The fall of Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511 is the beginning of the Malay resistance against the intrusion of foreign forces. After the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and occupied Malacca in 1641, the struggle against the colonialists by local leaders and people furthermore continue in places like Naning, Kuala Perak, Riau and Kuala Selangor. It was during this period that leaders like Raja Haji rose in the struggle against the Dutch in 1784 until he perished in Telok Ketapang.
The presence of British in the Malay Peninsula in 1786 had furthermore uplifted the resistance efforts of the Malays against the colonialists, especially when the British began to interfere with local administrative matters. Resistance not only occurred in the Malay Peninsula but also in Sabah and Sarawak. The rise of anti-British movement had witnessed a ground swell of resistance triggered by local leaders and chieftains such as Penghulu Dol Said in Naning, Datuk Seri Siamang Gagap in Seri Menanti and Yamtuan Tunku Antah in Sungai Ujong, Dato' Maharajalela, Dato' Sagor and Sultan Abdullah of Perak, Dato' Bahaman, Tok Gajah and Mat Kilau in Pahang, Tok Janggut in Kelantan, Raja Mahadi in Selangor, Haji Abdul Rahman Limbong in Terengganu, Tok Moris, Tunku Kudin and Tunku Muhammad Saad in Kedah, Rentap, Roslie Dhoby and Sharif Mashor in Sarawak and Mat Salleh, Antanum, Pak Musa and Syarip Usman in Sabah.In spite of their resistance culminating in failure, their fighting spirit to restore the rights and the sovereignty of the homeland should be venerated.
The first wave of resistance as early as the 20th century saw the exchange of discourse in opposition towards foreign powers through the art of writing. The initial tide of nationalistic uprising was pioneered by personages educated in Middle Eastern institutions of higher learning throughout the 20th century. This among others include the renowned Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin, Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi, Sheik Mohammed Akil, Sheikh Awad Saidin and Haji Abas Taha. Various newspapers and magazines such as Al-Imam, Neracha, Warta Malaya, Al-Ikhwan, Saudara and many others were published.
The emergence of such religious figures was then followed by several leaders from among the teachers, journalists as well as men of letters in language and literature such as Zainal Abidin Ahmad (Za'ba), Harun Muhammad Amin, Abdul Hadi bin Hassan, Burhanuddin Al-Helmi and Abdul Rahim Kajai. Further development witnessed the formation of a number of political parties and associations in creating a more integrated resistance movement.
The Japanese invasion of Malaya in December 1941 and the Japanese occupation in Malaya as a whole from February 1942 to September 1945 had left a tragic effect and experience to the entire population in the country. They become more alert and aware of the prevailing environment and development. The Japanese also cultivated the spirit of nationalism among the people of Malaya in instilling the feeling of revulsion towards the British through the inculcation of the 'Asia for Asia' ideology.