Malaysia is unique culturally in two ways – it is home to three of Asia’s most elaborate cultures (i.e. the Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures) and most of the world’s major religions, all coexisting together in harmony. Malaysia’s cosmopolitan nature traces its roots way back to the glorious era of the Malacca Sultanate in the 1400s, when the city of Malacca became a vital centre for maritime trade and cultural exchange for merchants from all over Asia and the Middle East. With the colonization of the then Malaya under the British, the country’s cultural diversity was further enhanced with the influx of large numbers of labourers and merchants from China and India in the 1800s and early 1900s, who brought along with them their unique sets of faiths and religious systems, thus adding to Malaya’s multireligious identity.
Here are some quick facts about religion in Malaysia:
?Malaysia is home to most of the world's major religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism
?While Islam is the official religion of West Malaysia and Muslims form the largest proportion of the Malaysian population, freedom of religion and worship is guaranteed for all faiths under the Federal Constitution
?Major religious festivals of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity are gazetted as public holidays in the Malaysian calendar
?It is not uncommon to see mosques, churches and temples coexisting peacefully in the same town or city, and sometimes even along the same street
?Many of Malaysia's major places of worship serve not only their religious purposes, but have become popular favourites for foreign tourists fascinated with Malaysia's cultural and religious diversity
Having said that, here's a list of the some religious sites throughout the country that are most popular with tourists.
- Jamek Mosque, Kuala Lumpur
Situated at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers in the very heart of Kuala Lumpur, Jamek Mosque is undoubtedly one of the oldest mosques in the Malaysian capital. Construction of the mosque began in the early 1900s and was completed in 1907, being commissioned by the British colonial government as part of efforts in developing the capital. The mosque was built atop a former Malay cemetery, with funds partly contributed by the British colonial government and partly raised by the local Malay community. Its architectural style, designed by the then resident Architect General of British Malaya, Arthur Benison Hubback, bears significant Moorish and North Indian influence.
- Batu Caves, Selangor
Although the limestone caves of Batu Caves have been utilized as shelters by some of the indigenous tribes (Orang Asli) for centuries, the Hindu temple that lies within it did not come into existence until 1890, when K. Thamboosamy Pillay, one of the most prominent figures in the Malayan Tamil community, installed a consecrated statue of Lord Murugan there. Thamboosamy was inspired by the shape of the main cave’s entrance, which resembled that of Lord Murugan’s spear. After the establishment of the temple within the cave complex, wooden steps were built to allow access to the faithful, which were then replaced with a flight of 272 concrete steps in 1920 that remains until today.
- National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur
After Malaysia gained its independence in 1957, ideas to construct a national mosque as a symbol of the country’s independence were mooted by several cabinet ministers and state Chief Ministers. Building of the mosque was completed in 1965, with proposals to name it the Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj Mosque, after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. Tunku Abdul Rahman, however, rejected the idea, instead choosing to name it the National Mosque as a sign of thanksgiving for the country’s attainment of independence without bloodshed.
- Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur
The Thean Hou Temple, located atop Robson Hill in the Malaysian capital, is one of the largest Chinese Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. Originally dedicated to Goddess Tian Hou (Heavenly Mother), worship of Goddess Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and Shui Wei Sheng Niang (Goddess of the Waterfront) is also common in the temple. Although the original temple was said to have been built some 100 years ago, the temple that stands today was built from 1981 to 1987 by the Selangor and Federal Territory Hainanese Association, costing a total of about RM7 million
- Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur
Revered by the Malaysian Hindu community as the oldest and richest temple in Kuala Lumpur, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple is located in the vicinity of the city’s Chinatown. It was originally founded by K. Thamboosamy Pillay in 1873 as a private shrine for his family, but the family decided to open it to public in the 1920s. While its original site was somewhere near the current Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, the temple was shifted to its present location in 1885. The temple underwent major renovation works which were completed in 1968, giving rise to its present-day grandiose structure and intricate architecture.
- St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur
St. Mary’s Cathedral is an Anglican church in Kuala Lumpur and one of the oldest surviving churches in the capital city. The church’s original structure once stood atop Bukit Aman from its inception in 1887 right up to 1894, when its current building was completed near Independence Square in order to house a growing congregation. Building of the church was funded by, amongst others, the British colonial government of Selangor and local community leaders such as K. Thamboosamy Pillay and Yap Kwan Seng, although they were not Christians themselves.
- Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Selangor
Upon the declaration of Shah Alam as the new capital of the state of Selangor, the late Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, commissioned the building of a new, majestic state mosque in the city in 1974. Construction of the mosque began in 1982 and was completed in 1988, bearing a combination of Malay and Modernist influences in its architectural design. The mosque has a total capacity 24,000 worshippers, and is both the second largest mosque in Southeast Asia and the second tallest mosque in the world by the height of its minarets. Because of its distinctive blue dome and blue-pointed minarets that give off a stunning glow when lighted at night, the mosque is also widely known as the Blue Mosque. Situated nearby is the Garden of Islamic Arts, a beautiful landscaped park inspired by the Jannah or Garden of Paradise in the Quran.
- Putra Mosque, Putrajaya
A trip to Malaysia’s seat of the federal government, Putrajaya, warrants a visit to this renowned lakeside mosque. Named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the Putra Mosque has a relatively short history, its construction being completed in 1999 at a total cost of about RM250 million. The mosque is situated by the Putrajaya Lake, a large manmade lake in the centre of Putrajaya, and is conveniently located beside Perdana Putra, where the office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia is. The main feature of Putra Mosque is its large main dome and its smaller domes, all of which are made from pink granite, as well as its interior architecture which bear influences primarily from Middle Eastern and traditional Malay culture.
- Christ Church, Malacca
In 1741, in commemoration of the centenary of Dutch conquest of Malacca, the Dutch community decided to erect a new church to replace the aging St. Paul’s Church atop St. Paul Hill. Construction works were completed in 1753, and the Dutch community thereafter used it as the main church for the Dutch Reformed Church. It was then known as the Bovenkerk, or the High Church in the Dutch language. When Malacca was transferred into British hands in 1824, the Bovenkerk was renamed Christ Church, and it was reconsecrated under the Church of England by the Rt. Rev. Daniel Wilson, the then Anglican Bishop of Calcutta. Today, the church stands in the middle of Malacca’s Dutch Square as the oldest functioning Protestant church in the country.
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