Gunung Semanggol, is a familiar name amongst scholars who study the nation's Islamic education history. At the mention of ‘Mount Semanggol', we would remember the once famous religious school of Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Asshariff. It was on this mountain that a religious movement called the Hizbul Muslimin, feared by the British at one time, was formed. Just as Mount Semanggol is synonymous with Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Asshariff, so was the school with As-Sheikh Abu Bakar Al-Baqir, a prominent Islamic champion who was also a pillar of the society and notable figure in the development of Islamic studies on Mount Semanggol.
The history of religious education in this area began in 1918 when Tuan Haji Abd. Rahman Mahmud started the pondok (school) Ar-Rahmaniah. There was a pressing need to provide a place for primary school leavers to continue their studies. In light of this problem and to in spreading the message of Islam in a more disciplined manner, the community in Mount Semanggol pooled their resources to build a religious school.
Through the toils of the community, the construction of the school named Madrasah Al-Ehya Asshariff was completed on 15 April 1934 (1 Muharram 1353). Over time, the madrasah slowly grew in reputation under the leadership of Ustaz Abu Bakar al-Baqir. With the establishment of the madrasah, the closure of Ar-Rahmaniah school was by Tuan Guru Haji Abd. Rahman ensued, who also sweated blood in the development of Madrasah Al-Ehya Asshariff led by his son-in-law, Ustaz Abu Bakar al-Baqir. Community leaders such as Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah Ibrahim, Tuan Haji Abd. Manaf, and others sacrificed their wealth and time to ensure the success of the madrasah.
Under the leadership of Ustaz Abu Bakar, the school's first principal, Madrasah Al-Ehya Asshariff grew rapidly with increasingly more students enrolling in the school as compared to only 144 students when it first opened in 1934. An administrative committee, comprising the late Tuan Haji Abd. Rahman, the late Tuan Haji Abdul Manaf and the late Ustaz Yahya Abdullah, was formed to handle the increasingly high volume of students. In 1936, another building to house additional classrooms was built through a joint community effort with the students. The construction of a wooden building in 1940 was also made possible through donations from the public. In the same year, Madrasah Al-Ehya had its name changed to Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Asshariff.
The rapid development of this religious school would entail funding to cover its increasing expenditure. For this purpose, the Al-Ehya Asshariff Association was established to protect the interests and welfare of the school. The association was registered on 22 February 1940 under Clause 19 of Chapter 58 of the Company Law, with registration number 1016-A. Its membership was open to all Muslims.
Through donations from the public and philanthropists, the association was able to collect enough endowment for the running of the Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Assahariff. Among the contributions acquired by the association were land, orchards and other properties, which were endowed by benefactors who included contributors such as Y.A.M. Che Teh, the Tengku Permaisuri of Perak, the late Tuan Haji Abd. Manaf, Village Chief of Mount Semanggol, Tuan Haji Awang, and others.
As the Malay saying goes, muafakat membawa berkat(living in harmony brings blessings/united we stand), and so it has been the case with Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Asshariff. Through the consensus of its people in promoting Islamic aspirations, the community succeeded in to developing the Islamic institution without any government assistance.In 1941, the student population of the school totalled 400 male and 100 female students. A total of 270 hostels had been erected by the school's administrative committee and in the same year, the religious institution had managed to acquire assets covering about 50 acres of farm estates and paddy fields.
With the outbreak of World War II, Ma'ahad Al-Ehya Asshariff was affected for a while and only a small number of students continued with their studies. However, once the war ended, it recovered and became even more active in the propagation of the Islamic teachings.
From 1948 till 1952, the school was left in the lurch when its mudir (principal), Ustaz Abu Bakar Al-Baqir, was arrested and imprisoned by the British administration for his involvement in the Hizbul Muslimin movement, an Islamic political party dedicated to the establishment of a Daulah Islamiah (regional Islamic caliphate) in the country.
Upon his release in 1952, he relentlessly put his efforts on re-developing the school. As a result the Al-Ehya Asshariff Association managed to increase its holdings with the construction of two rice mills and provide electricity to the residents of Mount Semanggol. The association also invested in a number of companies.