‘Unity is strength' – the national motto on Malaysia’s national crest.

Recently, there have been calls within Malaysia threatening to leave the Federation.

Such calls are detrimental to the well-being of the nation.

The only way for Malaysia to move forward is through solidarity, not disunity.

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On this note, how much have we Malaysians learnt from our own history?


The Malays built great civilisations in this part of the world.

The Malay Archipelago has been home to several influential maritime sovereigns such as Langkasuka, Srivijaya, Majapahit and the Malacca Sultanate.

The Malacca Sultanate has always been perceived as pride of Malaysians for its glorious, though brief history.

The relative prosperity of these Malay kingdoms made them attractive to a number of distant powers possessing imperialistic ambitions.

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The Malay kingdoms of the Peninsula were often threatened by foreign powers like the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Japanese.

Unlike other regional kingdoms like Siam and Burma, the Malay kingdoms were not united, often at war with each other making themselves vulnerable targets for colonisation.

The Triangular War (Aceh-Johor-Portuguese)

The fall of Malacca in 1511 led towards the birth of the Johor Sultanate, established in 1528 by Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II, the son of the former Sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mahmud Shah.

Muslim traders began to avoid Malacca with Portuguese exercising its anti-Muslim policy and chose Aceh as a port of call instead.

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Johor and Aceh together rose as regional maritime powers but both decided not to work together to oust the Portuguese.

The triangular war lasted for one hundred years with no absolute winner to take up the throne as the true commander of the Straits of Malacca.

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The Malay rulers of Aceh and Johor were reluctant to work together and this enabled the Portuguese to remain in power until the coming of the Dutch in 1641.

The political scenario of the Malay Archipelago would be more interesting if Aceh and Johor joined forces to oust the Portuguese in this region.

But then again, that sadly didn’t happen.

Anglo-Dutch Treaty 1824

In the seventeenth century AD, the Johor-Riau Sultanate grew into a powerful kingdom having huge territories across the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and the Riau Islands.

In 1819, Sultan Hussein ceded Singapore to Stamford Raffles in order for him to receive recognition of ‘sultanhood’ from the British. Singapore remains a separate State till today.

Not only that, the internal political squabble amongst the royalty towards the throne of Johor has allowed the British and Dutch to take advantage in drawing a line of sphere of influence between these two powers across the Straits of Malacca in 1824, dividing the Malays in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula into two different sovereign nations up till today.

Should Johor rulers at that time remained united and resisted colonisation, the Malay Archipelago would not easily be carved like tomatoes to the likings of the former colonial masters.

The Anglo-Siamese Treaty 1909

The fate of the Malay states in the north of the Peninsula was also rather similar.

The rulers of the northern Malay states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu were too weak and disunited to gang up against Siamese and British dominations.

The Malay rulers of these States could only helplessly observe their counterparts in the modern Thai provinces of Satun, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat forcefully annexed as Siamese territories through the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.

In fact, none of the Malay rulers were consulted in drawing the boundary line between Siam and British Malaya.

The effect of this treaty could be seen until today in the present day Thai-Malaysia border.

The Malayan Union

The British came up with the Malayan Union plan in 1946, subsequent to the surrender of the Japanese in 1945.

The Malayan Union is a scheme to unite British Malaya into one single political entity at the expense of the rights of the Malays by providing jus soli citizenships to the non-Malays.

Sir Harold MacMichael, a former High Commissioner of the British Mandate in Palestine managed to quickly garner signatures from the Malay rulers.

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Sultan Ibrahim of Johor was among the earliest to sign the Malayan Union proposal scheme without much hesitation.

MacMichael threatened Malay rulers who were reluctant to sign the proposal scheme as friends and allies of the Japanese and would thereafter face grave consequences.

The British took advantage over the disunity among the Malay rulers to ensure the smooth running of the Malayan Union – a plan that almost sold the rights and interests of the Malays in their own country.

If not for Dato’ Onn bin Jaafar and the rakyat who united against the plan, one may wonder what would happen to the Malays today.


These are just examples of historical excerpts to display the mistakes of the rulers of the past.

In some cases, the rulers were too preoccupied with internal disputes to the throne and power resulting in hundreds of years of colonisation of our motherland.

History has shown that unity is the only way for us to move forward.

Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians and no one possesses rights to bring any State out of the Federation.

Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians

Any calls for secession are unbecoming and highly seditious.

Such acts could be considered as treachery and punishable under the Malaysian Penal Code.

The leaders of Malaysia should lead by example by inculcating love to the nation, not hatred, promoting unity and not otherwise.

Let us live in the true spirit of the slogan - Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh.

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Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli (Ph. D) is a senior lecturer at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia and a research associate at the Asia-Africa Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO), New Delhi, India. He is also a visiting professor at the School of Law, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.

Views expressed are personally those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Astro AWANI.