The Flag of Malaysia: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Flag of Malaysia
© Phinakan

Written by Hannah Ward

Published: February 1, 2023

Share on:


All around the world flags are used as key symbols to represent countries, states, kingdoms, and monarchies. They are often brightly coloured and have many variations of shapes and symbols, yet each one is distinctive. Although it might not seem like it at first glance, flags are actually very important as they can tell an entire story just through what their colours or images represent. In many cases, flags can tell the history of a place, or they can represent war, peace, or power. They can even be used as a beacon of hope and to represent political movement. But what does the flag of Malaysia symbolize? Join us as we discover everything you need to know about its history and meaning!

History of Malaysia

Malaysia is a country in southeast Asia which currently consists of three federal territories and thirteen states. These are separated into two areas – Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) – by the South China Sea.

Malaysia has long been inhabited by humans, with evidence dating back approximately 40,000 years. Several European countries began to establish themselves on the Malay Peninsula – the Portuguese being the first in 1511. However, eventually the British gained dominance across the area in the nineteenth century and it became known as “British Malaya”.

The British rule ended during World War II with the Japanese invasion of Malaya, North Borneo, and Sarawak. Japan’s occupation of the area lasted between 1942 and 1945 and caused a wave a nationalism. Following Japan’s defeat the short lived Malayan Union was formed and then the Federation of Malaya which was a British protectorate state between 1948 and 1957. In 1957 independence was established and then it became “Malaysia” in 1963 when three more areas merged with Malaya – North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore.

Map of Malaysia

Malaysia is separated into two areas – Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) – by the South China Sea.


History of the Flag of Malaysia

The flag of Malaysia is also known as the Stripes of Glory. This is because it is comprised of fourteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes. There is also a blue canton featuring a yellow crescent moon and a fourteen-point star which is known as the Bintang Persekutuan – or Federal Star.

The flag originated as the flag of the Federation of Malaya. The Federation of Malaysia existed between 1948 and 1963 and consisted of the eleven states that had previously been British Malaya. In 1949 a competition was held to find a new national flag. There were 373 entries and three were put forward for a public vote. The winning design had eleven blue and white stripes and a red canton with a white crescent moon and a five-pointed star. It was designed by Mohamed Hamzah, a 29 year old architect. He said that the design was inspired by the flag of Johor – the state where he lived and worked.

The Federal Legislative Council decided to make some changes to the winning flag. They swapped the blue and white stripes for red and white. They also changed the red field in the upper left corner to blue, while the moon and star became yellow. The star also became an eleven-pointed star. The eleven stripes and eleven points on the star represented the eleven states of the Federation.

The new design was approved in 1950. It remained in use until 1963 when North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore joined Malaya and Malaysia was formed. At this point the flag was modified to add three extra stripes and three extra points to the star to represent the additional states.

Flag of Malaysia

The flag of Malaysia is also known as the

Stripes of Glory

because of its fourteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes.


Symbolism and Meaning

As we’ve just mentioned, the number of stripes and the number of points on the star represent the number of states within Malaysia. Although Singapore left Malaysia two years after it joined, the design of the flag remained the same. However, eventually the fourteenth stripe and point came to represent the federal government of Malaysia in general after Kuala Lumpur, Lauban, and Putrajaya became Federal Territories of Malaysia in 1974, 1984, and 2001 respectively. Regardless, the star on the flag is said to represent unity and cooperation between the states.

Furthermore, the crescent moon and the star represent Islam which is the official religion of Malaysia. Also, the yellow is the royal color of the Malay rulers and represents their role as leaders.

Finally, the blue canton represents unity of the people of Malaysia, white represents peace and honesty, and red symbolizes persistence and boldness.

Flag of Malaysia waving in the wind

Flag of Malaysia features a crescent moon and the star which symbolize Islam and represent unity and cooperation between the states.


Previous Flags of Malaysia

There has been many flags flown over Malaysia which is not surprising, given its long history. In fact, the previous flags are too numerous to name, but each time Malaysia was ruled by a different party it had a different flag representing it. These include the British flag, Portuguese flag, and the flags of many different sultanates.

However, one of the most notable flags is the flag that represented the Federated Malay States and then the Malay Union. It was also the flag that served as the first flag of the Federation of Malaya – the predecessor to the current flag design. This flag consisted of four horizontal bands of white, red, yellow, and black. In the center was a white oval with a stylized image of a running Malayan tiger on it. The horizontal stripes represented the four original states of Malaya – Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, and Selangor. In total, this flag was in use between 1896 and 1950.

Up Next

Share this post on:
About the Author

Hannah is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, marine life, mammals, and geography. Hannah has been writing and researching animals for four years alongside running her family farm. A resident of the UK, Hannah loves riding horses and creating short stories.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.