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Malaysia is a located on a strategic sea-lane that exposes it to global trade and various cultures. Strictly, the name "Malaysia" is a modern concept, created in the second half of the 20th century. However, contemporary Malaysia regards the entire History of Malaya, spanning thousands of years back to Prehistoric times, as its own history, and as such it is treated in this page.

An early western account of the area is seen in Ptolemy's book Geographia, which mentions a "Golden Khersonese," now identified as the Malay Peninsula.Hinduism and Buddhism from India and China dominated early regional history, reaching their peak during the reign of the Sumatra-based Srivijaya civilisation, whose influence extended through Sumatra, Java, the Malay Peninsula and much of Borneo from the 7th to the 13th centuries.

Although Muslims had passed through the Malay Peninsula as early as the 10th century, it was not until the 14th century that Islam first firmly established itself. The adoption of Islam in the 14th century saw the rise of a number of sultanates, the most prominent of which was the Sultanate of Malacca. Islam had a profound influence on the Malay people, but has also been influenced by them. The Portuguese were the first European colonial powers to establish themselves on the Malay Peninsula and Southeast Asia, capturing Malacca in 1511, followed by the Dutch in 1641. However, it was the British who, after initially establishing bases at Jesselton, Kuching, Penang and Singapore, ultimately secured their hegemony across the territory that is now Malaysia. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 defined the boundaries between British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies (which became Indonesia). A fourth phase of foreign influence was immigration of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs of the colonial economy created by the British in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.

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