Twenty six years ago Al Haj Dr. A.M.A. Azeez breathed his last bringing to an end a career of service and good work. In the 62 years of his life, he was a brilliant student, Civil Servant, Principal of the prestigious Colombo Zahira College, educational thinker, Senator and Muslim reformer.

Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez was born into a traditional elite Muslim family of Jaffna on October 4, 1911. He was a gifted pupil and had his early education at Vaidyeshwara Vidyalaya and later at Jaffna Hindu College.
Subsequently, he gained admission to University College, Colombo where his career was one of singular achievement. He read history graduating with honours. He was selected for the University scholarship and went on to Cambridge.
As he had sat the Ceylon Civil Service examination as an interim measure and passed, he had to curtail his Cambridge tenure. He was the first Muslim Civil Servant.
Azeez’s stint in the Civil Service lasted 13 years. That experience was to be of use to him in the future. He learnt the human problems that lay between the neat covers of departmental files. He got to the bureaucratic mind and how to provoke it, cajole it and stimulate it to work for the good of the country.
Above all, the Civil Service brought him face to face with the realities of common existence. As Government Agent in the Eastern Province where most of the Muslims lived, he saw with stinging immediacy their problems. Their educational backwardness saddened him most and he founded the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund in 1945 which has assisted over 2,000 poor students to pursue higher studies.
When Azeez became the Principal of Zahira College, Colombo in 1948, he was scarcely 36. Zahira was an ideal base. Not only was it an educational institution of the Muslims of Colombo, it was also the scholastic home for the sons of the Muslim elite the island over. Following in the footsteps of his distinguished predecessor, Dr. T.B. Jayah, Azeez instituted a series of educational measures. He also encouraged sports and academic pursuits. In three years, he had raised the university admissions to 10.
The educational backwardness of Muslims appeared to him to have three aspects: lack of educational opportunities, particularly for women, the need for accelerated growth of Muslim tertiary education and the imparting of education in an Islamic environment. The last was to fuel his vision of an Islamic University which he advocated in the early 1960s.
Dr. Azeez’s sense of history led him to investigate the drift and cause of Sri Lankan Muslim education. The material lay in the Administrative Reports of the Department of Public Instruction and its successor, the Department of Education of which sources he had an intimate knowledge, both as professional historian and administrator. He was able to correct the distorted views regarding Quran schools propagated by colonialists.
Dr. Azeez’s research on education had several spin-offs, which had a lasting impact on the Muslim community. One was his re-discovery of the founding fathers of Muslim education of the last century.
As Zahira Principal, he was also eager to build up a band of educated young men, nationalistic and filled with the Islamic spirit. He himself took the Islamic history classes for the upper forms. He built up a good library and set up the Iqbal Society (named after poet and thinker Allama Mohamed Iqbal). He also set up the Young Men’s Muslim Association in 1950.
Dr. Azeez did not confine his activities to the Muslims. He was committed to the development of national education. He played a crucial role in the Ceylon Headmasters’ Conference. He was also a member of the decision making bodies of the university. Later he entered politics as a Senator. He was also appointed a member of the Public Service Commission.
In the 1960s Dr. Azeez published a series of books and articles in English and Tamil. He was a widely travelled man and transformed those experiences into travelogues. He was interested in Muslim Tamil literature and his favourite project was the revival of Arabic-Tamil.
During the last years, he was putting together material for the history of the Muslims of Sri lanka in the last two centuries.
It was fitting that the University of Jaffna conferred the Doctorate of Letters on him.
(M.M.M. Mahroof was a student of Zahira College, Colombo during the Azeez era. He entered the University of Ceylon in 1951 and graduated in Economics in 1955. He joined the staff of Zahira College and was a dedicated and popular teacher. He worked closely with Dr. Azeez and was aware of his thinking and vision on various matters. Later he joined the Department of Muslim Affairs. He has researched a great deal on Islamic and Muslim topics, and his numerous contributions have appeared in international journals as well. He has edited many books, and in 1992 he compiled the history of Zahira College, Colombo jointly with Marina Ismail, which is yet to be published).

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