Zahira College, Colombo reached its peak during the tenure of Mr. A.M.A. Azeez as Principal from 1948 to 1961. The school excelled in all fields. Over 150 Zahirians entered the University of Ceylon during his thirteen year period, which was comparatively a large number and they followed important courses. This was a considerable achievement for the school.

Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez was born on 4th October 1911 to a traditional elite family of Vannarpannai in Jaffna.

His education in the two Hindu schools, R.K.M. Vaidyeshwara Vidyalayam and Jaffna Hindu College, and his training under distinguished teachers had stood in good stead in his later years. This was particularly true in respect of his  invaluable contribution to the community in many spheres: his forte being education of the Muslims. It was at these schools that he gathered a good grounding in the Tamil language and nuances of Hinduism. He was a scholar in Tamil and for a Muslim he had a deep knowledge of Tamil literature, and he would quote the Kural, the masterpiece of the poet-philosopher Thiruvalluvar, with the best of pundits. Azeez’s contemporary at Jaffna Hindu College and the University College, later Professor of Civil Engineering, had stated that Azeez excelled in the study of Hinduism at school, but was denied the prize because he was not a Hindu.

The environment in these schools and the influence of his teachers instilled in Azeez the phenomenal value of education.

Azeez graduated from the University of London in 1933 with Honours in History, and proceeded to Cambridge University in 1934 on being awarded the Government Arts Scholarship. On his success at the Ceylon Civil Service Examination as the first Muslim Civil Servant, he abandoned his post-graduate studies and returned home to embark on an administrative career.

In 1933, soon after graduation Azeez joined the Zahira College Hostel as the Resident Tutor. T.B. Jayah was the Principal from 1921. Azeez’s uncle, A.S. Abdul Cader, the first Muslim English Trained Teacher, was the Headmaster from 1919. Jayah and Azeez had a very close relationship until the former’s demise in 1960.

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Hostellers with Jayah, Principal (seated 5th from left) and Azeez, Resident Tutor (seated 6th from left) in 1934

In 1935 Azeez had stated that he was convinced that an attempt to improve the lot of the Muslims in all spheres should give top priority to education. He maintained this conviction until his demise in 1973. When he was Assistant Government Agent in Kalmunai and later in Kandy, he observed the poverty and illiteracy among the Muslims which amply proved the views he had expressed earlier. In Kalmunai, with his close friendship and discussions with Abdul Cader Lebbe, well known poet of Kattankudy, and the eminent educationist and scholar Swami Vipulananda of Karaitivu, Azeez formed the Kalmunai Muslim Educational Society. In 1944 When Swami Vipulananda was appointed as Professor of Tamil at the University of Ceylon, he stayed with Azeez for twelve days in his official residence in Kandy. They discussed many subjects including education of the Muslims. Azeez has stated that the formation of the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund in 1945 and his decision to accept the post of Principal, Zahira College, Colombo in 1948, were encouraged by Swami Vipulananda.

When T.B. Jayah was appointed as a Member of the first Cabinet of Independent Ceylon in 1948, he could not continue as Principal of Zahira College. He searched for a successor and persuaded A.M.A. Azeez to succeed him. Azeez retired from the Ceylon Civil Service sacrificing an alluring career. However, this gave him the opportunity to devote his time to the services of the Muslim community, particularly in education, which was his major ambition.

As Zahira’s Principal Azeez was eager to build up a band of educated young men, nationalistic and filled with the Islamic spirit. When he relinquished his office, Zahira had a well stocked library, an excellent laboratory, a team of distinguished teachers and achievements in the academic, sports and other fields. Azeez made Zahira into one of the finest public schools in the Island.

A.M.A. Azeez had compiled the statistics by years, names and courses of Zahirians who were admitted to the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1959. The University of Ceylon was established in 1942 succeeding the University College granting degrees of the University of London, but no Zahirians entered in the years 1942 and 1943. The copies of the original schedules with graphs are shown below. These are historical documents and should be preserved in the College archives.

Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the Arts Faculties of the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1959

Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the Science Faculties of the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1959

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 Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the Arts Faculties of the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1959

In 1944 M.J.M. Muhsin entered the Arts Faculty and graduated with Honours in Arabic. In 1949 he passed the Ceylon Civil Service Examination as the second Muslim Civil Servant, 15 years after A.M.A. Azeez. Muhsin was one of the earliest scholars of The Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund, which was another achievement of Azeez who initiated the CMSF.

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Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the University of Ceylon in 1960, 1961 & 1962

Summary of Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1961

 Summary of Zahira College, Colombo Entrants to the University of Ceylon from 1942 to 1961

The details in the schedules show the results of Zahirians who entered officially through Zahira College.

During T.B. Jayah’s tenure as Principal from 1921 to 1948, eight Zahirians entered the University of Ceylon. Taking into account the eight Zahirians who entered the University of Ceylon in 1962, a total of 139 Zahirians entered during Azeez’s period as Principal. There were many Zahirians who sat privately and entered after the first and second shies at the University Entrance Examination. Thereby, perusing all the statistics, over 150 Zahirians entered the University of Ceylon during the tenure of A.M.A. Azeez as Principal. This is a significant achievement. This included many Sinhalese and Tamil students, which showed that Zahira catered to all communities. At the Peradeniya campus Zahirians held away in all activities, and were affectionately called the ‘Arab League’.

The statistics show only those who entered the University of Ceylon, which was the only university until the Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara Pirivenas were granted university status in 1958. The local schools were training students to enter the University of Ceylon and their academic reputation was judged by the numbers entering this university. There are many Zahirians who qualified in foreign universities, in local and foreign professional, technical and other institutions, the details of which need to be determined.

The achievements attained in all spheres at Zahira College during Azeez’s period as Principal, has been referred to as the “Golden Era of Zahira”.

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