Visionary educationist

I am honoured to write this commemorative article on the late Dr. A.M.A. Azeez, the founder of the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA); to express my gratitude to an outstanding Sri Lankan for his 46th death anniversary, which was yesterday.

Aboobakkar Mohammad Abdul Azeez, better known as Dr. A.M.A Azeez, was born in Vannar Ponnai, Jaffna, on October 4, 1911. He was an eminent educationist, erudite scholar, an efficient administrator, dedicated social worker, a visionary, and a great humanist.

He commenced his early education at the Allapichchai Madrasa, followed by the Mohammadiya mixed school, where he studied in Tamil medium until Grade 3, and thenceforth continued his studies in English.

He later entered R.K.M. Vaidyeshwara Vidyalayam and subsequently, the Jaffna Hindu College. In 1929, Dr. Azeez entered the Ceylon University College in Colombo, where he graduated with Honours in History in the year 1933. He was also awarded the Ceylon Government Arts Scholarship for his outstanding performance in undergraduate studies, to pursue his postgraduate studies in History at the University of Cambridge, England.

In 1935, Dr. Azeez entered the Ceylon Civil Service following his success at the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) Examination. He was the first Muslim to enter the sector. Dr. Azeez held many important positions in the public service. He began his career as a young cadet in Matale. During World War II, he was attached to the Customs Department as the Additional Landing Surveyor.

In 1942, he was transferred to Kalmunai in the Eastern Province, as the Assistant Government Agent. In 1944, he was transferred to Colombo as Deputy Food Controller and, after a month, he assumed duties as the Assistant Government Agent in Kandy.

Dr. Azeez later served as the Information Officer and Administrative Secretary to the Ministry of Health. In 1948, he retired prematurely from the civil service to become the Principal of Zahira College, Colombo, succeeding Dr. T.B. Jayah, who was appointed as a Minister in the first Cabinet of an independent Ceylon.

This gave him the best opportunity to improve the education of the community according to his vision, to serve the country through education. In the 1950’s, Zahira College held a high rank in the league of leading schools of Colombo. Dr. Azeez’ 13-year tenure as Principal was known as the ‘Golden Era of Zahira’.

He initiated several services based on the educational needs of the community.

He founded the All Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA) on April 30, 1950, and also founded the Jamiah Naleemiah Islamic Institute in Beruwala, which is considered the fruit of Dr. Azeez’ concept of Islamic higher studies.

The YMMA has rendered yeoman service to the country over the past 67 years. Today, there are many YMMA branches that work hard for the benefit of those who are in need. At present, the Colombo Young Men’s Muslim Association plays an active role in several national programmes countrywide.

Dr. Azeez had a clear vision; he honoured multicultural values in Sri Lanka. He was a multi-faceted and wonderful personality who enriched not only the activities of the Muslims, but of the entire nation.

He made a vital and enduring contribution to the unity of our country: promoting ethnic harmony through education.

In 1952, Dr. Azeez was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to the country, and that same year, he was appointed a Senator. In recognition of his contributions to literature and education, the University of Jaffna conferred a Doctorate of Letters on him at its first convocation in 1980.

Dr. Azeez was recognised as a national hero, and a commemoration stamp was issued in his honour on May 22, 1986.

Dr. Azeez passed away on November 24, 1973, at the age of 62. He is fondly remembered for the service he rendered to the country. May the Almighty Allah grant him the highest place in Jannah.

Dr. Farhath Fayiz Saleem, UK

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