DR. A.M.A. AZEEZ : AN INTELLECTUAL LEADER OF EMINENCE, BY A. MOHAMED NAHIYA

nahiyaby A. Mohamed  Nahiya – Daily News Tue Dec 10 2002

This great leader of the Muslim community Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez hailed from a very respectable family in Jaffna. He was born on 4th October 1911 and passed away on 24th November 1973.

During this period he had contributed tremendously to the nation in general and his community in particular. A.M.A. Azeez was one who was an all-round intellectual – may it be Education, Religion, Language, Literature, History or Sociology. He followed the footsteps of late leader and the father of Muslim Education, Proctor M.C. Siddilebbe, Egyptian exile Orabipasha, I.L.M. Abdul Azeez philanthropist Wapichchi Marikkar and Dr. T.B. Jayah and did yeomen service specifically in the field of education for the children of the Muslim community.

He began his early education at the Allapichchai Quran Madrasa and then proceeded to Vannarponnai Vaidyshawara Vidyalaya in Jaffna and then to Jaffna Hindu College in the Northern Sri Lanka. He entered the University in 1929 and obtained a Special Degree in History in the year 1933. At the University Dr. Azeez won the exhibition prize in History and later he was awarded the Ceylon Government Arts scholarship and proceeded to St. Catherine's College of Cambridge University for further studies. But he had to cut short his studies in Cambridge and return to Ceylon to take up a Ceylon Civil Service appointment. Though he had abandoned the Postgraduate studies he had the distinction of being the first Muslim to enter the Civil Service in Ceylon.

He served as a Civil Servant for 13 years in various positions. During the World War II in 1942, he was sent as an Assistant Government Agent to the emergency Kachcheri established at Kalmunai, Mainly for food production. It was there he got to know the plight of the Muslims and their being backward in education. Throughout his life, Azeez was to bear a special affection for the Eastern Province which he regarded as his second home. He helped the Muslims of this region in every way. Many acres of jungle land were cleared and given free to the poor Muslim farmers of this area for cultivation.

This helped not only the Muslims of the area but all communities that lived in the Eastern Province at that time. 12,270 acres of land had been distributed in this area for this purpose. Those grateful farmers still call the land area given by him as, "Azeez Thurai Kandam".

Some of the posts he held in the public Service were A.G.A. Kandy, Administrative Secretary of the Dept. of Health, Information Officer and Additional Landing Surveyor. of Customs.

It was in Kalmunai, when he was the A.G.A he realised the importance of education for the uplift of the backward Muslim community and together with leading local personalities of the area. Azeez had formed the Kalmunai Muslim Education Society in 1943. This society confined its activities to the Kalmuani area. This was the initiative of his famous project the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund that was inaugurated on 19.5.1945 by him in Colombo.

This inaugural meeting was chaired by Late Dr. T.B. Jayah. The aim of the CMSF was spelled out thus, 'To see that no Muslim scholar capable and deserves in any part of the Island is deprived of the education he or she deserves for want of money. This fund was incorporated by Ordinance No. 19 of 1946. Very few are aware that the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund has helped over 2000 poor Muslim students to pursue their higher education over the last 57 years. This fund helped several men to acquire professions like Civil Servants, Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Trained Teachers etc.

Dr. Azeez advocated for his community to acquire knowledge of Arabic, Tamil, Sinhala and English. These four different languages are with four different scripts and each of them with different background of religion and history.

He felt that without Arabic language, the Muslims of Sri Lanka will become culturally isolated, and shall lose entirely the rich heritage. Tamil is the home language of the majority of the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Sinhala is the language of the vast majority of the population in this country. English is the world language and the language of Commerce, Science and Technology with a wealth of literature and resources without any parallel so far. In these circumstances, the curriculum of Muslim schools and of every school where there is a considerable Muslim boys or girls should include all these four languages – according to Azeez.

Dr. Azeez also did show special interest in establishing separate schools for Muslim girls and a separate Tamil Teacher's Training College for Muslim female teachers. The Training College which was established at Aluthgama in 1941 was re-named as Muslim Female Teachers Training College in 1954, following his agitation alongwith Al Haj M.M. Ibrahim (M.P.) and others.

After General Election in 1947, the then Government invited Dr. T.B. Jayah to join the Cabinet of the Ministers. Dr. Jayah tendered his resignation from the post of Principal Zahira College, Colombo, having served devotedly in the above post for a period of 27 years. The mantel fell on A.M.A. Azeez whose Golden Era as Principal at Zahira College continued till August 1961. Dr. T.B. Jayah and Swami Vipulananda had to persuade Dr. A.M.A. Azeez to accept the post of Principal. A.M.A. Azeez, on his part took it as a challenge giving up the Civil Service appointment where he had a bright future.

Under the Leadership of Azeez, Zahira blossomed out as the radiating centre of Muslim thought and activity. He had made Zahira, during his period, one of the best schools in the Island. Zahira flourished in education, sports and other extra curricular activities and good number of children entered University from there.

"Two names loom large in the history of Zahira College. They are Jayah and Azeez. In the era of Jayah, Zahira emerged from childhood to youth. In the era of Azeez it passed from youth to manhood."

This was said by the late Hon. H.H. Basnayake, Attorney General of Sri Lanka who later became the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

The Ceylon Muslim Cultural Centre, which was built by A.M.A. Azeez in the premises of Zahira College, Colombo, had an Islamic Library, a publication Bureau and an Islamic Research Centre. But the work was not completed, as Azeez had to leave Zahira.

Actually, Azeez's plan to establish a Cultural Centre and Muslim Cultural University at Zahira College never materialised, the absence of which are felt today.

Azeez contributed several articles to Publications in Sri Lanka and abroad. His publication called Islam in Sri Lanka (in Tamil) won the Sahitya award. His article Titled History of Sri Lankan Muslims' has been recognised and it was included in the encyclopedia published by H.J. Pril & Co. Another of his well-known contributions is 'The West Re appraised' as English publication.

On the 6th February, 1955 he presided over the 'Tamil poet day' organised by the South Indian Muslim Educational Association in connection with its Golden Jubilee celebration. He also presided at the Islamic Tamil-Research Conference held in Trichi in May 1973 where he was honoured.

(The writer is Director, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the Ministry of Eastern Development and Muslim Religious Affairs)

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