraged division, which created hostility that threatened national unity. Therefore, this rationale reveals that this policy was crucial for that nation. According to Muhamat et al. (2012), this policy resulted in more interaction among the communities. The interaction has resulted in intermarriages that have strengthened the unity of the country. In particular, the national language played a significant in uniting the country by providing a medium of communication (Muhamat et al. 2012). Overall, the government accomplished unity through this policy.

National Social Policy

Social development policies in Malaysia have occurred in three stages. The first stage happened between the 1950s to 1960s and was aimed at reduction of unemployment, and redistribution of wealth to achieve equality (Zainudin & Kamarudin 2015). The second stage is from the 1970s to 1990s, and it included the New Economic Policy mentioned earlier. The last phase is between the 1990s and 2000s, and it aims to achieve economic growth. Zainudin and Kamarudin (2015) state that the National Social policy was established around the 1990s to foster economic growth by driving structural change. As a result, poverty levels in the country declined after its implementation (Zainudin & Kamarudin 2015). Additionally, the policy has managed to ensure the inclusion of all communities in the economic sector.

National Education Policy

National Policy on Women

Malaysian women face discrimination in regards to their role in society, especially in areas related to marriage and religion. In marriage, women’s role entails being homemakers and not seeking employment (Social Development Policy 2015). Additionally, women who are employed are supposed to give their salaries to their husbands. In religion, women are not supposed to participate in some religious ceremonies (Social Development Policy 2015). This inequality resulted in the need for the government intervention to foster equality. Therefore, in 1989, the National Policy on Women was formulated (Social Development Policy 2015). The Social Development Policy (2015) reveals that the number of female employees increased by 10.2 % from independence. This improvement shows that the National Policy on Women has a significant impact.  

National Family Policy

The Malaysian government recognizes the family as the basic unit of the society. Therefore, The National Family Policy was formulated in 2010 to guide national development by identifying the role the family plays in various sectors (Social Development Policy 2015). Through this policy, the government can empower women and the family as a whole using the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community. The rationale of the policy is the development of human capital through the strengthening of the family institution. The proof of execution can be witnessed in the increased participation of women in national development through employment that was mentioned earlier. This evidence is relevant to this policy because it advocates for the empowerment of women.

Youth Development Action Plan

The Malaysian Youth Development Action Plan is used to achieve the goals of the National Youth Development Policy. The plan entails the provision of training for the youth organized by different organizations in the society (Social Development Policy 2015). These organizations may be from the public or private sector. Secondly, the government aims to empower youth organizations and upgrade the training programs to ensure the youth acquires the best skills and receives the high-quality services (Social Development Policy 2015). These advances will make the youth better equipped to contribute to nation building and personal development. According to the Social Development Policy (2015), from 1995 to 2000, the number of youths who were employed in professional and technical sectors had increased by 1.2 %. This increase shows that the action plan was having an impact on reducing the rate of youth unemployment.

National Integrity Plan

According to the Social Development Policy (2015), the National Integrity Plan was developed in 2004 to enhance religious values of members of the society. The plan was designed per the national goals for 2020. It was aimed at improving integrity within all sectors by ensuring morals are highly valued (Social Development Policy 2015). The proof of execution of this policy is the 1.22% rate of growth witnessed in Malaysia from 2000 to 2017 (Malaysia GDP Growth Rate n.d.). This evidence is relevant to this policy because integrity affects corruption rate, which influences growth.

Assertion of Islamic Values Policy

The assertion of Islamic Values Policy was developed to instill Islamic values into public institutions to foster economic growth. According to Alfattani (2008), the government also started courses related to Islamic values to teach them to its citizens. Moreover, the integration of Islamic values in public institutions was also in alignment with the National Cultural Policy, which stated that Islam was the national religion (Alfattani 2008). Therefore, the use of this policy further strengthened the unity of its citizens. The proof of execution of this policy was the ability of Malaysia to be among the top ten fastest growing economies globally by 1990 (Alfattani 2008). This growth shows that the use of Islamic values had spearheaded development. 


Abdullah, MHB, Subramaniam, v, Jaafar, WMW & Elangkovan, K 2013, ‘Tradition and transition of Malaysian Society Across Time.’ Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol.2, no.8, pp.456.

Alfattani, WSBWY 2008. ‘Malaysian experiences on the development of Islamic economics, banking and finance.’ King Abdul Aziz University, Islamic Economic Institute, pp.405-417.

Countries and their culture n.d., ‘Culture of Malaysia – history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family.’ Available from: <  > [11 April 2018].

Faizli, A 2012. ‘55th years of Malaysia’s independence: redefining the basic of national education.’ Anas Alam Faizli. Available from: < > [11 April 2018].

Husin, WN 2012, ‘Cultural clash between the Malays and Chinese in Malaysia: an analysis on the formation and implementation of national cultural policy.’ In 2012 International Conference on Humanity, History and Society, pp. 1-6.

‘Malaysia GDP Growth Rate’ n.d. Tradingeconomics. Available from: < > [11 April 2018].

Muhamat, R, Don, AG, Hamjah, SH, Sham, FM, Nasir, BM, Ashaari, MF, Tibek, SR, Ismail, Z, Endot, I, Puteh, A & Ghani, MZA 2012, ‘The history of ethnic relationship in Malaysia.’ Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences, vol.6, no.4, pp.504-511.

‘Social Development Policy’ 2015. Slideshare. Available from: < > [11 April 2018].

Zainudin, MZ & Kamarudin, MF 2015, ‘Impacts on the Implementation of Social Policy: Comparative Study in Malaysia and Indonesia.’ Asian Social Science, Vol.11, no.17, pp.48.

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