Twenty Seven years have passed since we lost a leading Muslim intellectual – the name of Al Haj Marhoom Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez will remain in the hearts of all Muslims of this country with gratitude.
Popularly known as “Senator Azeez” he was the beacon light of Muslim education in the fifties. During his lifetime he achieved such fame in the intellectual field that there was no international Muslim conference held without his attending as one of the key speakers, be it in Pakistan, Africa, the Middle East or the South East Asia. He belongs to the quality of intellectual like Allama Iqbal, the poet and visionary of Pakistan, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the leaders of India who led the Indian Independence Movement, Moulana Mawdoodi, the great theological reformer and Sir Seyed Ali Khan, the great educationist and founder of the Aligarh University in India. A.M.A. Azeez was a towering personality during his days. Men of the calibre of Azeez appear only once in a century.
Abdul Azeez was born in Jaffna on October 4, 1911. His father Mr. Aboobucker was a leading lawyer of Jaffna and was also a Quazi. His father was the Vice Chairman of the Jaffna Urban Council and later the President of the All-Ceylon Muslim League. Abdul Azeez, born to an illustrious father was exposed as a child to the social activities that his father was involved in. He got his training even as a young boy under his father’s tutelage to serve his community.
Mr. Azeez had his early education at the Vaidyeshwara Vidyalaya and later at Jaffna Hindu College. This explains his scholarship in Tamil Language and Literature. The religious education he received in early life and subsequent education in the Hindu schools made him a versatile exponent of both Islamic and Hindu Philosophies.
His private discussions with some of us usually revolved round the Philosophy of Al-Ghazali and in the same tone he would speak of Vedantha Philosophy and of Sankaracharyar. Very few Muslims could boast of such academic attainment. At the University Mr. Azeez won the Exhibition Prize in History and later he was awarded the Ceylon Government Arts Scholarship and proceeded to Cambridge University for further studies.
He however had to cut short his studies abroad and returned to Ceylon to take up appointment in the Ceylon Civil Service. He had the distinction of being the first Muslim to enter the Ceylon Civil Service. He served as a Civil Servant for 13 years in various positions as one of the top administrators of the country. This was a time when Ceylon was emerging from the status of a colony in the British Empire to the position of an independent state. The new generation of administrators of which Azeez was one had to shoulder the responsibilities of a newly independent nation. But the call from his community which was in search of leadership was greater and he accepted the post of Principal, Zahira College in 1948 succeeding Mr. T.B. Jayah who was invited by the then government to be a member of the cabinet after the General Elections held in 1947.
As the Principal of the leading Muslim Educational Institution, Zahira College under the leadership of Mr. Azeez blossomed out as the radiating centre of Muslim education and Islamic cultural activities. I was a student at the College in the early 1950s and I admired the personality of Mr. Azeez at work.
Mr. Azeez was known not only as an educationist, but as a great social worker. In 1945 he organized the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund which financed the education of Muslim students to pursue their higher education.
I am proud to say I was one of those scholars financed by this scholarship fund, and I owe my present position to the late Mr. Azeez and to Zahira College which opened the gates of higher learning to me.
The Muslim community at that time was trade-oriented and Muslims, generally were apathetic towards secular education.
The intelligent Muslim students who didn’t have the means to study, were given an opportunity to further their education financed by Muslim Scholarship Fund. Hundreds of Muslims passed out of the Universities and higher educational institutions and are now holding some of the highest positions both in the public and private sectors in the country and overseas.
After independence, the Muslim youth was at the crossroads. They were being treated as pawns in the political game played by various political parties. Past Muslim leaders such as Siddi Lebbe and I.L.M. Abdul Azeez in the late 19th and early 20th centuries dreamed of a Muslim educated youth who would guide the destinies of the future Muslim generation. Their dreams were epitomized in the personality of Mr. Azeez who took upon the task of organizing the Muslim youth of the country.
The Muslim youth was in search of an enlightened leadership to undertake the responsibilities of an emerging community on the threshold of an education revolution and this leadership was given by the late Mr. A.M.A. Azeez. His aspirations were spelt out in the general objective of the Constitution.
(1) To aim at developing a generation of men worthy of the highest traditions of Islam and capable of the highest deeds to serve out in the country in every branch of modern life.
The other objectives included the promotion of education and following inter-communal amity. The YMMA Conference was incorporated by the Act of Parliament in 1968.
Thanks to Mr. Azeez’s efforts the All-Ceylon YMMA Conference is today ranked as the Premier Muslim Youth Organisation of Sri Lanka with over 150 branches affiliated to it and this organization has helped the community in various spheres: in the social, educational and economic uplift of the community, over the last 50 years.
Mr. Azeez’s ambition was to make the YMMA movement the broad-based non-political youth organization which would effectively serve the religious, cultural and educational needs of the community. There is no doubt that he had succeeded in most of his objectives.
Mr. Azeez was influenced by some of the greatest Muslim thinkers of the recent past, Jamaluddin Afghani, Sir Seyed Ahmed Khan, Sir Muhammad Iqbal and others.
His contact with the West helped him to widen his outlook and gave him an opportunity to compare and contrast the thoughts and culture of the west with that of the Philosophy and tradition of the East.
Mr. Azeez is no longer with us now. But his thoughts and actions are ever present in our minds. Mr. Azeez by his dedicated and sincere service to his community has found an everlasting place in the hearts of the Muslims who remember him with love and gratitude. May Allah give him everlasting peace in Jennathul Firdouse.
(A.M. Sameem hails from Badulla and was a student at Zahira College, Colombo during the Azeez era. He entered the University of Ceylon in 1953 and graduated in History in 1957. He joined the staff of Zahira College and worked closely with Dr. Azeez. Later he joined the Education Service and retired as a Director of Education. He has many publications to his credit).

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