Sultan Idris Murshidul ‘Azzam of Perak was a far-sighted Malay Ruler who
saw the need for young Malays to be equipped with modern education if they
were to succeed in life. His Highness and fellow Rulers pressed the British to
found the Malay College where sons of the Malay upper class (later on to
include commoners) would be educated. His stand for Malay rights helped to
sow the seeds of Malay nationalism and with Malay College the nationalistic
spirit began to grow.
Much encouragement had come from R.J. Wilkinson, a noted Malay scholar
and educationist, who wanted Malay boys to become ‘a vigorous and
intelligent race of young men’ who were strong-minded and able to stand on
their own feet. European teachers at the College saw to it that this noble
purpose was achieved.
The British needed a pool of qualified Malays to assist them in the
administration of the country and graduates of the MCKK with the right
education and personal qualities were sought. They had proven themselves to
be able administrators and worthy of the trust placed upon them.
By educating the Malays, especially the upper class ones, they were able to
move up in social status and play a more significant role in the society and
later on, the government. Through quality education, the graduates of MCKK
are able to work closely with the British to bring change to their community
and be the voice for the Malays. Through education, they were able to help
their community to progress.
Zainal Abidin Ahmad or Za’ba was a teacher at the Malay College between
1921 and 1923. His nationalistic writings and propagation of a modernist
Islam made him an icon in the Malay society. As a teacher, he inspired the
boys to be proud of their Malay roots. He helped them to publish a Malay
magazine in jawi called ‘Semaian’ just before he left the College.
Za’ba was an influential individual in the field of Malay nationalism. He single-
handedly made a mark in propagating Malay nationalism in MCKK and played
a significant role in the mindsets of the boys of MCKK.
Stirrings of Malay nationalism came to be felt in the 1930’s with ordinary
Malays being influenced by developments in the Middle East and nearby at
home, Indonesia. An old Collegian, Ishak Haji Muhammad, refused to be
inducted into the Civil Service by the British. Instead, through his satirical
novels such as Putera Gunung Tahan, he agitated for the return of indigenous
At the same time Malays in the Penisula began to form associations
(persatuan) to fight for their interests, including participation in government
administration, the economy and education. One such association was led by
an old Collegian, Tengku Ismail bin Tengku Mohd Yasin. He and several
others managed to hold two national congresses to discuss related matters
before the World War II.
One negative results of the World War II was the British’s loss of faith in the
Malays despite the loyalty shown by Malay leaders to the British government.
Among Malay Collegians, Raja Aman Shah and Captain Yazid Ahmad, had
fought to their death to help defend the British in Malaya and Singapore.
The above paragraphs show how some MCKK graduates played significant
roles in the Malay Nationalistic movement. As individuals, they made their
own personal impact in the cause of Malay Nationalism.
The British hatched a political scheme by the name of Malayan Union which
would unify the country and put an end to the myth that Malay Rulers had a
right to their States via agreements that had been signed. The country would
be thrown open to all races who were domiciled, Malay special rights
abolished and the Rulers relegated to an inferior position as religious heads.
The Malays felt that the scheme, if implemented, would cause their demise as
a people. Za’ba by now leading the Selangor Malay Association realized the
grave danger the Malays were in and acted in concert with other Malay
community leaders to rise and thwart the scheme. He proposed that Dato’
Onn lead the struggle.
A continuation of the above information regarding Za’ba, these paragraphs
show how he did not cease his fight for Malay Nationalism and continued to
contribute to the advancement of this cause.
At the First All Malaya Malay Congress in March 1946, it was decided that a
political party by the name of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)
be formed as the vehicle to realize the Malay aspiration. The method used
should be through peaceful negotiations rather than physical confrontation as
was the norm in the struggle for independence elsewhere.
Dato’ Onn, an old boy of the College, became its first President when the
party was launched at the Instana Besar, Johor Bahru in 1946. A well known
figure before the war for championing the Malay causes, he was imbued with
strong nationalistic spirit and fought with vigour until the Malayan Union Plan
UMNO General Assemblies which debated policies and steps to be taken in
the struggle against the Malayan Union were often held in the palaces of
Malay Rulers. They were invariably old Collegians who identified themselves
with UMNO for its defense of the Malay traditional position besides having a
Among the policy makers around Dato’ Onn were coterie of old Collegians
such as Dato’ Zainal Abidin Abas, Dato’ Nik Ahmad Kamil, Raja Ayob Raja
Bhot and Dato’s Hamzah Abdullah. Experienced in law and modern
administration, they were able to assist Dato’ Onn in the complex negotiations
with the British to replace the Malayan Union with the Federation of Malaya
Many MCKK old boys became important leaders in the Malay Nationalistic
front and contributed much to the Malay Nationalism movement. They
became the founding leaders of UMNO, which would eventually play a large
role in the Malaysia political scene, even until today, and the encouragement
of Malay nationalism.
Malay College graduates, who held important posts in the administration,
towed the British line in order to achieve upward mobility. But they began to
question the policy which had hindered their progress. As aspiring nationalists
they were prepared to rid of the British who had come to doubt the existence
of the Malay College as an institution. With their modern education and
understanding of democracy, they were the most effective for negotiating for