Online dating and interracial marriages in Malaysia

Posted July 19th, 2017

We’ve had a few requests recently for a piece about online dating in Malaysia with Findmate, but the question is a little trickier than it seems at first blush. For one thing, Malaysia is an extremely ethnically diverse nation, with substantial populations of Malays, Chinese, Bengalis, Indians and indigenous peoples. So dating advice that may hold for one group of Malaysians might be looked at as backward by another, in spite of the shared, polyglot culture the nation has developed over the past few centuries.

It’s worth addressing from the top that interracial dating is still looked upon with suspicion by many families. Much of this is due to the strong focus on marriage in the lives of women: 

“Millions of women today may champion independence (Career! Interests! Personal space!), yet there remains a subplot to the story, particularly here in Asia, where marriage is still considered central to a girl’s identity. Outwardly, Asian societies are rapidly modernising and opening up to new ideas; however traditional expectations and cultural values still largely dictate the form and flow of our relationships.

In Malaysia, racial politics extend to our personal lives. We might think that we’re beyond all this, that we’re accepting and ‘muhibbah’ [friendship, camaraderie, particularly between races], but we all know that every family quietly hopes that their children will marry someone within the same race. In such cases, marrying a person of another race would be seen as being beneath them or even, ‘a waste.’” (Elle)

In cosmopolitan cities like Kuala Lumpur this prohibition is perhaps less strictly observed, particularly given the number of Asians and westerners in the city to do business. There is even a somewhat pejorative term originating from nearby Singapore, sarong party girl, for Malaysian women who predominantly date white men (it carries a gold-digging connotation). With that said, there is also a practical reason why Malays in particular are cautious dating outside of their own communities:

“Even with significant changes in marriage practices, weddings reveal the sharp differences in Malaysian society. There are two ways to marry: registering the union with the government; and joining in marriage before a religious authority. Christian Malaysians may marry Buddhists or Hindus answering only to their families and beliefs; Muslim Malaysians who marry non-Muslims risk government sanction unless their partner converts to Islam.” (Everyday Culture)

A specific definition of “Malayness” is enshrined in the country’s constitution, which requires all Malays to speak the language and to practice Sunni Islam. While Malaysia permits freedom of religion, the loss of Malay identity would come at a significant emotional and social cost, and so interracial marriages remain relatively uncommon among Malays.

With that said, many younger Malaysians of all ethnicities have more liberal attitudes than previous generations. It’s fair to assume, if you happen to be, say, white or black, that the Malaysian who matched with you on Findmate noticed your color but is choosing to chat with you anyway. Malaysian dating culture is still by and large traditional (couples living together before marriage are a rarity), but as long as you are respectful in your interactions, you may find that your match has a different outlook on such questions! There’s only one way to find out.

While we make every effort to protect our users from scammers, it’s worth noting that Malaysia has been ranked in the top ten for cybercrime threat risks, including “sweetheart scams” that prey on online daters. “The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers” have been listed as reasons for the nation’s appeal to criminals, so take this as a reminder (wherever your match comes from) to never, e-e-e-e-ever exchange money with someone you’ve met through online dating. Read our blog on how to spot a scammer and the actions to we take to prevent exploitation on Findmate here.