The death anniversary of Marhoom Dr. A. M. A. Azeez falls today. The Muslims of this country remember him with a deep sense of gratitude as one who dedicated his entire life for the course of Muslim education and the upliftment of the Muslim youth.

Born on October 4 1911 in Jaffna, he had his early education at Vaideshwara Vidyalaya and later at Jaffna Hindu College. Azeez, the youth entered the University College in 1929, read history for his degree. He maintained a brilliant record, passing out with a class and was appointed to the department of history of the University College, which he declined. On being awarded the Government Scholarship to St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, he set sail for Cambridge. But he was not destined to strive along the Gothic vestibules of Cambridge for long.

Having being successful in the Ceylon Civil Service Examination, he returned home in 1936 to serve his country. He not only went on record as the first Muslim to enter the civil service in 1936, but a decade later he turned out to be the first civil servant to relinquish his prestigious post to become the Principal of a school, such was his concern for education.

During his seventeen years odyssey of academic pursuits and professional duties his mind appears to have settled on what we may call his vocation or inner calling to dedicate himself to the service of his community in the sphere of education. During this period of seventeen years, he renounced a lecturer's post, abandoned Cambridge, vacated the civil service and finally entered an educational institute as its Principal.

Azeez strongly felt that education and knowledge are the sine qua non for the advancement of any community. So he began his educational experiment and adventure at the Premier Muslim Institution in the island – Zahira College.

When Azeez took on from T. B. Jayah as the Head of Zahira, it was a little over fifty years old. T. B. Jayah during his period from 1921 – 1948 almost with religious ardour applied himself to make it as it came to be – The Pride of The Muslims of Sri Lanka. To Azeez, it was something more than a school. It indeed was "radiating center of thought and activity".

Azeez with his intellectual acumen, imaginative vision and administration skills steered the course of Zahira to greater heights. He set ablaze the students imagination to struggle at levels of life from scholastic pursuits to sports and athletics, elocution, oratory and debating.

Another important concern of Dr. Azeez was the problem of Muslim youth. He was contemplating to channel their energies in a progressive direction and to find satisfaction for their inner urge for social contact, intellectual discourse and cultural activities and to be of service to their community. It was his visit to Egypt in 1947 that gave him his inspiration to foster an institution on the lines of the YMMA in Cairo, which was playing a significant role in the progress of that country.

On his return from his fruitful visit he said, "In 1947 I had the opportunity of visiting the Headquarters at Cairo of the YMMA movement in Egypt as well as the YMMA Port Said and thus became personally acquainted with the good work done by those YMMAs and the enthusiasm created by the movement among the Muslim youth of Egypt".

Not content with his visit, he set to work on how best he could adapt the movement to the needs and aspirations of the Muslim youth of this country.

Dr. Azeez grappled with the idea of establishing a Muslim Cultural Center and began work on this project. He envisaged the centralization of all books, manuscripts, information and data, maps and charts relating to Muslims culture and civilization for the convenience of these scholar, student and general readers. Closely following the Islamic tradition he hoped that such a cultural center would be closely related to a higher education institution and a mosque.

But the take over of Zahira College by the government in 1961 and the subsequent controversy that ensured impaired this objective .

Such a vision remained a dream until his encounter with Al Haj M.I.M. Naleem whose great munificence resulted in the establishment of Jamia Naleemia at Beruwala in 1973. Azeez very closely associated himself with the academic activities of The Jamia and wished for the realization of his dreams of a cultural center.

Dr. Azeez's scholastic and erudite life made him one of our finest scholars in history, culture and civilization. He was a humanist with a broader vision and wider outlook. He was a great lover of books and a voracious reader.

His well-studied speeches before the upper house of Parliament (The Senate), his speeches before many learned societies, international gatherings and conferences of academic distinction reflect his deep learning and erudite scholarship and knowledge. His contribution of an article on "Ceylon" to the encyclopedia of Islam is a monumental achievement. His book "The West Reappraised (1964, Colombo)" is really a compendium of the catholicity of his taste.

By his contribution Dr. Azeez has earned himself a unique place in the minds of all his students and admirers. He was a distinguished son of Sri Lanka; a man dedicated to his community and country, a man when fruitful life filled with a variety of roles, a visionary and a humanist.

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