Southeast Asian countries practice several religions but Islam is the most practiced among these religions. Nearly 240 million people living in this region of the world identify as Muslims. Indonesia in the region is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Here is a list of the Southeast Asian nations where Islam is a religion of the majority.
Indonesia, the largest island country in the world, is located in the Indian Ocean with some islands extending into the Pacific Ocean. The country has the highest Muslim population in the world. Indonesia has a Muslim population of about 205 million, as of 2010. 99% of the country’s Muslims practice Sunni Islam while 0.5% are Shias, and 0.2% are Ahmadis. The government of the country recognizes six religions officially. There are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Confucianism. Although Muslims dominate the country’s population, the constitution allows the people of Indonesia to practice a religion of their choice. Thus, the country is a secular state. Islam was introduced and promoted in Indonesia mainly by the Arab Muslim traders and the rulers of the region who adopted the religion. During the colonial rule in Indonesia, Islam spread among the masses as a display of unity and a rallying banner against foreign rule.
Malaysia is a Southeast Asian country divided into two parts, peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia. The latter is part of the Borneo island and separated from the former by the South China Sea. The population of the country is more than 30 million. About 61.3% of the Malaysian population practice Islam. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Confucianism with a following of 19.8%, 9.2%, 6.3%, and 1.3% respectively, are the other major religious beliefs in Malaysia. Although Islam is declared as the "religion of the Federation”, the constitution of Malaysia allows the people to practice a religion of their choice. The country is thus a secular state. Most of Malaysia’s Muslims are Sunnis affiliated to the Shafi'i school. About 18% of the Muslims are nondenominational.
Located on the northern coast of the Borneo Island and surrounded on other sides by Sarawak, a state of Malaysia, Brunei is a small nation in maritime Southeast Asia. Islam is the country’s official religion and 67% of the population adhere to this religion. Islam was propagated in Brunei in the 15th century when a Muslim became the ruler of the country. The Muslim Sultan adopted several measures to promote the religion in the country including the establishment of mosques, subsidizing the Hajj, and also carrying out welfare activities in the name of Islam. The religion was made the state religion in 1959 and in 2014, the Sultan of Brunei implemented and enforced the first phase of the Sharia law in the country. Today, Brunei’s Muslims are mostly Sunnis of Malay descent. Other Muslim groups living in the country include Malay Kedayans, Malay Brunei, and converts of Chinese descent. Buddhists, Christians, and Freethinkers account for about 13%, 10%, and 7% of Brunei’s total population. Despite Islam being the nation’s state religion, the country allows others to practice their own religions privately. Some religious holidays associated with other religions are also observed like Christmas. However, the public propagation of non-Islamic religions is strictly prohibited in the country.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Although administered by Australia, the Australian external territory of the Cocos Islands, is regarded as part of Southeast Asia. The small archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean about midway between the Australian mainland and Sri Lanka. Around 27 coral islands are part of two atolls that form the Cocos Islands. Out of these, only two of the islands are inhabited, the Home Island and the West Island. The majority of the about 600-strong population of the Keeling Islands are Muslims. About 80% of the population is affiliated with Sunni Islam. Most of these Muslims reside in the Home Island which has a population of about 500 people. They are ethnic Malays who were brought to the islands by Europeans as laborers and thus introduced their religion on the island. The West Island with a population of around 120 is home to ethnic Europeans. Three mosques have been built here with one on the West Island.
What Southeast Asian nations have a predominant Muslim population?
Brunei, Cocos Islands, Indonesia, and Malaysia are the four Southeast Asian nations with a predominant Muslim population.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
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