History of MRA/IofC Malaysia

Initiatives of Change Malaysia

One of the pioneers of the work of Moral Re-Armament (MRA) in Malaysia/Singapore the late Dr. Thio Chan Bee was an educationist, the first Asian Principal of the Anglo Chinese School, Singapore.

Soon after the war in 1946, Dr. Thio Chan Bee responded to an invitation to attend an MRA Conference at Caux, Switzerland. This visit to Caux in 1946 became a major turning point in his life. He describes his visit, the fresh perspectives and the changes which ensued in his remarkable autobiography “Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Man”.

On his return to Malaysia he was to play a quiet but effective pivotal role in the affairs of Malaya. He established friendship with Dato Onn bin Jaafar and was surprised that Dato Onn had met the work of MRA in San Francisco while leading a Trade Mission from Malaya. Lee Kong Chian, an eminent Chinese business man and leader was another who became a close friend. He also had attended an MRA conference at Mackinac Island, USA where he met Dr. Frank Buchman, the initiator of this work. These three men together with Tun Tan Cheng Lock played a crucial role in the affairs of State leading finally to Independence.

In the Annual Lecture given to the Royal Asiatic Society, Malaysian Branch on 31st October. 1986, historian, C.M. Turnbull spoke of the post-war decade in Malaya. She said, “The battle leading to the formation of the Federation had created deep and bitter antipathy between Dato Onn bin Jaafar, leader of UMNO, and the Straits Chinese leader, Tan Cheng Lock. It was Malcolm MacDonald’s aim to bring these two opponents face to face in order to come to an understanding. But it took many months to achieve this: months when the Commissioner-General used his power of friendly persuasion with Dato Onn and his own Chinese confidants, notably Thio Chan Bee, a Singapore schoolmaster.”

“Eventually Dato Onn extended an invitation for ten leading Chinese to meet ten of his Malay colleagues secretly at dinner in his house in Johor Bahru on autobiography is a description of this memorable occasion.”

“As one of the Chinese guests told Thio Chan Bee, ‘that was a great event. History has changed its course for this country because of the reconciliation between those two men’. It was indeed a turning point, for out of these meetings MacDonald was able to forge a Communities Liaison committee.”

Many others from these parts also met the ideas of MRA while studying in the United Kingdom. YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman and some of his colleagues did likewise. Notable among them were Datuk Paduka Saleha Md. Ali and Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, the author of the Rukunegara which embodies many of the ideas which MRA stands for.

Datuk Paduka Saleha Md. Ali and her late husband, Auditor General, Mohamed Zain bin Ahmad, played an active role. Together with others like the late K.L.Dewasar, Tuan Hj. Ibrahim Ma, Pahang Menteri Besar Dato Sir Mahmud bin Mat, Dr. Thio Chan Bee and Insaf’s current President, Encik Kirpal Singh, they registered the Moral Re-Armament Society in Malaysia in 1965.

The opening of the Asia Conference and Training Centre for Moral Re-Armament at Panchgani, Western India, in the late sixties led to several Malaysian delegations participating in the International Conferences conducted there. Amongst others who have participated in these programmes were the late Tan Sri Syed Nasir Ismail, Encik Anwar Ibrahim, Dr. P.P.Narayanan, Encik Kam Woon Wah, Tan Sri Syed Jaafar Albar, Raja Nong Chik, Encik G.Vadiveloo, Encik A. Ponniah and Encik Bernard Lu, to mention a few.

As a result of these visits MRA Malaysia established a Committee of Hosts under the Patronship of Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman and invited an MRA musical “Anything to Declare” to Malaysia. The Chairman of the Committee, Tan Sri Syed Jaafar Albar welcomed this group while at Panchgani, India. Rajmohan Gandhi from India accompanied this group. Their visit in 1970 on the anniversary of the ’69 riots is believed to have played a significant part in building an atmosphere of improved trust and confidence between the various communities.

It is in the arena of reconciliation, mediation and conflict resolution that the work of Moral Re-Armament continues to play a significant role world wide. The reconciliation between France and Germany, two nations that fought three bitter wars over a span of eighty years and the role of the late Madam Irena Laure through her work with these ideas is now historically affirmed. Morrocan Independence without bloodshed and violence, Japan’s reconciliation after World War II with her crisis in South Tyrol, Italy, the formation of the State of Meghalaya, India are further instances of this continuing role.

This steady quiet work has over the years been sustained by people-to-people initiatives. We remember with gratitude the loss of several pioneers but their vision and tradition continue as others take on in the spirit of the words of that illuminating statement, “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

In this technologically highly developed modern world in which we live it is becoming clearly evident that human nature remains the most explosive reality both for good or for evil. The urgent challenge confronting all of us is the need to humanize our responses in the interest of mankind.


1. C.M. Turnbull – The Post War Decade in Malaya:The Settling of political controversy
2. Dr. Thio Chan Bee – Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Man