Times of Ceylon (Centenary Number) of 12th July 1946  

The Director of Public Instruction said in his administration report for 1895 : "Previous to 1891 no organized attempt to meet a want, which was gradually being felt and admitted by many members of the community, had been made.  The  old-fashioned  'verandah'  or  the  'mosque' school still generally obtained. The  beginning  and  end  of all such instruction was essentially in the Koran.

"In  one  or  two  instances Mohammedan boys might be found in attendance  at the classes of schools  recognized  and  examined  by  the Department, but the number of such boys in attendance was comparatively infinitesimal.
"The difficulty  was  to  reconcile  the  inherent  traditions  of the community in favour  of  the  sectarian  course  previously  pursued  with the admitted requirements of secular instruction.
"The first training of a Mohammedan child, according to the tenets of their faith, must be in the Arabic language, the language of their sacred book, the Koran. Until such first training shall have been fully pursued, training in subjects of secular education must be practermitted."
"The Mohammedan child is thus necessarily handicapped, as compared with the children of other communities, in that the first years of instruction must be devoted  to  the  acquirement  of  sectarian knowledge only, the acquirement of the secular knowledge essential to prospective advancement in ordinary life must be regarded as a subordinate consideration…….
"The difficulty was to reconcile the conflicting interests stated above as to bring the  advantages  of  secular education within the reach of the community without interfering with traditional sectarian prejudices.
"A modus vivendi, it was conceived, might be found by admitting the essential demands of Mohammedan instruction, i.e., a knowledge of Arabic and the Koran, and making them conterminous with the requirements of an efficient instruction in secular subjects. In as much as the vernacular of the Moorman is for the most part Tamil, it was proposed that secular instruction and examination should be in that language……
"The fact, however, must not be lost sight of that the movement is still in its experimental  stage.  To  forecast  its  future with any approximate accuracy is difficult, if not impossible. The data so far are encouraging, but it must be long before the community can be so educated as to be sensible of the advantages to be derived from a system of education based on intelligent and methodical principles."
At the time of the Portuguese invasion in the Sixteenth Century the Muslims had secured a virtual monopoly of the export and import trade which gave them considerable political power. Many of them had made Ceylon their permanent home. Their children were educated at the maktabs (elementary schools) and at the madrasahs (secondary schools).
The curricula of these schools consisted of the reading of the Quran, calligraphy, grammar, poetry, the traditions, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, geography,  astronomy, Islamic law, history and medicine. This system of education naturally deteriorated during the days of Portuguese proselytism and Dutch persecution; the madrasahs probably disappeared and the maktabs degenerated into the "verandah schools" -later known as pallikoodams -where the children  at  the command of a semi-literate lebbai recited parrotwise passages from the Quran transcribed on palakai (wooden boards).
Many of the disabilities  from  which  the  Muslims suffered were removed during the early British period. They could now practise their faith and ply their trade freely when before they had done so on sufferance.
But three centuries of hardships had made the Muslims conventional and   conservative   in  their  attitude,  suspicious  of  new  methods  of administration as  well as of  education,  and forgetful of their ancestors' contribution  to knowledge.  Western   Education  had  been  so  closely associated  with an  aggressive  and  proselytising Christianity during the earlier centuries, that they were not prepared to send their children to the Government English Schools that were established in fairly large numbers between 1832 and 1846.
They found that even after the British had ousted the Dutch, Western education, in its new garb of English, was encouraging several Buddhists and Hindus, despite the absence of forced conversions to repudiate their faiths and their heritage. The Muslims therefore were determined that their children should be immune from such risks, whatever sacrifices such a policy might entail.
Their  fears were not assuaged by the composition of the Board of Education  which  was  established  by the  Governor  in  1841 with the appellation of "the Central  School Commission for the Instruction of the Population of Ceylon". It was "to consist of not less than nine members three of whom, whereby it was practicable, were to be a Clergyman of the Church of England, a  Presbyterian  Minister,  and a  Roman  Catholic  Priest or Layman."
The Commission was directed "to established Sub-Committees at the outstation towns, and promote by every means in their power the Education in the English Language of their fellow subjects of all religious opinions in the Colony."
The situation somewhat improved when the School Commission was abolished in 1869 and its place was taken by a Director of Public Instruction who, it was intended, should be "distinguished by the liberality of his views, and the perfect fairness of his judgment."
The change from the Commission to the Director thus dissociating English education  from  Missionary  control would have probably in the normal course of events induced some at least among the Muslims to send their children to English schools and thereby reap the economic benefits and gain the social advancement inherent in a knowledge of English during these days.
But unfortunately for them the progressive diminution of Government revenue  brought about, among other factors, by the declining fortunes of coffee  called  for  the  curtailment of  expenditure. The retrenchment of expenditure in the sphere of English education provided an easy solution. Government which had so far  been directly engaged in the promotion of English Education began either to close its English and Anglo-Vernacular schools or to transfer them to Municipalities, Local Bodies or Voluntary Organisations.  The  former  were  not prepared to assume new financial burdens.
Of voluntary organisations, there were practically none, except the Christian Missionaries who had already managed English institutions of their own even when the Government schools were in active existence. They were therefore in  a position, both financially and administratively, to take over many of the Government Schools.
As a  result, the  Government  effected  considerable  economy by allowing the grant in aid schools, the large majority of which were managed by the Christian  Missionaries,  to hold almost the entire field of English Education. Consequently the Muslim attitude of non-co-operation became hardened and persisted throughout the nineteenth century, despite isolated instances of a few Muslim parents in places like, Kandy, Colombo and Jaffna sending their sons even at the risk of social ostracism, to study English in Missionary institutions.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Buddhists and Hindus came to  understand  the  need for institutions of their own where English education could be imparted without detriment to their religions and culture.
Arumuga Navalar in Jaffna had already commenced a Hindu counter offensive against missionary propaganda, and incidentally became the Father of Modern Tamil prose. He was responsible in 1872 for the opening of an English school in Jaffna under Hindu Management to which can be traced the rise of the Jaffna  Hindu  College.  His  influence on the Tamil-speaking Muslims must have been appreciable.
The Buddhist Theosophical Society had established an English School in 1886 which later became Ananda College. The activities of the Society must have  drawn the  attention  of  some  of  the  Muslims  to  the  necessity for similar   efforts   on  their part. The  controversy  connected  with  the  Muhammadan  Marriage  Registration  Ordinance  of  1886  and  the various problems  that   arose  in  connection  with  the  promulgation  and  the interpretation of the by-laws  of  the Municipalities and other local authorities revealed to Muslims the  disadvantages  of  an insufficient knowledge of English, the language of the Legislature and the Administration.
Besides, they could no longer continue to be indifferent to the absence of Muslims in the public services and in the learned professions. Even in the sphere of trade, their ignorance of English was a bar to progress. They now appreciated that English Education was not synonymous with the Christian Religion.
In  England,  there  was  at  this  time a  Muslim Society actively functioning at Liverpool whose members were English converts to Islam with Abdulla Quilliam, another English convert as their leader. His position as the "Sheik of the True Believers in the British Isles" was recognized by the Sultan of Turkey as well as by  fellow  Muslims  in other countries. The Indian Muslims themselves who had kept aloof from the educational movement of the day through 'pride of race, a memory of bygone superiority, religious fears, and a not unnatural attachment to the learning of Islam' had perceived that conditions no longer, permitted their dissociation from English Education.
Under  the  leadership of Sir Seyad Ahmad Khan in 1875 they had established the Aligarh Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College which became in 1920 the Aligarh Muslim University. The cumulative effect of these and other factors was visible in the efforts made by the Muslims of Colombo during the last decade of the nineteenth century to establish schools of their own where English Education was made available.
The leader of thought during this period was M.C. Siddilebbe of Kandy, a Proctor of the Supreme Court who was an energetic social worker. He may be called the Father of Muslim journalism in Ceylon and the spiritual founder of Zahira College, Colombo. His inspiring address in 1891 at the Maradana Mosque, led to the formation of the Colombo Muslim Educational Society and the establishment through the efforts of Wapche Marikar, of Al Madrasathul Zahira.
Arabi Pasha of Egypt at that time an exile in Ceylon also encouraged the Ceylon  Muslims  to  seek  English  education as the best method of improving themselves.
In the absence of strong public opinion in favour of English, Wapche Marikar, reviled by the conservatives and unaided by the liberals, had to struggle  hard  spending his own money lavishly to improve Zahira whose curriculum included English.
Sir Ponnambalam  Arunachalam's description of the Muslims in his Report on the Census of 1901 gives us a glimpse of their position at the end of the century. "They (Moors) are the most enterprising and speculative race in Ceylon. Their chief occupation is trade, and as traders it is difficult to surpass them. They are ubiquitous and active in the metropolis as in the remotest village. They are an exclusive and conservative race. They seldom mix with other races, except the Malays with whom they intermarry.
"Though the Moors are by no means deficient in intelligence, they care little for education, especially education on Western lines. The presence of Arabi Pasha and his fellow Egyptian exiles in Ceylon during the decade has had the effect of stirring up the Moorish Community, but this has own itself mostly in externals, the adoption of the dress of European Turks etc.
"There  is  little  sign  as  yet  that they realize, or desire to make themselves worthy of their great heritage from Islam, whose votaries, during the darkness of the Middle Ages kept the lamp of learning and civilization trimmed and burning throughout the greater part of Europe and Asia."
Though the Government had abandoned the management of English schools to private agencies, it continued to conduct Vernacular schools where there were no such schools already established by the Missionaries or others. In a very few places there were Tamil schools managed by Muslim bodies locally constituted and depending purely on local support.
In these schools there was provision for the teaching of the Quran and the elements of Islam.
The Commission on Elementary Education in 1905 noted the extreme paucity of Muslim children receiving primary education and tried to remedy the situation by recommending that Government school buildings should be used for Islamic instruction before or after the regular hours of school work.
The Commission thought that this provision would make compulsory attendance effective. The remedy good in theory failed in practice, because the Government vernacular schools were woefully insufficient. Meanwhile, the country tended to favour English, more English and better English. A forceful and extreme  expression of this view was given to the Education Committee of 1912 by M.T. Akbar, the first Muslim Government scholar. His scheme had no place for the vernacular, in strange contrast to the farsighted analysis of the problem furnished at the same time by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam.
In 1904 M.C. Abdul Cader of Jaffna, the first Muslim graduate and the first Muslim Advocate, was not allowed to wear the fez in Court. This roused  the feeling of the Muslims and reminded them of their backwardness and the difficulties of asserting their rights without enough English education. It was therefore not a mere  accident  that Moulavi Rafiuddin Ahmed, practising lawyer of eminence in India, who came to take part in the Fez meeting laid the foundation of the spacious and architecturally distinctive one story building of Zahira which was then  known  as  the Maradana Mohammadan Boys' English High School and continued to be under the management of Wapche Marikar. The tradition of Siddi Lebbe was continued by I.L.M. Abdul Azeez who was the moving spirit of the Colombo Muslim Education Society. He edited its  fortnightly  journal,  "Al  Muslim".  One of its issues in 1909 contains a list of donations for the improvement of Zahira headed by Hadjiar N.D.H. Abdul Caffoor. It was I.L.M. Abdul Azeez who suggested annual Muslim Education Conference, and in the various Tamil and the Anglo-Tamil papers  which  he  conducted stressed the value of English education and eulogized the efforts and success of Sir Seyad Ahmed Khan.
At this time Zahira was the only one Muslim secondary school, the five other Muslim  schools  that  were in existence imparting only elementary English education. The community was not opposed to the establishment of Muslim English schools but no forceful leader possessed of administrative ability emerged,  who could  unite  factions  and  rouse  enthusiasm  for education. The Colombo Muslim Young Men's Association held debates and discussions on Muslim education and encouraged the pursuit of English. In the October, 1914, number of their Review there appeared a spirited appeal by Mr. T.B. Jayah on behalf of English education. He showed that English education   was   indispensable  to  Muslim  political  advancement  and emphasized that "it  is in our best interests to turn to English education, the attainment of which would bring us to a position of intellectual eminence, social efficiency and  political  power."  He  held  up the example of the Buddhists in Ceylon and the Muslims in India and asked the question, "Who is to be the Sir Seyad Ahmed Khan of Ceylon" probably not knowing at that time that his principalship in the future of Zahira would earn for him that very title.
The  events  of  1915  and the misfortunes of the Sultan of Turkey increased the Muslims' desire for English. It was soon felt that unless the Muslims had a powerful organization to look after their educational interests they would be left far behind in the march of progress in Ceylon. M.T. Akbar took the initiative and with the able assistance of Sir Mohammed Macan Markar succeeded in collecting adequate funds for the purpose and in 1918 registered the Ceylon Moslem Educational Society, Ltd.
Hopes were entertained that it would become a central organization or a Muslim Board of Education that would formulate one educational policy for all the  Muslim schools in the Island – whether English or vernacular, establish schools wherever necessary in the various parts of Ceylon and grant scholarships to deserving students.
Its early promise was, however, not fulfilled. What was intended to be an All-Ceylon organization with a comprehensive plan and an island-wide programme became merely the managing body of a few elementary schools in the city of  Colombo  where  there  were  already Muslim institutions organized by other bodies.
Suggestions were  being made in 1927 to amalgamate the schools of the Ceylon Moslem Educational Society, Ltd., with Zahira College whose management a few years earlier had been taken over by N.H.M. Abdul Cader, the Muslim member of the Legislative Council, on behalf of the Maradana Mosque Executive Committee. It had attracted to its staff as Head Master in 1919 the first Muslim English Trained Teacher, Mr. A.S. Abdul Cader.
When Mr. T.B. Jayah assumed duties as Principal in September, 1921, Zahira began to pulsate with new life. With his leadership and the princely munificence and encouragement of Hadjiar N.D.H. Abdul Gaffoor Zahira achieved phenomenal success during the twenties and ushered in a period of awakening among the Muslims of Ceylon. Here the Holy Quran was taught on new and satisfactory lines without the aid of palakai, and the study of Arabic and Islamic History found a prominent place in the curriculum. Many of the conservative parents who had yet not reconciled themselves to English education were now encouraged to send their sons to Zahira.
Zahira's monthly magazine, "The Crescent", widely circulated in all parts of Ceylon. Its articles on education exerted immense influence. Zahira's old boys encouraged education in their respective towns and villages and the Muslims of all parts sought inspiration and guidance from Zahira. By 1924 the year of the All-Ceylon Muslim Conference the only one of its kind Zahira had become "the radiating centre of Muslim thought and activity." Many feeder schools could have been established in the outstations during the period, but for the financial depression that prevailed in the country.
By now the Muslims had abandoned their attitude of non-co-operation which  characterised  the  nineteenth  century.  There  was no longer any opposition to English education  as  such  on  the  ground  that it would undermine their faith. The Muslims  naturally preferred their own institutions where the Quran and Arabic could be taught simultaneously with English. But such institutions were extremely limited in number, besides, the Muslims had no Central Organization that addressed itself to the special problems of Muslim education, formulated a policy and persuaded the Government to adopt it.
Generally speaking, female education was still completely neglected; post primary classes in the vernacular schools attracted no Muslim children; the Quran  schools continued to flourish imparting in ill-ventilated places instruction on the most unscientific lines; English education was expensive and there was no bridge connecting primary education in Tamil with post primary secondary education in English.
Of Muslim  Trained  Teachers there were practically none either in English or Tamil; the Muslim children had no special Readers of their own and  very  often  used  Christian  and  Hindu  Readers.  The  Education Commission had in 1929 recommended the teaching of Arabic as a second language in schools  for  Muslim children but still no Arabic was taught. Compulsory vernacular  education  was  ineffective  without an adequate number of schools. The Muslims of the locality where a school was needed had no assistance from any outside body.
Vigorous action by the Government to remedy such defects could not be expected when the Government at that time was only concerned with "the superintendence  of certain  matters  relating  to  education", and did not consider that its duty was "to promote the education of the people and the progressive  development of institutions devoted to that purpose under its control and direction."
In view of the efforts of the Muslims having been sporadic and uncordinated, localised and feeble, the first half of the twentieth century was characterized by an attitude of what may be called partial co-operation.
With the grant of adult suffrage and the inauguration in 1931 of the new Constitution  whose  object  was,  subject to certain restrictions, "to transfer to the elected representatives of the people complete control over the internal affairs of the Island", education received the special attention of the Government.  The  result  has  been a remarkable expansion in the provision of Vernacular schools. The Muslims naturally came in for a share of these benefits.
The presence of two Muslims – Messrs. A.R.A. Razik and T.B. Jayah in the Second Executive Committee of Education ensured that the Government would pay particular attention to the needs of the Muslim community. During this period, as a result of their efforts several new vernacular schools were opened for Muslim children; places were found in Vernacular Schools for several Muslim teachers; the Government established two Tamil Training schools at Alutagama  and  Addalachenai;  Arabic  wa s included  in the curriculum of the  primary  school  and Arabic teachers (Moulavis) were employed at  Government  expense.  These facilities evoked the increasing co-operation of the Muslim parents.
The policy of the Government was changing during these years from superintendence to the active promotion of education. The new Education scheme recently formulated indicated the total abandonment of the policy of superintendence in favour  of  the policy of promoting under Government control and direction the education of the people by way of a comprehensive plan which ensured a minimum standard of education and the equality of educational opportunity  not merely between individuals but also between communities.
The  existence  of  the  special  problems  of  the  Muslims  was wholeheartedly acknowledged, and the Government's active interest in the solution of them was assured. The Muslims on their part having by this time realized the  inadequacy  of  their  uncoordinated  efforts,  in  the  absence of direct help from the Government,  welcomed  the  new Education Scheme most enthusiastically. It may, therefore, be expected that the new scheme will usher in a period of complete co-operation on the part of the Muslims with the educational programme of the Government.

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