The reason I decided to write about the history of Zahira in this context is that we,the Muslim Community lost around three decades of contributions towards education due to the folly of the so called community leaders due to jealousy and politics, in the early sixties.

The origins and formation of Zahira College as Al MadrasathulZahira in 1892 by the pioneering Muslim leaders at the time, are well known and need not be elaborated.

T.B. Jayah was appointed as Principal in 1921, and during his tenure until 1948 Zahira made great strides to become a leading school.

In the year I948 when T B Jayahwas invited to join the first Cabinet of Ministers, he looked for a worthy successor. He persuaded A.M.A. Azeez to give up an illustrious career in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service to succeed him.

During his tenure of 13 years, with his administrative and management skills Zahira excelled in education, sports and other activities. With a well stocked library, laboratory facilities and a dedicated team of excellent teachers Zahira was made into one of the finest public schools in Sri Lanka.During this Golden Era, Zahira sent over 150 students to the University of Ceylon, excelled in Rifle Shooting beating the Ceylon Army in the national competitions, forming more than a third of the National Rifle Shooting Team, winning the coveted Queens Cup twice, winning the inter-school competitions in Cadeting, Boxing, Wrestling, Soccer, Cricket and Rugger. Alhamdulillah, I happened to be involved in most of these activities

In 1960 the Government introduced the Assisted Schools Act, whereby, as recommended by Azeez, Zahira opted to be a non-fee levying school from 1st January 1961 rather than readily handing over to the State. As no financial assistance was given funds had to be collected from benefactors to pay the teachers and for other activities, and Azeez was given the responsibility to collect funds. He did so relentlessly travelling all over the Island, though it was an uphill task. The Maradana Mosque Committee agreed to contribute. At that time, unlike later in the 1970s, there were no ‘petro-dollars’ to canvass from Muslim countries. The school managed to carry on for six months, and found it difficult to continue collecting funds. As such the teachers were not paid and due to the delay in the contributions from the Mosque Committee, the College was taken over to be run as a Director Managed School from August 1961.

Anticipating financial difficulties ahead, the talented visionary in him and taking a cue from T.B. Jayah’s suggestion to make Zahira a Muslim University in his speech as chief guest at the ZahiraPrize Day in 1958, Azeez made a viable proposal to make Zahira a Muslim Cultural University, in line with the two Buddhist Universities already established in 1958 and proposed Hindu Cultural University in two leading schools in Jaffna. The proposals were mentioned in the Throne Speech in July 1961. The Minister of Education, Dr. Badiudin Mahmud, extended his unstinted support. Being an old boy and an educationist his ambition wasto make Zahira a leading institution. The Mosque Committee were willing to lease out the land for this purpose. With his talents and vision, Azeez would have implemented the proposal successfully.

Meanwhile, a group of old boys and others, headed by A C M Ameer, carried out a campaign against the Cultural University, personally targeting Minister Badiudin Mahmud and Azeez. Azeez was called the“Biggest traitor to the cause of Muslim education in Ceylon”and they wanted the community to ‘ex-communicate’ him, all due to jealousy and politics. In this scenario Zahira was taken over by the State in December 1961, which was the beginning of the Fall of Zahira. Immediately Azeez resigned as Principal.

The Mosque Committee with the help of those who were jealous of Zahira becoming the Cultural University filed a case against the Government. They won the case in 1967 and Zahira was handed back to the Mosque Committee. S.L.M. ShafieMarikar, an educationist, was appointed as the Principal. During his tenure for 15 years until 1982, he faced numerous problems of financial, dedicated staff, buildings and otherwise. He introduced many innovations, but lacking the calibre of Jayah and Azeez, Zahira did not progress particularly in education. The old boys and others were very disappointed with the dark era of the College and agitated for his removal.

The leading members of the community supported the incorporation of the Zahira College Board of Governors Act, whereby the administration of the school was vested with the Board of Governors, replacing the Mosque Committee. ShafieMarikarresigned from his post.

The Board started off well, but there were internal differences which affected the management of the school and aroused criticism from the community. In 1986 the problems escalated to serious levels,and the Minister of Muslim Affairs appointed an interim Board of five leading Muslim professionals, and the Director of Muslim Affairs was appointed as interim Principal. These measures were not effective at all. They could not find a suitable Principal, and over 30 years there were 14 Principals. Many suitable candidates were available but they were reluctant to accept the post. As a result the progress of the school was slow and standards dropped.

The appointment of FouzulHameed as Chairman of the Board brought stability, and after the appointment of TrizviiyMarikkar as Principal in 2013 the Resurrection of the College commenced. There were improvements all round and with efficient controls Zahira seems to be back on track to achieve and regain the lost Golden Era, Insha Allah.

Be that as it may, it must be stated that Azeez’s skills and talents were sought to set up JamiaNaleemiah in Beruwela in 1973 which is a successful institution today. The Muslim community appreciate and realise now the vision Azeez had for Zahira, contrary to all speakers but one, at the 75th year celebrations in 1967, confirmed by Sir RazikFareed, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, as reported in the Sunday Observer of 30.11.1967.

“The College authorities who organised a tamasha to celebrate the occasion have forgotten the man who did the most for Zahira – A.M.A. Azeez.  At the anniversary dinner held last week only one speaker mentioned the name of Azeez.

I am personally aware that Azeez has done more for Zahira than any other single individual. He sacrificed his CCS job for the sake of the community and for the sake of Zahira. How can the community be so ungrateful to him? The organisers had apparently got their priorities mixed up. They have given undue prominence to men who should not have found a place there at all.”

–  SirRazikFareed.



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