Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search

HomeTamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Muslims & Tamil Eelam > The glorious years of Zahira under Dr. A.M.A. Azeez


The glorious years of Zahira under Dr. A.M.A. Azeez

A.G.A. Barrie, P.Eng
in Sri Lanka Daily Mirror, 24 November 2006

November 24, 2006 marks the 33rd death anniversary of Al Haj Dr. A.M.A. Azeez, an eminent scholar and educationist who worked wholeheartedly towards the betterment of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. His work, especially in the sphere of Muslim education, has indeed been beneficial to the community and will no doubt be continued in the future, Insha Allah.

Azeez was born in Jaffna on October 4, 1911. He was from a well respected and educated family. His father, S.M. Aboobucker J.P., was a leading lawyer, Vice Chairman of the Jaffna Urban Council, Quazi and the first outstation President of the All Ceylon Muslim League. After his early education in Allapichai Quran Madrasa, Vaidyeshwara Vidyalayam and Jaffna Hindu College, Azeez pursued his post-secondary studies in 1929 and graduated with honours in History from the University of London in 1933.

Even though he proceeded to Cambridge on a Government scholarship to pursue post-graduate studies, he opted to join the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service and returned. He was the first Muslim Civil Servant in this country and he never forgot his roots in Jaffna. The education he received made him a scholar in Tamil and a versatile exponent of both Islamic and Hindu philosophies. This gave him a broad outlook and the University of Jaffna conferred a posthumous Doctorate of Letters at their first convocation. It is just as well that Azeez did not live to see the senseless and cruel dismembering of the Jaffna Muslim community.

He held many important positions within the Ceylon Civil Service, excelling in each and every one of them. He is best known for dedicated work in his efforts to raise the living standards of the Sri Lankan Muslim community in particular. In 1942, as Assistant Government Agent in Kalmunai, he transformed the landless Muslim farmers of the Eastern province to land owners. The district soon became the granary of the East and continues to be so. Farmers of this area praised his relentless dedication and unparalleled vision for the future and they preserved and honored his memory with an area of land designated as “Azeez Thurai Kandam”. By virtue of his in-depth and hands-on experience within the Muslim community, he was able to identify the pressing needs and resolved them in the most appropriate manner.

His main concern was with the accessibility to education for Muslim Youth. He believed that education was the key to the progress of the community. Having realized the importance of education, he founded the Kahnunai Muslim Educational Society in 1942. Poverty was identified as one of the main factors which prevented many eligible and intelligent students from furthering their education. This prompted Azeez, the visionary, to initiate the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund in May 1945. As of today more than 2000 deserving students have benefited. Many scholars have received national honours and have held eminent positions in their respective fields both locally and internationally. The writer of this article was himself a beneficiary.

To keep the youth occupied and to enhance their contribution towards the community and to train them in leadership and social service, Azeez inaugurated the Young Men’s Muslim Association Conference in 1950, which has numerous branches in all areas of the Island.

His glorious service in the Civil Service did not last long. When the opportunity arose to serve the community through education, he never gave a second thought to sacrifice his own bright future, so as to benefit the Muslim community. After the general election in 1947, T.B. Jayah tendered his resignation as Principal of Zahira College to join the Cabinet of Ministers. The mantle fell on A.M.A. Azeez and he accepted the challenge to become the Principal of Zahira with hope and enthusiasm. Azeez has left indelible footprints in the sands of time and Zahira College is one among many.

I was a fifth standard student at Zahira and watched with awe when two stalwarts, T.B. Jayah and A.M.A. Azeez were walking the school grounds in the morning of August 23, 1948, when Azeez ceremoniously accepted the Principalship of Zahira. In the evening the first major event presided by the new Principal was the unveiling of the portrait of Jayah by the Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake at the Ghaffoor Hall. This was truly a historic day for Zahira.

Azeez, having accomplished remarkable achievements in the public service at the tender age of 36, exhibited his efficient administration and outstanding leadership qualities by grooming Zahira into one of the leading schools in the country. The achievements in a very short spell of his career are unparalleled. Zahira excelled in education, sports and other extra-curricular activities such as music and drama. In his own words, “Zahira was the radiating centre of Muslim culture, thought and activities”.

He had a clear vision to achieve this goal and a master plan which he implemented in stages. He surprised everyone around him with an innovative approach to achieving his goals, an approach that no one could have even fathomed. His criteria for excellence were based among others on the hand picked dedicated teachers: establishment of a well equipped science laboratory and library; encouraging the involvement of parents and old boys. The students and staff were encouraged to adopt a God fearing attitude while maintaining good relations with other schools. He also personally overlooked studies, advised and even trained the students in the University entrance classes.

It was a treat to watch the students assemble in Ghaffoor Hall every Monday morning in an orderly and organized fashion, leaving a corridor in the centre for the teachers and the Principal to walk and take their places on the stage. A verse from Quran would be beautifully recited by Azhar University qualified Zubair Alim and the translation would be given by the Principal in pin drop silence; special assemblies were held for important foreign visitors. The annual Prize Giving’s were well organized memorable events with dignitaries as chief guests, and the excellent reports and speeches delivered by Principal Azeez.

When I gained a First Division pass at the S.S.C. examination, I applied to join the Navy in 1954 due to financial constraints. Looking at my record, Azeez refused to sign and tore my application, insisting that I keep on track with my studies. He arranged for assistance from the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund and I joined the hostel. Azeez kept a vigilant eye on my progress until I entered University in 1956 and qualified as an engineer, and followed my professional career until I left the country in 1969.

Students from all provinces of the country, Muslims as well as non Muslims, joined Zahira while the highly qualified, experienced and dedicated teachers did their part, taking a personal interest in the students especially those in the higher grades. The hostel was ably and regimentally managed by the warden Issadeen, fondly known as “Bulldog”, guided by Azeez, and was a place for maintaining discipline and camaraderie. Even though Zahira was a premier Muslim school, it catered to all communities, as Azeez believed in living together in peace and harmony and interaction was essential in our multi-racial and multi-religious land. Both the staff and the students hailed from the many communities. This also created a level of tolerance and respect for each other, no matter what community we originated from.

Zahira’s remarkable academic achievements were mostly during Azeez’s stewardship. In 1950 for the first time 10 Zahirians entered the University of Ceylon and the number increased every year. In 1956 a record number of 13 students entered, two for engineering, five for science, one for medicine and five for Arts. I entered for engineering while the other declined and joined the Navy to become a naval engineer and retired as Rear Admiral. The others held top posts after graduation including a University Don and a high ranking Army officer. The momentum was maintained, reaching even higher numbers in the late fifties and early sixties.

At Peradeniya campus, in the late fifties and early sixties the ever popular large group of Zahirians held sway in all activities, winning twice the first ever “Mr. Campus” contests, and they were referred to affectionately as the “Arab League”.

A total of well over 100 students entered during Azeez’s glorious period as Principal and many became University Dons and leading academics in Sri Lanka and abroad, while the others became professionals and administrators, It was creditable that at the G.A.Q. exams in 1961 and 1962 the prizes for Tamil were won by three Muslim Zahirians, the marks obtained in 1961 have yet to be surpassed. The entire community was proud of the achievements and coined the term “The Golden Era of Zahira” for Azeez’s thirteen year period, one which has yet to be matched.

Zahira excelled in all fields, academic and non-academic. In target shooting Zahira attained the peak in the “Golden Era”. As school boys they beat the regular Ceylon Army and M.U.M. Ameen and K.A.M. Mohideen snatched the coveted Queens Cup in succession for two years beating all the crack shots of the Army, Navy and the Police. In Cadeting Zahira was invincible. The Senior and Junior Cadets won the Herman Loos Cup and the Governor Generals Cup for the first places, and other individual awards year after year. Many cadets joined the four services and rose to high ranks.

These were possible with the dedication and interest taken by Capt. Muhlar ably guided and encouraged by the Principal. When Rugger was reintroduced in 1956, Zahira beat some of the leading schools in the first year itself they also won the Tarbat shield for soccer. They also excelled in cricket, wrestling, boxing, athletics, table tennis, badminton, volley ball, swimming and scouting. Zahira was the first school to establish an Indoor Cricket School and a Dental Clinic.

Keeping in line with the tradition of celebrating when winning any award, a grand and enjoyable banquet was given at the spacious “Meadow Sweet” with Mrs. Azeez’s culinary expertise. This happened ever so often. The functions for cadets ended with performances by cadet Rufin Saldin, later the well known dancer. At the function for winning the Herman Loos Cup, the words of appreciation and advice given by Azeez made an impression on my career. He stressed the importance of team effort coupled with lasting hard work saying, “Easy to attain but difficult to maintain”. I use this phrase almost everyday among my colleagues to maintain high standards wherever I work. This reflects the unique motivational power and leadership qualities possessed by Azeez. He not only rewarded the achievements but directed and guided us to be successful in our lives.

Azeez is the perfect example of an able, honest, wise and understanding leader, he was able to see through to my future, understand my difficulties and hardships and offer the apt solution to transform the future of this poor student into a bright one. I am ever indebted to him for being a true mentor. There are many here and abroad who will no doubt agree with me.

For the benefit of the students, various associations were formed such as the Science Club, Curia Historica, Iqbal Society, Sinhalese Society, Dramatic Society, Art Club etc. creating interest and enthusiasm for these students. Being a Tamil scholar Azeez encouraged the Tamil Manram resulting in a fine crop of Zahirians to dominate later in Literature and other fields in Tamil. Fresh ideas applicable to Zahira such as the Students’ Council was introduced soon after his tour of the USA on a Smith-Mundt scholarship in 1952. The Cultural Centre too was built in the College premises which accommodated Islamic library, publication bureau and an Islamic research centre.

All these were formulated towards achieving Azeez’s final goal of establishing at Zahira a Muslim Cultural University in the lines of the Vidyodaya, Vidyalankara and Hindu Cultural Universities. Those around him were able to see his mission but unfortunately the dream was shattered when the foolhardy among the community failed to follow through with this great leader’s vision, resulting in the state Zahira is in today. Though his dream was not fulfilled and denied to him in his country, Azeez’s contribution to education was recognised in neighboring India. Just two months before his death he was invited to inaugurate the Tantil Nadu Muslim Educational Conference in Madras and was honoured with a “Golden Shawl”. Being a visionary the disappointment did not stop him from imparting his knowledge and experience in founding the Jamiah Naleemiah. He gave his expertise to this Institute until Allah called him back from this world prematurely. Inna Lillahi Wainnah Ilaihi Rajioon.

Dr. A.M.A. Azeez has set an unparalleled record and will be remembered in history as a distinguished scholar, a competent administrator, renowned educationist and above all as a man of unquestionable honesty and integrity.

He was a modest, unassuming and humble gentleman approachable at any time by anyone, his achievements, deeds and dedication will be an example to present day leaders of all communities. he is the only Sri Lankan to be honoured by his inclusion in the “100 Great Muslim Leaders of the 20th Century” published by the Institute of Objective Studies in India.

(A.G.A. Barrie hails from Beruwela and excelled in studies sports and cadeting during the Azeez era at Zahira. He was Senior Prefect and was awarded the Ghaffoor Gold Medal in 1955 for the best student. After graduating from the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Ceylon in 1960, he served in the Ceylon Government Railway as District Engineer, Project Manager in the Uda Walawe Scheme and Deputy Chief Engineer in the Ceylon Transport Board before immigrating to Canada in 1969. He has excelled internationally in the field of heavy construction and completed many prestigious projects in Canada, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Presently he is a Project Management Consultant.)



Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home