Burmese in Malaysia

Burmese
Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2022
Kerry Olson  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  Bethany World Prayer Center
People Name: Burmese
Country: Malaysia
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 31,000
World Population: 31,725,600
Primary Language: Burmese
Primary Religion: Buddhism
Christian Adherents: 0.50 %
Evangelicals: 0.17 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Burmese
Affinity Bloc: Tibetan-Himalayan Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

Ever since the 1800s, the Burmese were lured to the stable conditions and economic opportunities of what is now Malaysia. However, upon arrival, they found they had to compete with Indians, Chinese and other peoples from Southeast Asia. In medieval times, the port of Malacca controlled the straits through which trade with the East occurred. On the southwestern coast of Malaya (Malaysia) facing Sumatra, the city possessed a considerable reputation for its trade. Merchants from many countries, including Burma, were attracted to it. When the British assumed control in the 1800s, Malaysia’s commerce was limited to trade with Burma, Thailand and Indonesia.


Burma established diplomatic relations with Malaya in 1959, and those relations continued when the nation of Malaysia came about in 1965. Despite differing political systems, the Burmese and Malay share commercial interests. In addition, Malaysia offers various training services for the Burmese police and armed forces, farm-based industries, hotel management, and palm oil technology. Since 1976, a few Burmese doctors have served in Malaysia on a contract basis.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Burmese in Malaysia are usually refugees, but some come as cheap manual labor in this land that has a far higher standard of living than Myanmar. Some are victims of human trafficking. Most of them are from Myanmar’s ethnic minorities like the Chin and the Rohingya, but there are some from the more privileged Burmese ethnic group.


The Malaysian government has become overwhelmed with refugees, and they would like to send many of the Burmese back to Myanmar. It will be difficult to determine which ones are legitimate refugees from the oppressive government and which ones are there to earn a better living.


Some of the Burmese who are not still directly involved in commerce work on plantations or produce food for sale. Wet-rice and rubber are the principal cash crops, while they also cultivate dry-rice and fruit. Other Burmese hold wage-paying jobs.


Through the years, the best course for the Burmese in Malaysia was to identify themselves as "Malay" and get the favor of a local leader. Muslim Burmese could own land according to the legal definition of a Malay, which states that "a Malay is a person belonging to any Malayan race who habitually speaks the Malay language or any Malayan language and professes the Muslim religion." With this clause (still in effect today), some resident Burmese became "Malaysian."

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Burmese are predominantly Hinayana Buddhists. The traditional goal in Buddhism is to seek the middle path to Nirvana, or ultimate peace. They believe that death is not a threat to one who has done good deeds. Instead, it is simply a "passing" from one life to another. They believe those with less merit are reborn as demons, ghosts, animals, or inhabitants of hell.


Though the Burmese are predominantly Buddhist, they have mingled many animistic practices (based on the belief that non-human objects have spirits) with Buddhism. Their animistic beliefs center on inherently evil spirits called nats. Sadly, they spend their lives trying to appease the nats for protection from any other evil spirits. All of their homes have altars for the spirits, as well as a statue of Buddha.

What Are Their Needs?

The Burmese left their homeland in search of peace. They are in need of loving Christ followers who will introduce them to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Fervent prayer and increased evangelism efforts are the keys to seeing them reached with the gospel.

Prayer Points

Pray that the sheer wonder of knowing Jesus and the impact he has on lives will draw hundreds of Burmese to the Throne of Grace.


Pray the hearts of the Burmese people would be stirred by a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit readying them for the gospel message.


Pray they will experience dreams and visions of Jesus leading them into a saving relationship with him.


Pray for an unstoppable movement to Christ among the Burmese people in Malaysia.

Text Source:   Joshua Project