A.M.A. Azeez  hailed from Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka.  He was born into a distinguished family in the northernmost peninsula of Sri Lanka on 4th October, 1911. His father was a lawyer, a Quazi, Local Government politician and Head of the All Ceylon Muslim League – first from an outstation.

Learning; clear thinking; persuasive logic and reasoning; unimpeachable integrity; and an irresistible bent towards public and social service; a dedication to the upliftment of his community; and unavoidably a drift into politics for serving better his country and nation came naturally to A.M.A. Azeez  with such a family background and environment.  But Azeez did not depend on the legacy his family environment had bequeathed to him. He built on it to play an eminent and unforgettably outstanding role, not in a provincial town, but in the larger and more cosmopolitan metropolis, and most significantly in the national arena.

In his lifetime, alas! too brief, he successfully guided the fortunes of Zahira College, Colombo, the premier Muslim educational institution, safely and most successfully, during change stress and strain.  At a time of challenge with the ushering in of free education, a substantial spurt of students, and vital changes in education, he ensured that Zahira progressed as a leading school.  Profound learning, though it sat modestly on Azeez, rich administrative experience garnered from exemplary service in the coveted Ceylon Civil Service, unwavering faith in and hope for the Muslim Community, and an unflagging spirit of service in the interests of his people, and of his country, enriched the versatile and numerous achievements of Azeez, the educationist and Muslim leader.

The brilliant performance of Azeez as head of Zahira College has naturally tended to eclipse his equally excellent but short service in the elite civil service into which was culled the cream of the country’s intellect. He earned the rare distinction of breaking through into this highly competitive service as the first Muslim.  His enviable academic career no doubt had assured to Azeez this honour.  I will not detail all his several scholastic achievements. He was an exhibitioner in History; he was selected to the Ceylon Government Arts Scholarship and left for Cambridge something every Sri Lankan Scholar of the times yearned for, but so few earned.

Though he forsook a promising academic career, entry into the Ceylon Civil Service drove him into administration in powerful and responsible positions.  But to the end of his days his love of learning and his quest of the truth through research and study, were never abandoned as his erudite writings and solid academic contributions on diverse subjects in English and Tamil demonstrate.  A perusal of his “Some Aspects of the Muslim Society of  Ceylon with Special Reference to the Eighteen Eighties”, presented at the First International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies held in Kuala Lumpur in April 1966, amply indicates his masterly knowledge of Muslim men and matters, and his perceptive and discriminating grasp of learned research. Already in 1964 he had published The West Reappraised which in a succinct form presents his views on personalities, role models, and events of importance in a lucid style, and convincing fashion. Azeez produced through his pioneering studies, material of immense use to scholars of Sri Lankan history, religion, education and culture.  His interest in Arabi Pasha and the Egyptian exiles and their role in the regeneration of the Muslims merit attention most.

Very few in Sri Lanka remember the impressive and immense contribution to scholarship of a pioneering character made by A.M.A. Azeez.  He presented through “Islam in Ceylon” published in the Voice of Islam, Karachi, a short survey of the religion and its position.  In three volumes in typescript are gathered the series of articles written on the Muslims of Sri Lanka, their position, pursuits and progress. Scholarly treatment herein cover the period 1938 to 1955 and is indicative of the intellectual enterprise of Azeez despite the many calls on his time and effort. In his contribution to The Encyclopaedia of Islam published abroad in 1965, Azeez gives a vivid outline which encapsulates the history and origin of the Muslims. Of particular value, is the brief recapitulation of the Muslim laws that prevailed from 1806 to 1956. Again in his recount of the Muslim tradition in Education in Ceylon : A Centenary Volume, Azeez retells the story of Muslims and education in the island in a graphic way.

In today’s atmosphere one cannot overlook the incisive analysis of the “Problems of Minorities with reference to Ceylon” which he had presented in so striking fashion to the University Majlis in Peradeniya published in 1959-1960. Azeez set out to define the minorities as communities of citizens who are joined together by the link of common ancestry, language, culture, religions faith and other such common characteristics. Most relevantly and valuably, Azeez emphasizes that through a policy of cultural coexistence two cultures can flourish side by side without one subordinating the other. The writings of Azeez need to be re-read and pondered upon today when intolerance is rife, and exclusivity and non-accommodation have contaminated salutary thinking and action among cultural groups. Azeez writes an elegant language; his thoughts go deep drawing from the fund of learning he had gathered. His acumen point to us sharply that he was of that breed of civil servants who combined excellence in administration with penetrating insight and deep scholarship.

Of special interest and value, are the studies of Azeez to scholars of religio-cultural nationalism in 19th century Sri Lanka and thereafter. The liberal attitude of Azeez gets more than pronounced in the brief sketch of Arumuga Navalar’s contribution to the revivalism of Hinduism. Initially Azeez had his foundation in education at a Tamil school in Jaffna wherein he gained knowledge of the Holy Koran. Then he entered a leading Hindu school in the peninsula, Vaidyeshwara Vidyalaya, where he imbibed a sound education in Tamil which he proudly acknowledged always. Again, he capped his secondary schooling at the premier Jaffna Hindu College. It was no wonder that Azeez turned out a writer of brilliant Tamil prose and excelled as an eloquent and mellifluous speaker of the Tamil language. He would astound those with whom he conversed by his erudition both in the Tamil language and in the Hindu religion.

It is indeed a tragic irony and a sorry state of affairs in today’s Sri Lanka that those who belonged to that great but small community from which illustrious A.M.A.Azeez came have been expelled from the Jaffna peninsula and the North. It is a travesty of multi – culturalism in plural Sri Lanka that people like Azeez of whom there were so many who adorned the Tamil speaking society have been treated in a manner that brings upon the Tamils of the North unbearable shame and ineradicable disgrace. The sordid and traumatic happenings of North Ceylon that had occurred is something that a tolerant, understanding and broadminded citizen like Azeez would never comprehend and be horrified at, as all of us are too

A.M.A. Azeez learned vital and valuable lessons early. In the Northern peninsula he identified the importance of education in society, and education coupled with character formation and inculcation of values. As an administrator, particularly in the capacity of Emergency Assistant Government Agent, when such positions were few and important, he acquainted himself with the compelling needs of his community. Apparently, he was most impressed by the need to educate them and liberate them from the thralldom of ignorance, and of the need to better the lot of the impoverished peasantry. His service in Kalmunai brought him into close contact with the people. He unerringly diagnosed that education was important for the improvement of the lot of the Muslim people. Progress within and of his community lay in education. He rightly concluded that “in any social programme of the Muslims the first and foremost place should definitely and distinctly be given to education”. Active interest in promoting Muslim education commenced in Azeez at this stage, and by the time Sri Lanka attained independence he renounced the pomp and power of high level public management to succeed the educational giant T.B.Jayah as steward of Zahira College, Colombo. It was not an easy choice; and only a few would have abandoned the esteemed civil service. But Azeez was motivated and willing to sacrifice.

Under Azeez, Zahira College progressed rapidly. It soon became the centre from which Muslim thinking and activity flourished and permeated into different corners of the country, among the Muslim peoples. A man born to learn and educate, even before becoming Principal of Zahira College, Azeez had inaugurated the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund. No doubt, the Muslims had lagged behind in education.  Correctly did Azeez discern that the Muslim community suffered from a deficiency of their members in the learned professions and in the higher echelons of the public service.

Azeez was again right in discovering that owing to the poverty of several in the community, intelligent Muslim youth could not take to higher education in law, medicine or in the other disciplines that spelt out a potential beneficial future. In 1945 May, he announced a provision for educating the poorer Muslim boys, girls and adults who were eminently suited to pursue primary, secondary, higher, vocational, university and religious education.  Their talents needed to be harnessed for the advance of the Muslim community as a whole.  Azeez was a wise judge and, in his thinking, ahead of his times.  He stressed education for girls and adults and indicated the need for vocational and religious education; ideas that became vogue only later.  Education for all and for lifelong, and education geared to meaningfulness and morality, were valuable to Azeez who had no narrow view of education nor gave to it a limited content.  Creditable and noteworthy success attended the efforts of Azeez.  Today there are many eminent personalities among the Muslims who are indebted to the venture undertaken by him.  The scheme commenced by him did not die with him indicating its permanent worth.

The scheme of Azeez was a self perpetuating one.  Beneficiaries of it ploughed back into a fund the proceeds that learning brought to them in their professional and working life.  Another noteworthy innovation that followed the farsighted imagination of Azeez was the creation of an alumni association or old boys association.  Here again the intention of the architect was to ensure that the interest of the students of Zahira College was harnessed for the benefit and advancement of the educational institution that had nurtured them in their formative years.

As an educationist, Azeez was indeed a master builder and an headmaster of the great tradition of institution makers; creators of convention; and moulders of character.  Deeply ingrained in him was the conviction that all followers of Islam are bound by a common faith and a sense of belonging to a single community.  In various ways Azeez reinforced the concept of the Islamic community making it stronger and enduring among the diverse Muslim students that flocked to Zahira College which was envied as an excellent nursery of successful Muslim peoples.

It is indeed axiomatic that the spread of knowledge has a favorable effect on economic growth.  Education is a crucial means of fostering development and progress in less developed countries.  Azeez then was quite right in singling out education as the instrument through which he could assist the Muslim community to progress and forge ahead. Economic improvements owing to education and training are counted under human resource development today.  Azeez saw the need to develop the human resources of the Muslim community well ahead of time and successfully endeavored to accomplish it.  The Nobel Prize winner Professor Theodore Schultz has acknowledged that education is indispensable in promoting long term growth in countries.  The contribution made today by many members of the Muslim community to growth in Sri Lanka can well afford evidence of the foresight and wisdom of A.M.A. Azeez.    

Azeez did demonstrate in various ways that he thought and acted in advance of his time.  Consequently some of his designs did not meet with success or popularity. Azeez believed fervently on the revival and development of Arabic-Tamil especially for fostering and advancing the religious knowledge of a large number in the Muslim Community.  But this idea did not “catch on”. Again, Azeez worked towards the establishment of the Ceylon Muslim Cultural Centre in 1958 intended to comprise a library, a publications unit, an archives, an art gallery, auditorium and an Islamic research centre.  But once more changes occurred; Zahira College was handed to the government in 1961 following the “schools take over” and the scheme of Azeez had to be jettisoned.  Sometimes his schemes were either too esoteric, abstruse or too grand but the intrinsic value of his ideas cannot be easily faulted.  There were other priorities and the proposals of Azeez had to be superseded; and this might have been the more pragmatic approach.

By 1950 the incessant effort of A.M.A. Azeez saw the introduction of the All Ceylon YMMA Conference, designed to turn out Muslims who abided by the noblest traditions of Islam, and would be able to serve the country in praiseworthy ways. The virtues of Islam and its culture were to be made known.  Interestingly a synthesis was to be made of the cultures of the East and the West by cutting and blending what is best in them.  Promotion of education was another aim of the Conference while above all it was to be a means of building  inter- communal amity.  As the objectives made it evident Azeez was concerned of ethics, morality, tolerance, coexistence, respect for others and goodwill towards them. These objectives are specially relevant and saliently valid today, and need reiteration and re-emphasis.

Public behavior and social conduct ought to be guided by values embedded in great religions such as Islam. Principles in the teachings of Islam and other religions ought to inform and inspire our conduct.  But today, unfortunately, many are the observations that public life is not grounded in virtue; that the behavior of men in high positions of responsibility and authority are deficient in ethics and values. The laments make one believe that we are lapsing into a position where the pleasure of the prince has the force of law.  In other words the ordinary folk are prey to the caprice and whims of people in high positions. Virtues and values inherently prescribed by Islam, or for that matter many other religions, form unwritten rules and customs; but they are intrinsically right and valuable that they merit to be the guiding principles of public conduct.  The virtues espoused by Islam can never conflict with what is just or good.

The great religion of Islam entertains a noble conception of man as a reasonable being, and the virtues enshrined in Islam are designed to establish a society of free men and women living in the fellowship of a free community.  Islam surely looks upon every man and woman as a reasonable and responsible person.  Also, it makes clear that the temporal ruler is under God, and that the higher rules of justice and of right apply to all alike.  But Human dignity and human freedom are now under siege.  This indictment alone is sufficient to show how the virtues of Islam and its culture need to be revived and revitalized so as to restore healthy society, and bring back to a normal and desirable state public men and affairs.  Azeez was certainly wise in setting up the YMMA Conference and in defining its laudable aims.

Moreover, the validity of the aims of promoting education and espousing inter – communal amity has much more immediate relevance and significance. The strains and conflicts caused between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities; and later, quite unnecessarily and un understandably, between the Muslim and the Tamil communities; and the occasional differences that have surfaced between the Muslim and the Sinhalese communities all go to prove how important is the aim of fostering inter – communal amity, a fundamental objective and founding notion of the YMMA Conference which was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1968.

The profound acumen and noble thinking of A.M.A. Azeez calls for serious reflection from all.  Tolerance of diverse communities, different religions, various cultures and customs is absolutely essential in a plural society. Here the life of A.M.A. Azeez who commanded the respect and friendship of so many from so different communities can afford us inspiration and hope that intolerance and subordination are unnecessary and equality of all is possible and necessary.

The assiduous reader and scholar, A.M.A. Azeez, was naturally fascinated by the thoughts, speeches and writings of great Muslim leaders in other parts of the world such as Syed Ahamed Khan and Mohamed Iqbal.  They offered to Azeez examples of the roles a reformer among Muslims could take.  Azeez, with his interest in and concern with reform in the Muslim community, was inevitably drawn to delve into the lives and activities of Muslim reformers in the subcontinent which itself was then experiencing revivalism and resurgence in nationalism.  Later on, Azeez kept a link with Pakistan and its leadership visiting it in 1951.  Similarly, Azeez reached out to the Muslim leadership in Malaysia and the Maldives. He was intellectually inquisitive of the developments in neighbouring Muslim countries, and sought ways and means of bettering the lot of his own community.

Additionally, he was fortunate to have experienced the life and understood the culture of the West.  Azeez broadened his outlook, his views, and was able to weigh and value the thoughts of the East with those of the West. He was given the opportunity to compare and contrast the culture, the philosophy, customs, and traditions of two types of the world society.  Not being narrow or bigoted he endeavored to introduce the thoughts of the West in his explanations to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.  He worked to synthesise the good in the culture of the West with that good he found in the civilization of the East.  Not intolerant, he did not reject without good reason, and he saw some worthwhile points to be understood and appreciated in Western educated thinking and action. Yet, firm in his faith in Islam and all that it stood for, Azeez never lost his religious and cultural bearings.  His writings, speeches and his conversation testified to this more than amply, but Azeez was still no obsurantist.

The grandeur and glory of Muslim culture need not be recounted here.  Much has been said about the greatness of Muslim civilization, much has been written and repeated.  Today it is common knowledge that Muslim civilization belongs to the heritage of all humanity and remains as an illuminating and enlightening chapter in mankind’s history. That Azeez the historian, educationist, avid scholar and seeker of wisdom should have spent time and effort in learning about Muslim reformers, thinkers, and scholars need not surprise us.  He saw in Iqbal “a guide, a philosopher and friend” ; and the teacher as he was, A.M.A. Azeez wanted Iqbal to inspire   and influence all others in his community.

A.M.A. Azeez made his debut into national politics through the United National Party.  His usefulness and importance were acknowledged when he was elected to membership of the Working Committee of the United National Party in 1952.  He was further honored by being elected to the Senate on the recommendation of Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake.

The Senate was to function as an upper chamber of the island’s Parliament.  Members were to be picked out from among men and women of distinction whose contribution to national and public life had been outstanding and whose knowledge and experience gave to them a singularly and recognizably high and distinguished status. Since people of such calibre may not like to be involved in the hurly burly of electioneering they were to be chosen by other means.  The role of the Senate was to deliberate objectively and dispassionately on the merits and demerits of legislative or policy measures.  It was to make a studied scrutiny of proposals in order to stall or allow for re-reflection of hasty or ill-considered measures.

A.M.A. Azeez was most appropriately fitted to be in the Senate and to participate constructively and efficiently in the role of this second chamber in the national and political life of the island.  Particularly his contributions in the Senate on educational matters in which he was expert and experienced were sober and studied. Nevertheless, unfortunately, politicians capitulating to pressures and swayed by lobbies could not concur with the opinions or observations of Azeez; they wanted unquestioning and pliant people in the second chamber to be always supportive.  The aims of a second chamber were disregarded.

When the controversial, and now acknowledged to be imprudently formulated, Official Language Bill was discussed Azeez differed from the thinking of his party which was in his view unfair.  He elaborated in June 1956 to the All Ceylon Muslim League that at a meeting of the Joint Parliamentary group of the United National Party he could not agree with the proposal that the members of the Senate and House of Representatives belonging to the United National Party should vote for the bill on the Official Language. The Bill was unacceptable to the Ceylonese Muslims as it had been indicated earlier in May 1956, and no further alterations to the bill had made it in any manner more palatable to the Muslims now.  Azeez added that the measure was contrary to an assurance afforded by the United National Party leader, Sir John Kotelawela, to representatives of the All Ceylon Muslim League and the All Ceylon Moors Association that minority rights regarding languages would be recognized and respected.  Sadly, the members of the United National Party forgot about the rights of the minorities in a plural society.  Azeez disagreed with them and quit the party.  Azeez could not sacrifice principle to populism nor equity to expediency.  He simply was not meant for politics where scruples mattered little and survival mattered more.  He was more admirably fitted to be in the Public Service Commission where he served impartially and with acceptance and contributed positively in respect of the public services.

The stand taken by A.M.A. Azeez on a political issue, and that he was willing to pay a price for it, shows that to him politics had to be value-based and sensitive to equity.  It is indeed appropriate to recall and reflect on his conduct at a time when many question the quality of present day politics. They do not see in contemporary time national and public life integrity, Justice and morals. The Notions of democracy remain but the spirit of it is absent. Political culture in Sri Lanka apparently is devoid of ethics.

Azeez did not have in him the trait of opportunism.  He exhibited rare courage in taking a decision that entailed severe loss but won for him the unstinted and spontaneous admiration of the righteous. He did not cross over to other parties when he differed from his Muslim League and the United National Party. He was consistent in adhering to principle which he would not compromise. Thus his behaviour has bequeathed to us the lesson that statesmanship and politics are two different things, and that gentlemen of his ilk are rare to find.

When Azeez had observed the members of the Muslim community in the Eastern province he noticed an underclass, to him a moral affront to Muslim Society.  If this group were to be uplifted they had to acquire the educational skills that the knowledge requirements of employment and professions demanded.  Moreover the knowledge needed had to be of a nature that extended beyond task specific skills.  The worker in modern society needed to gain cultural understanding about even mundane matters such as time, dress, courtesy, money, cause and effect, and language.  Furthermore, the modern worker should be able to obtain and exchange information.  In a knowledge based Sri Lankan economy it was education that was a prime means to produce wealth.  Social Justice and freedom in society demanded education and information.  That is exactly what Azeez laboured to supply through Zahira College during his stewardship, 

and even later.  He discerned clearly as his writings indicate that education was no longer merely a priority for parents, teachers, and education reformers but also for the advanced sectors of business since there is a nexus between education and competitiveness.  Another wise thought of Azeez was the quick universalization of access to education to those from the Muslim community.

Time and again, Azeez harked back to that exiled hero who brought the Sri Lankan Muslim community out of resignation in conservative and secluded life, Arabi Pasha.  Arabi Pasha who had led an unsuccessful revolt against.  Western overlordship in Egypt in 1882 was an exile in the island from 1883 to 1901. Naturally Azeez also recalled the endeavour and intelligent imagination of the Sri Lankan Muslim leader, M.C. Siddi Lebbe, an attorney-at-law with dedicated social concern for his compatriots.  Siddi Lebbe mobilized the support of Arabi Pasha to lever the Muslim community to a state of recognizing the want of a change of views.  And here education was most vital and imperative if the Muslims were not to be left out of progress.

Azeez emulated both Siddi Lebbe and Arabi Pasha in reiterating vehemently that education was crucial for revivifying his co-religionists.  If the Muslim were to mean anything, Azeez like his predecessor Siddi Lebbe envisioned that the Sri Lanka Muslims could not play any role unless they sought modern education although not allowing any of its characteristics to erode their faith in Islam. In pushing ahead the campaign of education in the Muslim community naturally Azeez too had to wrest with apathy among members. It was no mere coincidence that Azeez headed Zahira College which had been established owing to the efforts of leaders like Siddi Lebbe under the patronage of Arabi Pasha and was zealously and ably nurtured by another large hearted Muslim personality, Wapche  Marikar.

Like those about whom he wrote so vividly, Azeez too wanted to arouse the social consciousness of his community, bring the Muslims out of isolation, and wean them away from economic stagnation, political indifference, cultural alienation and educational handicap.  To achieve his objectives, Azeez anchored his endeavors in modern education and the Islamic Faith.  Through his educational enterprise, Azeez worked to bring an affinity between the Muslims of neighbouring Tamilnadu and the Muslim peoples in Sri Lanka.  By participating in Conferences held by the Muslims in Tamilnadu, Azeez promoted the educational and cultural activities of Muslims gaining an insight and experience of transborder character.  And Azeez was eminently suited to perform this meaningful interaction because of his excellent command of the Tamil language, a legacy bequeathed to him by the early schooling he had gained in the Jaffna peninsula.

The other pre-occupation of Azeez was with religion.  He correctly comprehended that Islam was not simply a corpus of private religious beliefs but also implied actively the establishment of an independent community professing its own system of government, laws and institutions.  This is evident from the thoughts embodied in his writings and speeches, and above all in his conversation.  He was right in looking upon Islam as the repository of a strong, self confident and inspiring Faith. It is from this conviction that Islam was realized to be possessive of an unyielding attitude to everything that lay outside itself.  At the same time it is this trust that made Azeez see in Islam a record of broad tolerance of diversity within its own community, refusal to be intolerant of those of other communities, and the dignity with which the religion has endured trials.  Islam also showed to Azeez a way towards a new integration of peoples and cultures.

Azeez judged prudently that Islam was a moral force that commanded respect. In it was a coherent doctrine that could challenge on their own ground any other religions.  Thus he gave to those followers in the Muslim community a way through their Faith of living in respect and honour, by emphasizing Islam.  In his work, Azeez sought to strengthen the spiritual insight of those in the Muslim community by cultivating the capacity of developing and inculcating the teachings of Islam.     

Aware of the relative intellectual poverty and isolation of some of the Muslim community, through education and repeatedly stressing religion, Azeez brought about among them, slowly but surely, a transformation in their knowledge and character.  Azeez was no doubt, as an historian of no mean ability, aware of the achievements of Islamic civilization and it is to a regeneration of this civilization within his own country and community that he looked upto.  Be it in industry, commerce, professions or the arts, Azeez believed that education and resuscitation of religion among the Muslims could enable them to channel their energy into achievement and success.  As a scholar, Azeez had steeped himself in the literary and social heritage of his illustrious predecessors both in and outside the island.  He knew well of the outbursts of creative activity that had characterized Islam in the past, and also of the continuing absorptive and expansive power of Islamic civilization.

Moreover, Azeez was conscious that the assertion of the supremacy of the religious culture could not have succeeded had the culture not offered within itself enough scope for the active exercise of the intellectual faculties. Also, he made out, as his articles show, that the master-science of the Muslim world was Law.  Law embraces almost all things, human and divine, and Muslim scholars had pursued its study comprehensively and arduously. Azeez too did give a brief but clear outline of Muslim law in Sri Lanka in his articles, where necessary.

Islamic Law became most significant not only for its intellectual pre-eminence and scholastic function but also as the most extensive and effective agent in building up the social order and community life of the Muslim peoples.  By its exhaustive nature it wielded a steady pressure upon all private and social activities, erecting a standard to which they conformed more and more proximately with the passage of time. Furthermore, Islamic Law manifested a practical expression of the singular Muslim search for unity.  The operation of Islamic Law wrought a striking convergence of social ideals and ways of life in essentials throughout the Muslim community.  Owing to its religious bases and theocratic sanctions, Islamic Law functioned as the spiritual guide and conscience and arbiter of the Muslim peoples. None can forget that the moral authority of the Law got more enhanced and held the social fabric of Islam compact and secure through all the vicissitudes of the political and economic fortunes of the Muslim community.

Over time, obvious to all, a great civilization had been created radiant in intellectual life, wealthy and enterprising in economic life. This was strongly consolidated by an authoritative Law. The entirety was a visible depository of the temporal and spiritual power of Islam.

Within Islam itself lay a fount of self renewal which maintained its spiritual vigour through times of political and economic decay. Azeez was conscious of this resilience and endurance of Islam.  His contributions to The Encyclopedia of Islam and Education in Ceylon are but only two of his several expressions on the vital nature of Islamic Law and civilization, and on the resilience and permanent values of Islam. No wonder that Azeez felt the imperative to conserve, unify and stabilize social life on Muslim standards which education can propagate.

With its incomparable virtues and values, Islam has grown to be a dominant religion in a wide expanse of territory in the world. Of all the great religions of the world, Islam embraces an extremely wide variety of races. Azeez, the historian, was only too deeply versed in this knowledge and could not resist emphasizing the need forlearning and practicing their Faith among the Muslim peoples. He was certain that education and religion could draw the members of diverse group into a single community of purpose and will, and that the vitality of the great ideas of Islam will reinvigorate the members of the Muslim community.

The story of the Muslims in Sri Lanka in the late 19th and the 20th centuries is an account of revival and efforts at readjustments under the two fold impetus of challenge from within and pressing external dangers.  Yet under its prudent leadership comprising the like of Azeez the Muslim community had gathered itself together. With the propagation of education and the exhortation to be faithful to their religion, today the Muslim community is much reawakened and alert and is strong and confident to confront the unknown and unpredictable future.

The penetrating and pervasive power of Western influences however could not be ignored.  They could be related, nevertheless to the basis of the Muslim’s own life and thought with comprehension and adjustment. Yet the theology, law and practice of the orthodox Community had still to remain binding and unalterable.  But restatement was to serve the purpose of strengthening the Muslim world against the encroachments of the West.  There was consequently a purification of religious belief and practice, on elevation of intellectual levels, and the extension and modernization of education.  In his own way, despite constraints, Azeez played his role in this process.

There was another attempt too to remove causes of division between Muslims and to unite them in the defence of the  Faith.  In the 19th century abroad, the Afghan Jamal al-Din (1839-97) with his relentless efforts in the Muslim East powerfully aroused Muslim feeling and contributed thereby also to the Arabic rising in Egypt and the Persian revolution. Azeez inevitably followed the trend set by Jamal al-Din’s followers like Arabi, and the other Egyptian Sheikh Mohammed Abduh (1849-1905) who endeavored to distinguish the political from religious reform and restatement of Islamic doctrine.  He had urged the pursuit of modern thought confident that ultimately it could not undermine but only confirm the religious truth of Islam.  By restating the rights of reason in religious thought Abduh restored some degree of flexibility to what had seemed a rigid and apparently petrified system and allowed the possibility of reformulating doctrine in modern instead of medieval terms.  Scholars such as Azeez were naturally drawn to study these developments, and he got influenced by them although his basic beliefs remained uncompromised as is obvious from what he has said.

Here one cannot avoid recalling again the part of Azeez in founding the YMMA.  In Muslim society abroad a salient development had been the rise of new religious societies.  These too were in a way restatements of Islamic thought and reassertions of the Islamic conscience in the wake of Western intrusion, adapted to varying social and educational environments.  Thus in Egypt and the Arab areas the ‘Association of Muslim Youth’ addressed itself to the same kind of public, and with much the same methods, as the YMCA, while the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ operated at a more popular level.  It is unimaginable that the thinking of Azeez was unreceptive to these developments, perceptive and sharply imaginative as he was. These associations, as much as the YMMA, aimed to revive and stimulate religious faith and practice which otherwise could get submerged in the tide of modernism and Westernization. These type of societies, as much as the YMMA, commonly rallied in an enthusiastic veneration for the person of the Holy Prophet which provided the principal emotional and ethical stimulus in modern Islam.

Azeez saw the wisdom of personalities, closer by, like Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98).  He agreed with the reformer and revivalist in India that Islam and science could not prove antagonistic in the long run. Syed Ahmed Khan founded at Aligarh in 1875 a college wherein religious education was combined with modern scientific studies.  Azeez was not impervious to this inspiration.  Moreover, in taking over modern Western learning and science Muslims were only resuming the heritage of their own civilization.  This line of thought was most persuasively proffered by Mohammed Iqbal (1876-1938), an exponent of extreme modernist reformulation of Islamic doctrine. Azeez was an avid admirer of Iqbal and popularized his thinking here.  In this sense, Azeez seems to have understood that Islam rightly comprehended and followed, eschewed any form of religious obscurantism and required its adherents to pursue all branches of learning and science with their utmost endeavours.  And Azeez found sanction for his academic investigations and intellectual pursuits in the frequent arguments in the Holy Koran from design and exhortations to study God’s “signs” in the natural world, and in several well known sayings ascribed to the Holy Prophet such as ‘seek knowledge even unto China; ’  and “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr”. There was ample justification for the exhortations of Azeez to the members of his community to educate themselves to know and practice their Faith.

Azeez was well informed, like other Muslim leaders who were confronted by the insistent demand of new modes of thought, of the need to restate the eternal principles of the Holy Koran’s interpretation of the universe. He was also confident that from its long inner history Islam had acquired both the adoptability and the toughness required to withstand the challenge of modern philosophical thought.  To him the relaxation of the religious conscience and the weakening of the catholic tradition of Islam were both dangerous in a plural society as in Sri Lanka.

Azeez was gifted with the foresight to see that if religious conscience and the catholic tradition of the Muslims were compromised then there would follow a weakening of the community of moral purpose and feeling in turn among the Muslims. Islam is a religion of the moral imperative yet of that imperative embodied in the norms and way of life of a Community which cannot be forfeited or eroded.  Azeez was correct in advocating the closing of the differences or rifts within the Muslim peoples, and in expecting these peoples to enlist in creatively participating in efforts to reformulate and reactivate Islamic teaching, as a valid way of life in new and changing conditions.  The essence of the Islamic faith and ethic had to be preserved in spite of all necessary changes and still the moral conscience of the most enlightened Muslims such as Azeez or other leaders had to be satisfied.

Islam envisaged and organized society based on the rule of law.  Further, Islam visualized a head of a state who neither holds all power and governs at will as he thinks fit.  Islami values are sublime, and Islam itself has often tended to address fundamental rather than particular issues.  General or basic principles called ‘Supreme Values’ should underline governance.  Emphasis is on mutual consultation, justice, and freedom since they are potentials in man and his created nature.  From the Islamic point of view man has always the right to exercise his freedom of choice provided he does not abuse this right.  Islam stresses similarly equality which is manifested in that the principles of Islamic law places every one on an equal footing in the application of law.  The administration of justice in Islamic Law is one and the same for everyone.  Above all, Islam does not fail to allow for the calling of a head of state to account and it also spells out the scope of a subject’s obligation to obey. Briefly, these democratic values embedded in Islam were the very ones to which Azeez as citizen, administrator, educationist and politician was strongly attracted.      

In later years, Azeez was concerned with the Jamiah Naleemiah, a private Muslim Educational Institution, and once again in revivifying thereby the interest of the Muslim community in their religion and its ideals.  Community life centred around the mosque was to him important for Muslim unity and progress. Education and religion, both of which alone unfold the imperishable varieties of life, remained throughout to Azeez abiding interests. His death has left all of us diminished. We lost untimely a man of foresight and constructive imagination. We lost a gentlemen endowed with clarity of vision, consistency in adhering to propriety  and rectitude, unfailing courtesy and politeness, modest and self-effacing manner, and above all an invariable sense of warmth and generosity. We may also recall the wisdom of Azeez and the appropriateness of his thinking at a time when Western double standards, misconceived and selective military intervention and an obsessive emphasis on security is noticeable in the West’s approach to the Muslim world.  Such a highly selective approach to military intervention when the same governments remain passive where Muslims are killed by non-Muslim forces as in Bosnia can only provoke the Muslims and drive them to lose faith in the equity of any new world order.

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