Sir Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah was the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya from 1955 and became the country’s first Prime Minister after its Independence in 1957. Born in a royal family in Kedah, Abdul Rahman was the son of 24th Sultan of Kedah and went to become the founding father of the independent Malaysia. Before attaining independence of the country, Abdul Rahman was also a member of the United Malays National Organization, an organization struggling against Britain’s Malayan Union. Also known as Bapa Kemerdekaan, he became the first Prime Minister of the country after Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore merged to form Malaysia in 1963. He played a key role when the Organization of Islamic Conference was established in 1969 and served as its first Secretary-General.
Childhood & Early Life
Abdul Rahman was born on 8 February 1903 in Istana Pelamin, Alor Star in Kedah to the 24th Sultan of Kedah Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah and his sixth wife Cik Menjalara. He was the fourteenth son and twentieth child of his father. As a child Abdul Rahman was raised in Isatan, the Palace, which was built by a Chinese contractor and had a royal childhood with a number of servants around him. Prince Abdul was sent to a Malay Primary School Jalan Baharu in 1909 and was later moved to the Government English School in Alor Star, which eventually became known as the Sultan Abdul Hamid College. In 1911, little prince Abdul was sent to Debsirin School in Bangkok to study with his three brothers. He returned to Malaya in 1915 and resumed his studies at Penang Free School. After three years in 1918, he enrolled at St. Catharine’s College in Cambridge University with the Kedah State Scholarship and graduated with a bachelor degree in Arts in 1925. At that time, he drew national attention and was praised as the first student to receive a scholarship from Kedah State for studying in the United Kingdom.
After finishing his graduation, Abdul Rahman served in the Kedah public service and was made the District Officer of Kulim and Sungai Petani. At that time, the colonial Malaya was totally dominated by the British officers, with the only exception of Abdul Rahman who was a Malaya and had concern for his fellow people of Malaya. The two could never come to terms and he often had to pay for it by loosing promotion to higher positions. However, the British Administration did not dare do anything against him, as he was a son of the Sultan and a price of Malaya. Few years later, Abdul went to England and stayed there briefly before finally returning to Malaya following the eruption of the World War II.
He continued his law studies at Inner Temple in 1947 and after admitted to bar in 1949, he returned to Malaya where he was appointed at the Legal Officer’s office in Alor Star in the same year. Further, he was made a Deputy Public Prosecutor in Kaula Lampur and president of the session’s court. Abdul Rahman was also a member of the United Malays National Organization, an organization struggling against Britain’s Malayan Union. In 1951, a conflict surfaced within the UMNO forcing its president Datuk onn Jaafar to resign and the person replacing him was Abdul Rahman, who eventually seized the position for the next twenty years.
Independence of Malaya
Abdul Rahman began his campaign for Malaya’s independence in 1954. His initial efforts failed to achieve anything as the British Administration was averse to grant independence unless it was assured of the racial harmony and equality in a new independent Malaya. As President of the UMNO, Abdul Rahman consolidated a political alliance with the Malaya Chinese Association to form the Alliance Party and later the Indian community Malayan Indian Association joined them in 1955. The coalition gained huge popularity among people though the UMNO members were initially reluctant to open the party to Chinese and Indian community. Abdul Rahman became the first Chief Minister of Malaya with the Alliance Party winning the first federal general election held in the same year. In 1955, he traveled to Japan, where he negotiated the Malaya Independence and 31 August 1957 was finally decided for its independence.
Premiership of Malaysia
Malaya became Malaysia with the emergence of Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei in 1963. In 1961, Abdul Rahman called upon these states to form an amalgamation and was subsequently elected the first Prime Minister of Malaysia on 16 September 1963. However Singapore’s addition in the federal proved disastrous which increased the Chinese influx in the country. Abdul Rahman fearing, that Lee Kuan Yew’s Party could influence the voters in Malaya, started demanding Singapore’s exclusion from Malaysia. After endless clashes between Abdul Rahman and Lee Kuan, Singapore seceded and declared its Independence on 9 August 1965.
Abdul Rahman’s regime came to downfall in 1969, when the Alliance Party lost most of its support in the general election that year. Abdul Rahman lost its support from the people within UMNO who were highly critical of his headship and eventually, an emergency committee captured the country from Abdul Rahman and declared a state of emergency leaving him with no power. On 22 November 1970 Abdul Rahman resigned from the position of Prime Minister and subsequently from UMNO in 1971.
In 1960, when he was still the Chief Minister, Abdul Rahman declared Islam the official religion of Malaysia and established the Islamic Welfare Organization (PERKIM) as a guiding body for Muslim converts. He became the president of PERKIM and served until a year before his death. As President of PERKIM, he organized the first International Quran Recital Competition in 1961.
Abdul Rahman played a key role when the Organization of Islamic Conference was established in 1969 and served as its first Secretary-General. He was a co founder of the Islamic Development Bank and President of the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of South East Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP), serving from 1982 till 1988. However he declared Islam the official religion of Malaysia, he stuck to his idea of running Malaysia as a secular country where people of different beliefs and religion lived and worked together.
An enthusiastic sportsman himself, Abdul Rahman promoted many sports events in Malaysia, viewing is a medium to bring people of different race and religion together. He started an international football tournament in 1957 and was elected as the first president of Asian Football Confederation in the next year in 1958. He had a passion for horse racing and was a member of the Selangor Turf Club.
Later Life & Death
In 1977, Abdul Rahman became the chairman of The Star, a newspaper which was banned in 1987 by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad because of its provoking columns that were harshly critical of the Malaysia’s government. Following a rift with in UMNO, he unsuccessfully tried to establish a new party UMNO Malaysia. In the general election of 1900, Abdul Rahman actively participated and widely campaigned against Mahathir Mohamad despite his worsening health. He died on 6 December 1990, aged eighty seven and his body was buried at the Langgar Royal Mausoleum in Alor Star.
Family & Children
Abdul Rahman is believed to have at least four marriages in which only three are officially confirmed. His first wife was Meriam Ching, a Chinese woman who gave birth to two children Tunku Khadijah and Tunku Ahmad Nerang. After her death, Abdul married Violet Coulson, his former landlady in England. He divorced her and married Sharifah Rodziah Syed Alwi Barakbah and the couple adopted four children Sulaiman, Mariam, Sharifah Hanizah and Faridah. His fourth marriage to a Chinese woman Bibi Chong remained secret with whom; he had two daughters Tunku Noor Hayati and Tunku Mastura.