With more than 25,000 islands, the Indo-Malaysia region has a population of about 420 million people. The equator runs through the center of the region, and tropical rainforest climates are typical. Many of the islands are mountainous, with both dormant and active volcanoes.
Indo-Malaysia is rapidly modernizing and urbanizing. Skyscrapers and apartment buildings tower over the densely populated cities. Malls are sometimes spectacular and often massive. The region thrives on trade and has a very sophisticated commercial economy.
For centuries prior to the European colonial era, the region was dominated by Chinese traders, and today the Chinese are a sizeable minority across the region. Indo-Malaysia is very ethnically diverse with Malay peoples making up the largest single group.
Dialects of Malay are the official languages of Malaysia and Indonesia. English is widely spoken, and is an official language in Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Most of the countries (except Brunei, which is an Islamic Republic) are officially secular and permit freedom of religion. Yet in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Muslim majority countries, there is growing pressure from Muslims to ensure that Islam remains dominant. Many Islamists are pushing for Sharia law and are seeking to make everyone in their country comply even though Sharia law is currently only applied to Muslims.
In the Philippines, the Muslim Moro peoples have been resisting non-Muslim rule for 500 years. Islamist insurgents are fighting for an Islamic state in Muslim Mindanao. The conflict is bloody. Though a fragile peace is holding, the government continues to battle Islamist insurgents.
With growing economies and rapidly expanding populations across the region, a common struggle for many is finding the means to live, to raise children, and forge a future for their families.
In addition, in Muslim majority regions, peoples who have long traditions of living together harmoniously across religious divides are facing increasing hostilities. Minorities are increasingly feeling the pressure of religious intolerance, usually pressures by Muslims on Christians and other religious minorities.
Sunni Islam dominates the region. There are pockets of various other versions of Islam, but they are fewer than 1% of Muslims in any area.
There are two significant variations of Sunni Muslims throughout the region. Folk Muslims practice Islam very loosely and continue to hold to traditional Buddhist, Hindu, and animist beliefs and practices. Their version of Islam has very tenuous ties with the other group, those who follow historic, orthodox Islam.
In the past, both Indonesia and Malaysia have been known for a high level of inter-religious and inter-cultural tolerance. Sadly, this tolerance is breaking down in many places as zealous, orthodox Muslims seek to impose their interpretation of Islam on their fellow citizens who are traditional Folk Muslims.
In recent decades these orthodox Muslims have been seeking to bring traditional Folk Muslims into conformity with a stricter adherence to orthodox Sunni Islam. This revivalist version of Islam, which is typically imported from the Middle East, is leading to increasing tensions between these two expressions of Islam in many Muslim communities in Indo-Malaysia.
The Philippines and East Timor are almost completely Christian. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei have Muslim majorities.
In Malaysia, Christians are 10% percent of the population and are mostly Chinese.
Ethnic Malays are expected to be Muslim and are not allowed to leave Islam. In spite of a fairly open multi-religious society, there is very little freedom of religion for Malay Muslims. There are small gatherings of Malay believers in homes but no apparent movements to Christ among Malay Muslims.
Indonesia is also about 10% Christian and has many mega churches and large denominations. In recent decades, increasing numbers of Indonesian Christians have begun reaching out to Muslims. There are many small groups of believers around the country and numerous reports of church planting movements emerging.
Since radical Islamist groups want to make Indonesia into a more strictly Muslim country, this is leading to government pressure being added to the normal family and community pressure on those who choose to follow Christ.