The Meaning Behind the Flag of Malaysia

Over the past few weeks, several cases of the Malaysian flag, Jalur Gemilang being flown upside down across the country caused the internet to boom with criticism as Malaysians came out in defence of the country’s colours.

It sparked a sudden wave of spirit as well as rage, as people from all walks of life began to protest against these acts of provocation and insult towards the nation’s flag.

I do not claim to be an expert in vexillology (the study of flags), but, being a person who has always been passionate about flags, I realise that there are certain facts in which the general public seems to have gotten wrong, or seems to have missed out in the heat of discussing about the flag of Malaysia.

Two years ago, I had highlighted the flaws in the design of the Malaysian flag used as an emoji in the popular messaging application WhatsApp, where the size of the blue canton is only half of the height of the flag; but nobody seems to even bothered about it and people are still using the emoji until today.

A couple of years ago, I’ve also written a number of articles on upside down flags and the mistakes in vertical flags that I had came across while travelling around the country.

Jalur Gemilang that we know and hail today has an integrated design that projects the historical and symbolic meanings related to the essence of the nation, Islam and the Raja-Raja Melayu.

The flag comes with a deep history carved into each and every single element featured in the ensign.

In commemoration of the formation of the Federation of Malaya, a flag designing competition was held by the Federal Legislative Assembly where a submission by Mohamed bin Hamzah, an architect from the Public Works Department was chosen as the winner.

The design features a canton with a crescent and star charge as in the flag of Johor and the stripes as in the Sang Saka Getih-Getah Samudera, the flag of the Majapahit Empire; and not being scrapped from the flag of the United States of America, the Star-Spangled Banner as accused by those who are illiterate about the history of flags.

The Federal Legislative Council amended the design and changed the blue stripes to red and the red canton to blue.

The 5-pointed star was changed where 6 more points were added to the star before it was being adopted as the official ensign of the Federation of Malaya.

When Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined the country, thus forming the Federation of Malaysia, the flag was amended once more to add another three points to the star and three new stripes that represent the three new states.

Now that we know the history of the flag, we also have to look into the meaning of the Jalur Gemilang.

As almost everybody knows, the fourteen red and white stripes represent the thirteen states of Malaysia and the Federal Territories, the blue canton represents the unity of the people, while the yellow crescent represents Islam which is the religion of the Federation and the yellow star symbolises the Malay Rulers.

As of the colours, red and white symbolise courage and purity respectively; while yellow signifies the royal colour of the Malay Rulers and blue signifies the unity of the people.

However there is more to the flag than meets the eye.

The size of the fourteen-pointed star which is smaller than the crescent, symbolises that the Malay Rulers are subjected to the religion of Islam.

And the height of the blue canton that bears the crescent and star is more than half of the height of the flag, symbolising the supreme position of Islam as the religion of the Federation as well as the sovereignty and importance of the roles of the Malay Rulers as leaders of the people and the religion of Islam.

Many people do not understand the serious implication of flying a country flag upside down.

In general, the act of flying a country flag upside down is a sign of disrespect, insult and humiliation not only to the national flag but also to the country.

In certain country, it can be a sign of protest, distress or even a sign of waging war against the country.

In the Philippines, the national flag is flown upside down only during times of war, in this case, the red band shall be on top of the blue band, instead of the other way around.

In the case of the Malaysian flag, if the flag is flown upside down, the charge which represents the religion of Islam and the Malay Rulers would then be positioned at the bottom part of the flag, thus signifies disloyalty, insult and humiliation to the two core principals of the Federation.

Therefore, the flag of Malaysia is not to be flown upside down at anytime, including at times of war.

According to a notable historian Prof. Datuk Dr. Ramlah Adam, flying the Jalur Gemilang upside down can imply the act of waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Under the Section 121 of the Penal Code, whoever wages war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or against any of the Rulers or Yang di-Pertua Negeri, or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

In most cases the flags were flown upside down out of mistake, carelessness and apathy, which shows ones attitude of not being able to understand or couldn’t care less about the significance and the importance of the flag protocols.

The flag of our nation bears not only our spirit but also the identity of the Federation. Mishandling of the ensign, may lead to severe implications.


Author: Ahmad Ali Karim

Blogger. Official Ambassador at Muafakat Pendidikan Johor (MPJ). Columnist at Utusan Malaysia. Secretary at Pertubuhan Permuafakatan Pendidikan Malaysia (ME'DIDIK).

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