Speech made by Mr. S.L.M. Shafi Marikkar (former Princiapl) at the Centenary Celebration of the college on 29th September, 1992.
The history of Muslim education culminating in the establishment of Zahira College is a fascinating study of the triumph of the human mind over environment and circumstance. Conceived by visionaries at a time when circumstances were positively hostile to English education, Muslim education succeeded in over-coming the constraints of an environment where English education was closely associated with proselytism that the elders of the community preferred lack of formal English education to the realities of an almost state aided conversion that had almost submerged other communities. Nevertheless our pioneers in education were more than satisfied that Islam would weather assaults at conversion but that education was essential for the community’s progress if not its very survival. Thus did Zahira make its first faltering steps – not through state patronage, not through ministrations of foreign missionaries but through the vision of a few leaders whose enthusiasm by and by warmed an entire community to action.
The historic speech made by M. C. Siddhi Lebbe in 1891 in the Maradana Mosque Hall and his impassioned appeal to the Muslims to unite and promote the educational advancement of the community led to the formation of the Colombo Muslim Educational Society with I. L. M. Abdul Aziz as Secretary and A. M. Wappitchi Marikar as Treasurer. With the active patronage of Ahamed Orabi Pasha, the Egyptian exile in Ceylon the long cherished dream of the visionary M. C. Siddhi Lebbe became a reality when Al-Madrasathul Zahira was established on Monday 22nd of August 1892 with Wappitchi Marikar as its first Manage. In 1894 the school was registered as a grant-in-aid school Maradana Mohammedan Boys School – the number of pupils being 35.
In 1905 the foundation stone for a two-storied building was laid by Moulavi Rafiudeen Ahmed of Bombay who was in the island in connection with the Fez question. The building declared open by Ahmed Orabi Pasha in 1906. In 1911 the school was upgraded as a Secondary School and in 1913 re-named Muslim Zahira College – Mr. O. E. Martinus, BA as its first Principal.
In 1917 Wappitchi Marikar handed over the management of the College to the Maradana Mosque after having successfully managed the school for twenty-five years. Mr. N. H. M. Abdul Cader, Proctor SC took over as Manager in 1917. In 1919 Mr. A. S. Abdul Cader, the first Muslim Trained teacher was appointed Headmaster.
Although Zahira College was now established on strong foundation yet it was apparent that he enthusiasm and optimism of the early pioneers was somewhat waning leading even to the reduction of the number of pupils from the earlier figure of 108 in 1909.
It was at this stage that the Maradana Muslim Committee through its Manager N. H. M. Abdul Cader invited Mr. T. B. Jayah to take up the Principalship of the College.