Alhaj Dr. T.B. Jayah And National Unity


- S.H.M. Jameel –

(Oration delivered on 1.1.2012)

I am extremely privileged to deliver this Oration on the 122nd Birth Anniversary of Alhaj Dr. T.B. Jayah on the invitation of the Conference of Sri Lankan Malays, whose President Alhaj T.A. Azoor has devoted much of his energy and time in fostering the concept of Bersatu (unity) Keikhalasan (sincerity) and Pengorbanan (sacrifice), and also in perpetuating the memory of that great National hero the late Dr. T.B. Jayah.

Dr. Jayah devoted his entire life for his community and the Nation in the struggle for obtaining Independence to Ceylon, to forge National Unity and communal harmony among all citizens, to develop the educational standard of the whole country by wholeheartedly supporting the policy making and implementation of the Reforms enunciated by the Board of Education of the State Council under the leadership of the Father of Free Education, Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, and particularly to improve the overall standard of the Muslim community by providing political leadership, educational direction and the path for social regeneration.

Very early in life he had remarked that one should be "prepared to scorn delights and live laborious days not for the sake of filthy lucre, not even for mere vanity of name and fame, but for greater ideals of service." This, he fulfilled positively and in full measure, was evident in an expression of gratitude by Dr. A.M.A. Azeez, whom Jayah had personally chosen to succeed him as Principal of Zahira College, Colombo to continue his services of twenty seven years in taking Zahira to the zenith as the ‘radiating centre of Islamic thought and activity.’

In a speech delivered in 1914 at the Ceylon Muslim Association on the topic of ‘Education and National Progress’, seven years before he became the Principal of Zahira, Jayah said that "it was only by the revivifying influence of English education that the Muslim community would be brought to a position of intellectual elevation, social efficiency and political power….To achieve this end, who is to be the Sir Seyed Ahamed Khan of Ceylon? Who among our leaders will follow in the wake of that renowned Indian leader? He need not necessarily be a child of Western culture, for Sir Seyed Ahamed was not. But he must certainly be fearless in his actions, disinterested in his motive, inspired by a mighty purpose and ready to dare and even die in the cause he espouses. If such a one there be, he will doubtless go down to posterity as the savior of the Muslims of Ceylon."

This question was answered after 36 years in 1950 by A.M.A. Azeez in the following words: "Mr. Jayah posed this question in 1914 and today in 1950 we say without any hesitation and with one accord that the Hon. T.B. Jayah is that Sir Seyed Ahamed Khan and that leader and that Saviour of the Muslims."

Early life

Tuan Brahanudeen Jayah, the great educationist, community and national leader, Statesman, Patron, President and Chairman of 55 organisations was born on 1st January, 1890 at Galagedara, where his father, Cassim Jayah, was employed in the Police Department. Owing to the transfer of Cassim Jayah, the family shifted residence to Kurunegala, where the young Brahanudeen started his Quranic Education under the tutelage of Noordeen Alim and Omarlebbe and the secular schooling at the Anglo-Vernacular School. Once again on the transfer of the father, the family moved to Colombo and Brahanudeen was enrolled at the St. Paul’s College, Modera in Grade 1 at the age of 10. It would be curious today to see a boy of ten years in Grade 1, but was common occurrence in that era. The young student was found to be so brilliant that he was awarded a treble promotion from Grade 1 to Grade 4 and once again a double promotion to Grade 6 in the following year. In 1904, he obtained a scholarship to St. Thomas’ College, situated then at Modera.

Having passed the Matriculation and Inter Arts Examinations, he obtained a teaching job at Dharmaraja College, Kandy in January 1910, then shifted to Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa in May 1910 and thereafter to Ananda College, Colombo in 1917, where he remained till he assumed duties as Principal of Zahira College, Colombo on 1st September 1921.

Though he embarked on a teaching career at an early age due to the financial constraints he encountered in proceeding with higher education, yet while being a teacher, he continued his academic pursuit and became a graduate. He subsequently enrolled himself at the Law College with the intention of becoming a lawyer; but his conviction that he could serve the community in a better way by continuing as an educator persuaded him to remain in the teaching profession.

In a lecture delivered to the Ceylon Muslim Association in February 1919, he posed the question "What have we done? The other communities have produced eminent men in different walks of life. They have produced eminent lawyers and doctors, eminent councilors, men of eminence in other ways. What have the Muslims? Have we any eminent men in the service of the Government or in learned professions? Have we even a few schools and colleges of our own? Have we sent largely our children even to non-Muslim schools? The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’…..My humble suggestion to the Mohammedan leaders is that, if they cannot start both colleges and elementary schools for the Mohammedans, let them at least give us one Mohamedan College, because that Mohamedan College might form a centre which might send out a noble band of heroes who might rejuvenate the nation. The supreme need of the hour is education, not merely elementary education, not mere half-hearted education, but an education that will turn out heroes and heroines, leaders and reformers, thinkers and philosophers, an education that will make us a progressive, enlightened and powerful minority." These are prophetic words indeed.

Zahira blossoms

In his twenty seven years of stewardship at Zahira until 22nd August, 1948, he successfully produced the leaders and reformers, thinkers and philosophers, and Legislators and national figures, who brought forth an enlightened Muslim community, which in course of time was able to contribute to the political, social, economic and cultural development at the national level.

Zahira evolved as a symbol of unity and social integration .Perhaps his early experience at Dharmaraja, Prince of Wales and Ananda gave him a broader outlook in his vision. In fact, three of his students at Ananda, who in later life emerged as pioneer Leftist leaders, namely Dr. N.M. Perera, Philip Gunewardena and Robert Gunewardena always referred to Jayah with utmost respect as their mentor and guide during their student days.

In the same manner, Zahira had teachers, students and employees from all the communities. His Vice-Principals were George Weeramantry, who came from Ananda and Mr. Wijeratne; when he opened the Commerce Stream, the person he chose to head the Section was J.A. Charles; some of the prominent teachers were Rauff Pasha from India, Moulavi Haniff Nadvi, Pandit Nallathamby who translated the Ceylon National Anthem into Tamil, Navaliyoor S. Nadarajan, a famous poet, N.P. Pillai, Mrs. Pillai, Ms. E. Dissanayake and a host of others.

The tradition of this cosmopolitanism continued and during the Principalship of Azeez, almost half of the more than one hundred students who entered the University - indeed one hundred was a very large number at that time - were non Muslims. We still find even today the strong foundations laid by Jayah for communal amity persisting at Zahira.

This enormous achievement took quarter of a century of labour and dedication by a man of utter sincerity, whose heart and mouth spoke the same language and with the unstinted support of the Maradana Mosque Committee, who were the Managers of the College and an array of well-wishers.

The situation at Zahira at the beginning of his Principalship was described by him in the following words: "The outlook was dismal - six teachers, fifty nine boys, hardly any furniture worth the name, with a building just enough for a primary school, used at night by loafers and other undesirables, with unattractive surroundings and about twenty or thirty yards from the buildings, thickets and shrubs regarded by the public as the rendezvous of the denizens of the underworld, relieved only by the majesty of the Maradana mosque."

Undaunted, he accepted the challenge and undertook many development projects. Classes were started up to matriculation, number of teachers increased from six to thirty, sports and athletics expanded, Literary associations formed which started the publication of the magazine ‘The Crescent’, opened a Hostel, Dental Clinic, Free Night School and a Canteen that provided a wholesome rice and curry lunch for ten cents. The Night School was perhaps the first of its kind in Ceylon.

He started the ‘College Extension Fund’ through which a large number of class rooms, Science Laboratory, and the Main Building of this Ghaffoor Hall where we are assembled today were constructed, the main benefactors being the Maradana Mosque Committee, N.D.H. Abdul Ghaffoor and Puthen Bootil Umbichy.

The indicator of the vast strides of development was the increase in the number of students from 59 in 1921 to 450 in 1922, to 645 in 1925, which within a few years exceeded 1,000.

Every important dignitary visiting Ceylon was invited to address the students, teachers, parents and public at Zahira College. Sarojini Naidu, Moulana Saukat Ali, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahathma Ghandi and Rajaji - all the top-level leaders of the Indian Freedom Movement made it an integral item in the programme to visit this citadel of education. The speech made by Jayah on the occasion of the visit of Mahatma Ghandhi on the efforts of Gandhi on Hindu-Muslim Unity in India was one of the finest speeches that demonstrated the attitude of Jayah on communal harmony, national unity and integration.

Political leadership

The concepts which were inherent in Jayah’s philosophy brought him naturally into the arena of politics, by his entry to the Legislative Council in 1924.

The system of Legislature was introduced by the British colonial rulers in Ceylon in 1833, through the Colebrooke Constitution. The Legislative Council consisted, besides the officials of the Government, a very limited number of members representing the English, Burgher, Low Country Sinhala and Tamil communities. It was not considered necessary to grant Kandyan Sinhalese and the Muslims (then termed Mohemadans) representation.

Consequent to long agitations the Kandyan Sinhalese and the Mohamedan communities were given one representation each and the first Mohamedan nominated to the Legislative Council in 1889 was Mohamed Cassim Abdul Rahman, who was succeeded by A.L.M. Sheriff in 1899; Wapitchi Marikar Abdul Rahman in1900 and N.H.M. Abdul Cader in 1917.

A very limited number of Ceylonese were granted voting rights at the beginning of the 20th Century to elect representatives on the basis of Island-wide ‘communal electorates’ to the Legislative Council . Such election to a Mohemadan electorate was held for the first time in 1924, in which three members were elected to represent the Muslims obtaining the following number of votes:

H.M. Macan Markar 10,311 votes

N.H.M. Abdul Cader 6,705 votes

T.B. Jayah 5,221 votes

The other candidate, M.L.M. Riyal obtained 3,629 votes. This heralded the entry of Jayah into the Legislature, where he continued to serve from 1924-1930; 1936-1947; 1947-1950 and a brief period in 1960. Instead of being a ceremonial member of the Legislature, he made ample use of every opportunity to serve the community and the nation, thus emerging as a community as well as a national leader at the time of British Imperialism in this country. He became an active participant in the struggle for Independence from 450 years of European domination.

M.T. Akbar in the Legislature

One other great personality from the Malay community, who sat along with Jayah in all the committees appointed by the Legislative Council for the recommendation of framing of Laws pertaining to the Muslims and whom we cannot fail to mention at this juncture was Justice Akbar. After a brilliant school career at Royal College, Colombo, where he carried away every possible prize, he proceeded to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom on the Government Scholarship having obtained the highest points in the selection for the scholarship to qualify as an engineer. He not only qualified as an Engineer, but also as a Barrister-at-Law.

On his return to Ceylon, he joined the Government Legal Department and very soon was appointed as the Solicitor General and subsequently as a judge of the Supreme Court .He could have risen to be the first Ceylonese Chief Justice, but suddenly and prematurely retired from the service. No one, including the Governor, could persuade him to reconsider his decision. He spent the remainder of his days in religious activities, living in Wekanda and distributing his monthly pensions to his relations, friends and the needy. It was said that "Akbar’s Pension day was the salary day of the others.’

By virtue of his position as Solicitor General, he became automatically a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils. Though a Government nominee to look after the interests of the rulers, he utilized the opportunity to the maximum benefit to the Muslim community by being chairman or member of many committees, in which Jayah also actively contributed to the formulation, enactment and implementation of many legislations, such as the Muslim Property Laws, Wakf Act and Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. He was also Chairman of the Committee that recommended the replacement of the term ‘Mohamedan’ with the term ‘Muslim.’

Akbar was the Chairman of the Committee that finally decided the site for the establishment of the Ceylon University. The battle of the sites whether to establish the university at Peradeniya or Colombo was long-drawn, where a very powerful group preferred Colombo. However, the Committee finally decided on Peradeniya, one of the most scenic sites for a university in any part of the world.

But a point of regret is that the university authorities thought it fit to perpetuate the memories of many leaders of the university movement by naming the Halls of Residence with their names, but quarter of a century elapsed before the same authorities thought it fit to name a Hall with Akbar’s name, and that too only half of a hall was named, the other half being named as Nell Hall.

Movement for Freedom

The national consciousness for self-rule began to emerge by the beginning of the 20th Century. The Ceylon Reform League founded in 1917 under the Chairmanship of Ponnambalam Arunachalam came to an abrupt end being succeeded by the formation of the Ceylon National Congress, which continued to be the prime organization in demanding Independence to Ceylon.

The Muslims participated in the demand for freedom from British rule without any hesitation and in full strength through their organizations. The Moor Union was founded in1900 which blossomed into the All Ceylon Moors Association in 1922, of which in later years A.R.A. Razick (Sir Razick Fareed) became the leader and made significant contribution to education and national independence.

1903 saw the birth of the Ceylon Muslim Association, which soon became the Young Muslim League under the chairmanship of Barrister Saheed A. Marikkar. In 1924 it assumed the name of All Ceylon Muslim League under the chairmanship of N.H.M. Abdul Cader, on whose death, Jayah was chosen as the President and remained so till 1950.

In articulating the Muslim point of view, Jayah balanced the national and community aspirations in such a manner that the Muslims became an integral part of the freedom movement, while preserving their community identity intact. This was evident as early as 1930s when in his capacity as the leader of the Muslim Political Conference, he led a delegation to England and presented a Memorandum on "Muslims and Proposed Constitutional changes in Ceylon" to the British rulers. He steadfastly continued this policy of ‘country and community’ all throughout his political career. As stated by Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel, "He was sincere and dedicated in the cause of his country and community above all personal considerations. He valued freedom so dearly that he declared that no concept in political life was more precious than freedom."

At the same time, Jayah had the courage to forewarn the members of the State Council, how a section of the membership was attempting to convert the struggle for reforms to a narrower and parochial approach. Speaking on the Governor Caldecott Reforms in 1937, in which Debate Jayah spoke for three hours; G.G. Ponnambalam for nine hours and forty five minutes; A.E. Goonesinha for four hours and thirty minutes and Nadesan for nine hours, Jayah said that " some of the politicians here particularly those who are puffed with power cannot understand the realities of the situation. They think that self-government for this country means self-government for themselves .The benefit of self-Government they think should accrue only to one community. When others say that the benefits of self-government should be diffused among all the people, they want to call such people all sorts of names. They cannot distinguish between what is proper and what is improper, between what is legitimate and what is not legitimate, between what is good for the country and what is detrimental to the country".

When finally the arrangement for granting Independence to Ceylon was being arranged and the State Council debating in November 1944 the Soulbury Report and the White Paper of the Government of the United Kingdom, Jayah said that "I speak with the full support of members of the Muslim community of Ceylon. I saw to it that the Muslim community was consulted with representatives in different parts of the country on the important issue before the House; and I am in a position to say that the Muslim members of this Council have the fullest backing of the Muslim community of this Island. When the Muslim members of this Council decided to take a definite stand at the time the ‘Sri Lanka Bill’ was introduced, they did so for one and for one reason only. The reason was that where the political freedom of this country was involved, they were prepared to go to any length, even to the point of sacrificing advantages and benefits as a result of such action."

Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, then Leader of the House, speaking during the Debate, appreciated the definitive views expressed by Jayah. He said that "the hon. Nominated Member Mr. Jayah had made a speech today that will have a great effect in bringing about unity among the people of the country in bringing some sense of reality to this struggle, however it may shape, that we are going to undertake to obtain a satisfactory measure of freedom. What have the Nominated Member Mr. Jayah and his colleagues Hon. Nominated Member Mr. Razick and the Member for Colombo Central Dr. Kaleel done? There is provided in the Bill a scheme of representation under which the Muslim community more than any other community in this country might suffer in this form which it appears, but yet he himself was so sincerely determined to work for the main idea of freedom that he was prepared to vote for the principle embodied in the Bill."

Such was the greatness of Jayah who was primarily an educationist, who advocated that the most important way for the community to advance economically, politically and socially was to upgrade the standard of education, specially English education among the Muslims. He not only made Zahira to blossom into one of the leading schools in Ceylon, but extended its wings to other parts of the country by opening Zahiras in Gampola, Matale, Puttalam, Alutgama and Wekanda. His hand-picked successor Azeez took Zahira to its zenith, and another disciple Badiudin Mahmud whom he appointed as the Principal of Gampola Zahira, rendered yeoman service as a longest serving Minister of Education.

Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake once referred to the prominent part played by Denominational schools specifically mentioning the role of Stone of St. Thomas’, Hartley of Royal, Highfield of Wesley and Jayah of Zahira. He further stated that "Ceylon’s securing of Dominion Status without civil strife or political turmoil was not a little due to the priceless lessons which young and old learnt at the feet of those successful school-masters and bridge builders."

As a politician, he entered the Legislative Council of the Colonial Ceylon, continued to serve in the State Council and became the Minister of Labour and Social Services in the first Parliament of Independent Ceylon. During the many decades as a Legislator, he always espoused the cause of his community, but balancing it with the national interest. He was a Statesman, who was fittingly declared a National Hero.

Jayah was the first Ambassador of Ceylon to Pakistan, where he became so popular and prominent that the University of Punjab conferred on him the title of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) on 22nd December, 1951. He politely declined the Pakistan citizenship offered by its Government. His recall by Allah itself was so significant that he breathed his last in the holy city of Medina on 31st May, 1960 after accomplishing the mission of setting up the ‘Ceylon House’ in the holiest city of Mecca.

Remembering Jayah

It is the bounden duty of the Muslim community to perpetuate the memory of such a great personality. We appreciate efforts taken by the members of the Conference of Sri Lankan Malays under the Presidentship of my good friend Alhaj Azoor. I should also mention with gratitude two persons, Dr. M.S. Jaldeen and Enver C. Ahlip, for having extensively recorded the biography of Jayah in their books. I may mention with humbleness that I too have published a book in Tamil language in 1994 titled ‘Educational Contributions of Jayah.’ In fact as a student I received two prizes from the hands of Dr. Jayah at the Zahira College Annual Prize Giving in 1958, which occasion he graced as the Chief Guest.

The All Ceylon Muslim League on the demise of Jayah decided to inaugurate a Fund to perpetuate the memory of late Dr. Jayah. In fact, funds were collected, a piece of land was bought close to Ananda College and plans were drawn to build a Memorial Hall. This land we are told, has gone into litigation and the plan is still dormant for half a century.

The Government of Sri Lanka has honoured him with an issue of a postage stamp on declaring him a National Hero and naming a school and a street in Colombo in his name. My earnest hope is that the Memorial Building will one day become a reality.

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