Author : Wan Abdul Kadir
Publisher : Akademik Pengajian Melayu ,
Title : 100 Tahun Za’ba : Za’ba Pejuang Bangsa
Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad or Za'ba was born on September 16, 1895 in a small remote village of Kampung Bukit Kerdas, Batu Kikir, Jempol, Negeri Sembilan. He born into a very religious family, not surprisingly, by the age of seven Za'ba had completed his reading of the Quran seven times, memorized the Surah Yassin and able to perform the berzanji.
Za'ba's school experience only began at the age of 12 when he and 82 other kids registered at Sekolah Melayu Batu Kikir (July 1907 ) to start their school life. Not long after that Za'ba was transferred to Sekolah Melayu Linggi so he could further his study in Arabic and religious knowledge. In 1915, Za'ba successfully completed his Senior Cambridge. As it was, he was the first Malay student from Negeri Sembilan who completed standard one to Senior Cambridge in six years (1910-1915 ).
Za'ba started to write seriously while he was serving as a temporary teacher at Johor Bahru in 1916. His first article entiled "Temasya Mandi Safar di Tanjung Kling" was published twice in Utusan Melayu. Za'ba's gift was his ability to bring all aspects from language, literature, religion, economy, education and politics into his writings. He was also very keen in writing about the backwardness of the Malays, so much so that the British colonial government became suspicious. Although his writing activities were restrained, he remained active.
While he was working at the Sultan Idris Training College, Za'ba focused his effort to adopt the Arabic and English grammar into Bahasa Melayu and to use these grammatical rules in the publishing of school text books and public reading materials.
His first marriage in 1917 did not last but he had a daughter, whom he brought up. Za'ba then married again to Fatimah Umar. Za'ba continued his writing career by revising his published religious articles to be compiled into a book. His first effort, Umbi Kemajuan was published in 1932.
Za'ba was also very active in community services. These include being the General Advisor for the Persaudaraan Sahabat Pena Malaya (Brotherhood of Pen Friends of Malaya) in 1937, and in 1945 as the Yang Dipertua Persatuan Melayu Selangor (Selangor Malay Association). In 1946, at the congress against the formation of Malayan Union, he was appointed as committee member of the Jawatankuasa Penggubal Rang Piagam UMNO (Legislator Committee of UMNO Charter Bill) and in the same year he ended his political activity after the UMNO Charter was accepted and passed. In 1947, he started working as a lecturer of Malay Language at the University of London. He retired from government service when he was 55 years old.
Za'ba's service was still needed. Therefore in 1953 he was appointed as senior lecturer at the Malay Study Department (JPM) in University Malaya, Singapore. Together with Ungku Aziz, he organized the formation of students' language society and two years later the Federation of Malay Language of University Malaya was established.
Za'ba sat for the final examination for the University of London external course and received his Master of Arts Second Class (Lower) when he was 59 years old. Za'ba received the title Pendeta (Scholar) officially, in the form of a Malay cap (songkok) in 1956 at the Third Malay Language and Literature Congress in Johor Bahru. All the sweat and effort that Za'ba poured into his work was because he wanted to put the Malay language on a pedestal. He never asked for recognition. Thus, he purposely declined the medal of honor ( Pingat Manku Negara ) that carries the title Dato', and also the Bintang Kebesaran Brunei.
However in 1962, he finally agreed to accept the award of Pingat Manku Negara that carries the title Tan Sri.
Tan Sri Dr. Haji Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad or Za'ba passed away on October 23, 1973 at the age of 78. The nation in general and Negeri Sembilan in particular lost a great statesman. No one can replace or even compare to him.
As a conclusion , Za'ba or Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad, a language figure has left us since early 70s. But, this son of Negeri Sembilan, who was born in 1895, had left an impact on all of us through his contribution in language and literature. Za'ba was considered as the pioneer of Malay language grammatical rules, which was very vague at that time. He contributed further when he was given the responsibility to plan a curriculum for school children, as an interpreter, lecturer, and during the Japanese era he was given the duty to write books that could be used in Malaya and Sumatera.
Za'ba officially received the title Pendita(Scholar) in September 1956. Tan Sri Dr. Haji Zainal Abidin or Za'ba passed away in 1973 at the age of 78. It is not easy to follow the footsteps of a scholar but it is hoped that Za'ba's effort and sacrifice to upgrade the Malay Language will be continued.
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