Jalur Gemilang – The Story of the Malaysian Flag

Looking at the Malaysian flag that bears the official name Jalur Gemilang one could suppose that the design was influenced by the American Star Spangled Banner. But is that really so? To answer that question we have to dig into the history of the Malaysian Nation.

30. August, 1957 — The night before the Federation of Malaya gained its independence from the British colonial rule. In Kuala Lumpur crowds gathered at the Royal Selangor Club Padang to witness the handover of power from the British. At 11:58 p.m. suddenly two minutes of darkness. Thousands of Malay, Chinese and Indian people stood in darkness for two minutes. On the stroke of midnight, the lights were switched back on, and the Union Flag in the square was lowered. The new Flag of Malaya was raised as the national anthem Negaraku was played. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first prime minister, later gave a speech hailing the ceremony as “greatest moment in the life of the Malayan people”.

The flag that was uncovered that night looked pretty much the same as the modern version. Red and white stripes and a blue square on the left upper corner bearing a crescent and a star. The only difference to the flag as we know it today pertains to the number of stripes and points of the star. In 1957, there were 11 stripes, 6 red and 5 white ones, and the star featured 11 points to symbolize the 11 states the Federation consisted of at that time.

The Wherabouts of the Flag Design

Before 1946 Malaya, at that time a British colony, politically consisted of the four federated States Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang and the five unfederated states Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu. Only the Federated Malay States had a flag of its own until its dissolution in 1946. It was made up of four stripes in white, red, yellow and black and a picture of a running tiger. The colours represent the four states in different combinations  — red, black and yellow are for Negeri Sembilan; black and white for Pahang; black, white and yellow for Perak; and red and yellow for Selangor.

Flag of the Federated Malaya. Copyright: Bukhrin/Wikimedia Commons

The unfederated states, although being under British protectorate, lacked common institutions and did not form a single state in international law. On 1 April 1946 both the Federated and Unfederated states formed the Malayan Union under British rule, now being a single crown colony with a view towards independence. However, the Malayan Union was only short-lived and in 1948 was being replaced by the Federation of Malaya.

One year later, in 1949, the federation government called for a design contest for a new flag. 373 flag designs were being submitted of which only three were chosen to be presented to the public. One of the submitters was Mohamed bin Hamzah, a 29-year-old architect working for the Public Works Department (JKR) in Johor Bahru. He entered the competition with two designs. The first design was a green flag with blue kris in the middle, surrounded by 15 white stars. The second design, which was chosen as one of the three finalists, was the one that with a few amendments became the national flag. The original version already had all the familiar elements including the famous red and white stripes that also serve as a pattern in the US flag. Some sources claim that the design was indeed influenced by the American flag. Other sources state that Mohamed Hamzah was rather inspired by another flag, namely that of the East India Company, which also contains red and white stripes and a square in the upper left corner that showed the Union Jack. Mohamed Hamzah took over the 11 stripes and combined them with the crescent and star on blue background.

Flag of the East India Company
Flag of the East India Company
Early design (1949) of what was to become the flag of Malaya

It was this design that was chosen as the winner through a public poll held by the newspapar “The Malay Mail”. However, before it was officially announced it underwent a few changes, as the originally five-pointed star had an uncanny resemblance with the communists’ symbols. Therefore, the star was modified to accommodate six more points. Secondly, following a proposal by the Sultan of Kedah, the color of the crescent and the star was changed from white to yellow, which is the color of the Royal family.

On 19th April 1950 finally the flag was chosen to represent the Federated Malaya. The first time the Federation of Malaya flag was raised in an official procession was on the 26th May 1950, which was organized by the British High Commission within the confines of the Sultan Selangor’s palace. At 9:38 am, the Federation of Malaya flag was raised by the British High Commissioner in Malaya Sir Henry Gurney.

Flag of Malaya

This version was replaced in 1963, when the Federation of Malaya evolved into the state of Malaysia and introduced three new members (Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore) the number of stripes increased to 14, and accordingly the star was reshaped with 14 points.

The Gemilang Jalur (Glorious Stripes)



Interestingy, when Singapore left Malaysia two years later the star and stripes remained unchanged: Instead of amending the design again in order to stay congruent with the meaning, it was decided to simply change the meaning. Since then the 14 stars and stripes officially symbolize the 13 member states…and the Federal Government 🙂


57th Independence Day parade at Merdeka square, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 31, 2014
57th Independence Day parade at Merdeka square, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 31, 2014 © masuti / Shutterstock.com







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