The Dummies Guide to Understanding the Malays

You might have read a lot of things about the Malay culture and tradition and their religion Islam. However, how do the Malays actually led their daily lives? I seek to find out the answer for you by asking our reliable sources... Plus my own knowledge since I am one anyway. Hopefully that after this section, you'll understand the Malays even better and therefore will not be afraid to deal with them in your daily social lives. This is meant to educate xenophobic Westerners with a Dummies guide styling =) No offense meant! Oh and as for the simple English, I'm just feeling a lil bit under the weather so I can't be bothered to crank out heavy words at the moment.

How should one greet a Malay/Muslim friend?
Muslims greet each other with the salam (an Islamic form of greeting) which consists of the words 'Assalamu'alaikum' (Peace be upon you). A Muslim acknowledges the greeting with 'Wa'alaikumsalam' (Upon you be peace too). When the Malays offer the salam, they will touch each other's right hand. The touch is a light clasp not amounting to a handshake. This is immediately followed by the movement of the hand towards the heart to signify the greeting is heartfelt. However, opposite sex of Muslim cannot shake hand with each other. A non-Muslim should not greet a Malay this way but they can just greet their Muslim friend 'Selamat pagi' (Good morning), 'Selamat tengahari' (Good afternoon) and 'Selamat malam' (Good night) etc.

Should one remove his/her shoe before entering a Muslim/Malay home?

Yes. This is because any part of a Muslim home may be used for prayer.

What are the basic guiding principles which govern Muslim behaviour?
The five guiding principles of Muslim behaviour are:
  • a. Halal--( which is clearly permissible)
  • b. Haram--( that which is clearly not permissible)
  • c. Makruh--( that which is all right to do but preferably should not be done)
  • d. Sunnat--( that which is not obligatory to do but praiseworthy to do so)
  • e. Harus--( that which is all right to do or not to do)
Why do Muslim pray everyday?
Muslims pray everyday to fulfill the command of God, to nurture spiritual consciousness and seek emotional calm and peace, to express gratitude and thanksgiving to God and to beg forgiveness for all sins committed. Muslims pray five times a day. Each of the five prayers is performed during certain periods of time.
Do you know that Muslims cannot eat pork?
Only Halal food such as vegetables, fish, meat, etc. is allowed. All animals must be slaughtered by a Muslim according to Islamic rites. And thus the food can be called Halal. Pork in any form is not allowed. Amphibious animals such as snakes, frogs, crocodiles and birds of prey are also prohibited food.
Besides pork, what else does a Muslim not able to consume?
Prohibition on liquor is more severe than that on food. Intoxicating drinks in any form are not allowed. At social gatherings where food is served in buffet style and beer is offered, it is better in deference to the Muslim guests to have two serving points for drinks.
What are the dressing codes of Malay?
Decency in attire is the norm practiced by Muslim men and women. Muslim women who adhere strictly tot he principles of Islam dress to cover themselves except for their faces and hands. However, this is not practiced fully, as working Muslim also wore modern clothing to office. The main idea is not to be too revealing. At home, men usually wear sarong as it is cooler and more comfortable.
What is the difference between Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji?
The main difference is that Hari Raya Puasa is celebrated among Muslims after the end of the fasting month whereas Hari Raya Haji is observed in relation to the performance of the pilgrimage in Mecca. Hari Raya Puasa falls on the first day of the month of Syawal (the tenth month in the Islamic calendar). There are two methods to determine the fall of Hari Raya Puasa: following the sign of the new moon (Rukyah) or based on the astronomical calculation (Falak). In Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims adopted the second method. Hari Raya Haji falls on the tenth day of the month Zulhijjah (the twelfth month in the Islamic calendar). Muslims celebrate the Hari Raya Puasa with prayers and thanksgivings to God for giving them energy and the endurance to fast for 30 days. The Hari Raya Haji celebrates coincides with the day when Muslim pilgrims assemble at Arafah, an open field outside Mecca as part of their pilgrimage rites.
Do Muslim celebrate other festivals beside Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji?
No. Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji are the only festivals celebrated by Muslims in accordance with religious injunctions. Other than these, Muslims hold remembrances to commemorate occasions or events such as the following:
a. Maulud (the Prophet Muhammad's birthday)
b. Israk and Mikraj.
Israk means the night journey made by the Prophet Muhammad from the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Mikraj means the Prophet's accession to heaven. It is during the Mikraj that God gave the command making it obligatory for all Muslims to observe the five daily prayers. The Israk and Mikraj were two events which the Prophet experienced in a state of wakefulness. Remembrance of the above-mention events are held in the form of religious talk and gatherings at places such as mosques and open fields.
What are some of the etiquette in Islam that has to be observed when eating or drinking?
It is recommended that a Muslim uses his hand when eating. A Muslim should always use his right hand when handling food or drinking. Food is preferably be taken sitting on the floor as this is a sign of humility. Normally, using silver of gold tableware for eating or drinking is also forbidden as this will show signs of arrogance. It is rude for a Muslim to pick and choose from a dish; it is even ruder to choose the best portion or piece for one's self. He should simply take what is nearest to him. When helping one's self to food, do so from the side of the dish, and not from the middle.
What are some of the rules to observe when visiting others?
A Muslim dose not enter another's property without getting permission from the occupant, even if the occupant is very close to him, as the occupant might be in the state of dress in which he/she does not want to be seen. Men should not visit women whose husbands are away from home, unless they are "mahrams", (who under the Islamic law cannot be married to her). A woman may not visit others if her husband objects. When the time comes to leave, a visitor should thank the host for his entertainment and ask Allah to bless him.
What are the concepts of men-women relationship in Islam?
When a man meets a woman who is categorised by Islam as not his 'mahram" (who cannot be married to him by the Islamic law), he has to lower his gaze out of respect for modesty and through proper covering of the body. When a woman speaks to a man her speech should not be inviting but should remain objective and crisp. They are meant to promote purity of the heart and chastity.

And there you go. I had to modified the article a bit to suit the Brunei Malays' way of life, which is almost similar to the Singaporeans. The thing is it sounded as if this article was written back in the 1950s or 1960s. But the gist is there, humility and respect is favoured above others. Once you get that through your head, you pretty much nailed the daily life of a Malay.

Source: Daily Life of a Malay, Thinkquest