KATHI  S.M. ABOOBUCKER J.P. – Muslim Leader of Jaffna

By Ali Azeez

The Muslims had lived for many centuries in Jaffna and they were an integral part of Jaffna Society. They were traders and later dominated the hardware, lorry transport, jewellery, tailoring and meat trades. They shunned education in Christian schools for fear of being converted to Christianity. During their period the British were more tolerant and with the opening of Hindu schools the Muslims showed interest in education by attending schools, and like the Jaffna Tamils had built up a proud educational tradition. There were many academics, poets, scholars in Tamil and Arabic, Government servants, social workers and politicians. The Muslims lived amicably with the Tamils until October 1990, when the Muslims were evicted from Jaffna within two hours and the cordial relations were completely shattered. Today they are scattered all over and are still awaiting resettlement after the ethnic war ended in May 2009. It is perhaps just as well that some outstanding Muslim leaders of Jaffna never lived to see the senseless and cruel dismembering of the Jaffna Muslim community.

An affluent and educated Muslim of Vannarpannai in Jaffna, Sultan Mohideen (son of Uvais Naina Lebbe), was an export merchant of mainly bark and deer-horn. He was blessed with four sons S.M. Meera Mohideen, S.M. Asana Lebbe, S.M. Aboobucker and S.M. Yoosuf  in that order.

Sultan Mohideen knew no English, but he had a habit of reading the large sized and Bombay printed Tafsir (translation in Arabic-Tamil) of the Holy Quran for two to three hours every morning after Subh (early morning) prayers. His extensive business interests brought him in touch with Englishmen or the English educated mercantile classes. Hence, he had no antipathy to English education and sent his sons to the Methodist Mission school Kilner College in Chetty Street, Vannarpannai. This was the same school, earlier called St. Peter’s School, where Arumaga Navalar had studied under Rev. Dr. Peter Percival. It was an off-shoot of Jaffna Central College. This was significant in view of the fact that at that time, when the Muslims were entirely averse to English education so closely identified with Christianity and associated with the fear of proselytization.

Meera Mohideen was successful in hardware business and was a leading personality. In 1905 he was an active participant and represented Jaffna in the agitation by the Muslims of Ceylon, consequent to M.C. Abdul Cader refusing to remove the fez cap in the Supreme Court and walking out. (Incidentally, Abdul Cader was born into an affluent family in Jaffna and had the double distinction of being the first Muslim Graduate and Advocate in Ceylon. Later he settled down in Kattankudy and practiced in the Batticaloa Courts). Meera Mohideen died in July 1922.

Asana Lebbe was so brilliant that he carried away many prizes including the Bible Prize. He caught up with his elder brother Meera Mohideen and both studied in the same class. Asana Lebbe started as a Government clerical officer in 1890, perhaps he was the first Muslim to pass the competitive Government Clerical Service Examination. He became a scholar in Tamil and Arabic, a renowned poet and an expert in Arabic-Tamil. He was well known as Asana Lebbe Alim Pulavar. He expired in December 1918.

Yoosuf was a successful merchant dealing in General Hardware and Brassware, and died in December 1987 during the IPKF presence in Jaffna.

Kathi S.M. Aboobucker J.P.-02Sultan Mohideen Aboobucker was born in September 1890 and died on Monday 12th June, 1950 at the age of 60 years. On 3rd July, 1910 he married Mohamed Meera Mohideen Nachchia, who was the elder daughter of a businessman and shop owner Mohamed Sultan Abdul Cader and Sultan Abdul Cader Nachchia. Their elder son Mohamed Abdul Azeez was born on 4th October, 1911. On 9th December, 1918 their second son Mohamed Thaha was born. On 13th December. 1918 Aboobucker’s wife died and on 11th December, 1919 Mohamed Thaha expired.

Aboobucker re-married on 27th March, 1920 and his second wife was Ayesha Umma, who was the daughter of Mohamed Abdul Cader. Their eldest daughter Shareefa was born on 21st January, 1924, and their other children were Hassan, Raheema, Salam, Ashraf, Thaha and Fawzia in that order. Aboobucker’s family lived in Mohideen Mosque Lane, off Moor Street in Vannarpannai, Jaffna. Ayesha Umma expired in January 1962.

At a young age Aboobucker was well versed in Tamil, English and the Quran, and was keen on education, local politics and social activities.  He  joined the staff of Chetty Street High School in July 1912, but left in January 1913 and enrolled as a Proctor student at the Law College in Colombo. In August 1918 he qualified as the first Muslim Proctor in Jaffna, and was sworn in as a Proctor of the Supreme Court on 19th May, 1919. He practised in Colombo from 1919 to 1923 and was involved in the Wakf Committee and youth organisations. He returned to Jaffna, provoked by his eldest brother’s demise, and enjoyed a lucrative practice as a Proctor and Notary Public. His ability and integrity was admired and well respected by the Muslims and Tamils of the North.

In 1936 Aboobucker was elected as a Member of the Jaffna Urban Council and was its Vice Chairman in 1940. He rendered a great service as a Member of the Ratepayers’, Hospital, Prisons and Provincial Road Committees formed for improvements of these services. In 1948 when the Jaffna Municipal Council was formed he was a Member for New Mosque Ward 12 until his demise. In these positions he was popular and had the co-operation of all Muslim and Tamil Members.

When Kathi Courts were introduced in 1936, Aboobucker was appointed as the Kathi for Jaffna, Point Pedro and Kayts. He performed well in this position and with his extraordinary ability in reconciling the parties there were very few divorce cases.

Due to Aboobucker’s religious knowledge he was Khalifa, Trustee of the Idroos Makam Mosque and Chief Trustee of the Grand Jummah Mosque. He was interested in education and formed the Manba-Ul-Uloom Madrasa, a Muslim Tamil Mixed School in Mohideen Mosque Lane with classes in Arabic and other lessons in Tamil up to Grade Five, of which he functioned as the Manager. It is heartbreaking to see the destruction of this school after 1990. Aboobucker was a Member of the Northern Education Committee.

When a branch of the All Ceylon Muslim League was formed in Jaffna in 1941, Aboobucker was its President. He participated in educational conferences organised by the League in Matale and Batticaloa and his addresses were praised by all. From 1944 to 1947 he was elected as the first outstation President of the All Ceylon Muslim League. He gave evidence at the Soulbury Commission as the Jaffna representative.

Aboobucker’s services were well recognised and he was appointed as an All-Island Justice of the Peace and Unofficial Magistrate (J.P.U.M.) in 1943 by the Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott as part of the King’s birthday honours. He was the first Muslim to hold these positions in the Northern Province. This was a honourable and prestigious position, unlike today, and he was given a rousing welcome by the people of Jaffna at the Jaffna Railway Station.

Rousing Welcome to

Reception to Kathi-02

Aboobucker had a great influence on his children. His eldest son A.M.A. Azeez was the first Muslim Civil Servant and was an eminent educationist, erudite learned scholar and orator in English and Tamil. Aboobucker was proud of his son’s educational achievements, and insisted that Azeez sits for the C.C.S. examination before proceeding to Cambridge University on being awarded the Government Arts Scholarship. Azeez’s interest in Arabic-Tamil and Muslim Tamil Literature was influenced by his ‘Sinnaperiyappa’ (younger paternal uncle) Asana Lebbe Alim Pulavar. Aboobucker gave all encouragement to his son, and just two months before his demise on 14th April, 1950, he had written to Azeez about Asana Lebbe’s compositions. Azeez has done extensive research on his uncle’s scholarly contributions. He was admired and well respected by the Tamil community and the University of Jaffna conferred a posthumous Doctorate of Letters honoris causa at their first convocation in 1980. Azeez died in November 1973.

Aboobucker’s eldest daughter Shareefa was married to Kathi M.M. Sultan, Proctor and first Muslim Mayor of Jaffna; Hassan qualified as a Proctor and died soon after in 1955; Salam, Ashraf and Thaha were Officers in Government Service; Raheema and Fawzia were married to two brothers who were businessmen; Raheema, Ashraf and Thaha passed away few years ago. Aboobucker had many grandchildren who have done well in life and some have emigrated.

On Monday 12th June, 1950, Aboobucker’s close friends Senator S.R. Kanaganayagam, Advocate and Proctor C.C. Somasegaram observed that he was unusually absent in Court. On hearing that he was not well they visited his home and Aboobucker breathed his last in their presence at about 4 p.m. On hearing the news A.M.A. Azeez, who was the Principal of Zahira College, rushed home from a meeting and then to the railway station and travelled to Jaffna in the night train. Many friends and relatives in Colombo travelled by a special Air Ceylon flight on the next day. The funeral was held in the evening in the presence of a very large crowd from many communities. After the burial the Government Agent, P.G. Hudson, addressed the gathering and praised Aboobucker’s virtues and immense services to the community.

Kathi S.M. Aboobucker J.P., M.M.C. was a well respected Muslim leader of Jaffna.

(Ali Azeez is the son of  Dr. A.M.A. Azeez and a grandson of Kathi S.M. Aboobucker)

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