‘GOLDEN ERA’ OF ZAHIRA COLLEGE, BY BHIKKU W. RATHANA

November 24, 2009, marked the 36th death anniversary of Dr. A.M.A. Azeez, C.C.S., Principal of Zahira College, Colombo for 13 years which records the ‘Golden Era’ of the college. It is specially appropriate to appreciate his invaluable services to the Sri Lankans, not only as an eminent educationist but also as a brilliant scholar who promoted ethnic harmony through his vision. A dedicated social worker, Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez was born in Vannarpannai in Jaffna on October 4, 1911.

Dr. Azeez was educated at the Allapichai Quran Madrasa, Vaidyeshwara Vidyalayam and Jaffna Hindu College. His early education itself developed his liberal outlook that barred no race or ethnicity; instead there was the notion that there would be nothing that would succeed a good education. He maintained it firmly throughout his professional and personal life.

He entered the University in 1929 and graduated in History from the University of London. Later he was awarded the Government Arts Scholarship and proceeded to St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge.

Dr. Azeez held several important positions in the Public Service. He started his career as a young cadet at Matale and then he was assigned to the Customs Department in 1942 during World War ll. In Ceylon history, he was the first Muslim Civil Servant – a distinction awarded through merit in the Ceylon Civil Service Examination.

In 1942, he was transferred to Kalmunai as Assistant Government Agent to set up an Emergency Kachcheri to accelerate the food production of the southern region of the Eastern Province from Batticaloa to Kumana. It was reported that 12,270 acres were cultivated with paddy during that time.

Soon the region was transporting rice to other areas in the country. As a mark of respect, the farmers have reserved a section of land in Dr. Azeez’s name. A harvest festival was held on the farm in March 1943 for the first time to celebrate the accelerated production. This event was graced by the late Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake (Privy Councillor) and other dignitaries who were brought to the ceremony in a procession of carts. The highest productivity in the region of Ampara District contributed 62% of paddy cultivation of the country. Later he was Deputy Food Controller, A.G.A., Kandy and finally he was attached to the Ministry of Health.

In 1948, he quit the Civil Service to take over as the Principal of Zahira College, Colombo. The 13 years of his stewardship have been referred to as the ‘Golden Era of Zahira’. With the intellectual capacity, vision, sincerity, dedication and administrative skills, Zahira became one of the finest public schools and one of the leading Muslim educational institutions in the country.

The college under the Free Education Scheme consisted of students from all communities of the island irrespective of caste, creed, race or religion. The students at the time lived as brothers with unity, integrity and communal harmony to its best.

The writer bears testimony to this as he was admitted to the college at the time of its former Principal, Dr. T.B. Jayah and continued during the tenure of office of Dr. A.M.A. Azeez. The writer’s article in Sinhala was published in ‘Az-Zahira’ College Magazine and also received the first prize for Sinhala awarded by the the Prime Minister Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for all of which writer extends his gratitude to “Mother-Zahira”. Dr. Azeez was so humble that a telegram of best wishes was sent to the writer on the occasion of his wedding at YMBA, Colombo 08.



During this time, the college excelled in studies, sports, scouting, elocution, oratory and debating and over 100 students entered the University of Ceylon. The standard of education and discipline Dr. Azeez built up at Zahira was excellent. It had a well equipped library and an excellent laboratory too.

No doubt, Swami Vipulananda of Karaitivu, the founder of Sivananda Vidyalam and the poet, Abdul Cader Lebbe were in close association with Dr. Azeez influencing Tamil culture and Tamil literature at that time. He however, promoted social harmony among all ethnic groups in the country. He also had a vision far ahead that higher education should be available to women as well.

Dr. Azeez founded the All Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association Conference in 1950. His role as a Muslim public figure has been etched in Sri Lankan history. In 1952, he was awarded the MBE for his services to the country and in the same year he was appointed to the Senate. In 1963, he became a member of the Public Service Commission. Senator Azeez was honoured on a commemorative stamp in 1986. In recognition of his contribution to literature and education, the University of Jaffna, at its first convocation in 1980, conferred a doctorate of letters on him.

He fervently believed that all communities in the country could and should live in amity through not just understanding and tolerance, but by learning from each other.

Not only Muslims but also all Sri Lankans lost a great personality of social, cultural and educational values with his sudden death on November 24, 1973 at the age of 62. Let me appeal to the grateful Muslim friends to earmark his birth centenary on October 4, 2011.

May Dr. Azeez be a communion with his spiritual belief!


Bhikku W. Rathana                                                                                         
Ananda Buddhist Meditation Centre,
Indigolla,
Gampaha.  

(This article appeared in ‘The Nation’ of Sunday November 29, 2009)
 
 
(I.M. Vidyaratne hails from Wellampitiya and was a student of Zahira College, Colombo from February 25, 1946 to August 15, 1950 when the Principals were Dr. T.B. Jayah and Dr. A.M.A. Azeez. He then joined the Government service at the Registrar General’s Office, Colombo, and later served in the Trade & Shipping, Import Control and Marketing Departments. Later he joined the priesthood as Bhikku W. Rathana Thera at the Ananda Buddhist Meditation Centre, Indigolla, Gampaha. He has served as a Dhamma School Teacher for many years, and has contributed to many publications and continues to do so. In June 2010 he took oaths as an All Island Justice of the Peace) .

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