Dr. A.M.A. Azeez’s tenure as Principal of Zahira College, Colombo, lasted a period less than fifteen years but within that time, he made it into one of the finest public schools in Sri Lanka. When he relinquished his office, Zahira College had a well-stocked library, an excellent laboratory and achievements in the academic and sports fields.

Dr. Azeez gave encouragement to the development of Tamil studies. The theme of the book by A.M. Nahya, once vice-principal of Zahira College and presently Assistant Director, Department of Hindu Affairs.
Dr. Azeez’s attachment to the Tamil language and literature was logical and axiomatic. He was born in Jaffna on October 4, 1911 to an elite Muslim family in Jaffna. Though his parents and relatives were Islamic scholars and men of piety, educational necessity made him to receive his education at Vaidyeshwara Vidyalaya and Hindu College, Jaffna.
He studied in those two institutions which gave him a strong foundation in Tamil that was to last throughout his life. His entry to the University College, Colombo, his securing Honours in History, his winning the University Scholarship to study at Cambridge, his entry into the Ceylon Civil Service, educationist, educational reformer, Islamic thinker are some of his intellectual achievements.
Nahya’s book “Azeez and Tamil” of 213, closely printed pages is divided into twenty one chapters. The first chapter outlines, the background in which Azeez grew and the Tamil scholars with whom he cultivated friendship in later years.
His uncle, A.M. Assena Lebbe was the earliest influence in his life. Assena Lebbe, a highly qualified Tamil scholar and well known Tamil poet, was an expert in Arabic-Tamil literature (the special script by which Tamil was written in Arabic and which serviced an Islamic literature with themes and a direction of its own).
Having been in the government service, Assena Lebbe was not without worldly experience. Though he died quite early during Azeez’s life time, he seems to have influenced Azeez deeply.
In the course of time, Azeez came into contact with literary men such as Swami Vipulananda who later became Professor of Tamil at the University of Ceylon.
The second and third chapters deal with Azeez’s views on the status of Tamil language and the place it had among the Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Nahya shows how Azeez’s views were shaped over the years and cites his article, The Ceylon Muslim and the Mother Tongue Claims of the Tamil Language, which he wrote to the press on 10th December, 1941.
The succeeding chapter is a continuation of the related theme of the educational situation of the Muslims, the role of Tamil as the medium of instruction and the influence on the educational structure of primary, secondary and tertiary and training colleges. Azeez’s views are shown differing from the views of other educationists.
Chapter 5, deals with Arabic-Tamil, is a fairly long one. As was his way of doing things, Azeez researched into the extent of Arabic-Tamil works – there are over hundred of these in both creative and information literature – and made a study of them. He urged the making of an Arabic-Tamil dictionary. He took in the views of early students of Dravidian languages, such as Bishop Caldwell and Dr. Gundert.
However, the mechanics of Arabic-Tamil, militated against its revival, as Dr. Azeez realized to his great sorrow, as time passed. Nonetheless, his attachment to it continued to the very end of his days. The next two chapters emphasise Dr. Azeez’s knowledge and interest in classical Tamil literature and the naturally idiomatic use of Tamil.
An important segment of the book is the chapter, some 23 pages long, dealing with Zahira College and Tamil. Throughout the years of its existence, Zahira College, Colombo had the benefit of having members of its staff, leading Tamil scholars including Pandit Nallathamby and Sho Nadarajah.
Dr. Azeez encouraged the blossoming, the flourishing of Tamil at Zahira College, in at least three ways. He developed the College Tamil Manram (Tamil Literary Union) to widen and deepen its activities. He stimulated the art of Tamil oratory at the College, almost forcing the boys to take part and win all inter-school debates at all levels.
Next, he welcomed Tamil scholars so that every month, a distinguished man of letters in Tamil addressed the Tamil Manram. In all these activities, Dr. Azeez was helped by the members of the staff responsible for Tamil studies – among them Dr. M.M. Uwise (later, Professor of Islamic Tamil Literature, Kamarajar University, Madurai), Al Haj S.M. Kamaldeen and Mr. N. Shanmugaratnam.
In the 1950s Al Haj Kamaldeen was responsible for innovating developments in Muslim radio programmes which received much acceptance from listeners.
One result of this flowering of Zahira College was the fine crop of Zahirians, who in the 1960s and later were to dominate the fields of Tamil literature, including journalism, drama, oratory, classical literature, fiction and literary criticism – achievements which seem impressive, even viewed in the backdrop of the Tamil world outside.
Nahya gives a detailed, extensive list of these men of letters.

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