The 22nd death anniversary of Marhoom Dr. A.M.A. Azeez falls today. I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Azeez as a young student somewhere in 1944 when he was Assistant Government Agent, Kandy. In those colonial days, meeting high officials of the government, especially for a young student, was an extremely difficult task.
But, Mr. Azeez promptly responded to my letter and invited me to a discussion. That was the beginning of a long association which continued for several decades, after I too entered the Ceylon Civil Service, several years later.
Throughout my association with Dr. Azeez we shared many common interests, most importantly Muslim education, which then left much to be desired.
Children of affluent Muslim families (with a few exceptions) did not care very much for higher education. Muslims who did care for higher education particularly, from low income groups, did not have the financial wherewithal to afford such an education. This was the dilemma Dr. Azeez faced and his solution with the co-operation of other well wishers and community leaders was the founding of the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund, which recently celebrated its golden jubilee.
It must be remembered that in those days education was not free and there were no Mahapola Scholarships and other generous bursaries we have today. In such a context, the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund which provided income support with interest free repayable loans was a great boon to needy students.
It was Mr. Azeez’s vision and dedication that brought about the founding of this great institution which in the course of time assisted a large number of scholars and professional men and women, who have rendered a valuable service to the community and the country.
Dr. Azeez left “two footprints in the sands of time” – one is the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund and the other, the YMMA movement, which like the CMSF, has rendered a commendable service in various spheres in the life of the community and the nation. It continues to be a vibrant movement harnessing the energies of the youth towards social development.
Azeez’s deep interest in the education of the Muslims made him comply with Dr. T.B. Jayah’s request to succeed him as Principal, Zahira College in 1948. Thus, once again, he sacrificed an alluring career, this time in the civil service for the sake of education.
During his tenure as Principal, Zahira reached high standards in education, sports, extra curricular activities and other areas and was on par in many aspects with all other leading schools. In fact his period of 13 years is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Zahira”, and yet to be surpassed. However, his plans to establish a Muslim cultural centre and a Muslim cultural university did not materialize.
Azeez’s contribution to education was recognized in neighbouring India, and just two months before his demise he inaugurated the Tamil Nadu Muslim Educational Conference in Madras and was honoured with the “Golden Shawl”.
Azeez took an avid interest in academic work and his book in Tamil, “Islam in Ceylon” won for him the “Sahitya Award” in 1963. An interesting research contribution by him was presented at the first International Seminar in Tamil Studies held in Kuala Lumpur in 1966.
Azeez’s contribution to the “Encyclopaedia of Islam” in 1960 and his account of the Muslim Tradition in the “Centenary Volume of Education in Ceylon” in 1968 have been acclaimed.
Azeez felt that training in leadership was essential for youth and founded the All Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association in 1950. Today this organization has gone from strength to strength and has several branches throughout the island.
When the Jamiyah Naleemiah in Beruwela was founded in the early 1970s, Azeez’s immense experience was harnessed in organizing this institution, but within few months he died suddenly.
In recognition of his services to the community Azeez was awarded the M.B.E. In 1952 he was appointed senator and he made valuable contributions. He was a member of the court, council and senate of the University of Ceylon and served as a member of the Public Service Commission.

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