Zahira’s first 100 years

Development and maturity

Mr. T. B. Jayah assumed duties as Principal on the 1st of September 1921. Mr. Jayah brought with him not only his deep interest in Muslim education but also the experience he had gained during the earlier ten years of teaching in leading schools.

When Mr. Jayah took charge of Zahira College, the school had been in existence for nearly 30 years – 1892 to 1921. The conditions of the school can best be described in Mr. Jayah’s own words – “The outlook was dismal – six teachers and fifty nine boys, hardly any furniture worth the name, with a building just enough for a primary school used at night by loafers and undesirables with unattractive surroundings and almost twenty or thirty yards from the building thickets and shrubs regarded by the public as the rendezvous of the denizens of the underworld, relieved only by the majesty of the mosque”.

As soon as he assumed duties he announced the formation of classes from Kindergarten to London Matriculation with special emphasis on the effective teaching of English and while insisting on provision of Islamic environment in the education at Zahira College. He made several trips to outstations and urged Muslims all over to give the best possible education with religious background to their children.

In May 1922, that is within ten months of the appointing of Mr. T. B. Jayah as Principal the number of pupils rose to 450 with 30 teachers. The Holy Quran was taught on new lines, Arabic and Islamic History were included in the curriculum. Luhar and Asar prayers formed a part of the school timetable. Qualified and experienced Moulavis were in charge of the religious education of the children.

Preparation of students for Cambridge Junior and Senior Examination soon followed. In 1923 five Muslim students passed the Cambridge junior examination for the first time and in 1928 four passed the London Matriculation – on in the first division.

Very soon a Commercial Department to prepare students for commercial subject was set up with a donation of the necessary equipment from M. K. A. Hameed Modige Muhandiram of Kurunegala – declared open on 28.10.1929 by His Excellency Sir Herbert Stanley, Governor.

In view of the increased numbers of students and the need for classroom accommodation, a set of 12 classrooms donated by P. B. Umbichy was declared open by Sir Henry William Manning, Governor. Also Al Haj N. D. H. Abdul Ghaffoor donated a Science Laboratory at a cost of Rs. 20,000/- More accommodation became necessary in course of time. The Manager Hon. H. H. M. Abdul Cader obtained a grant of Rs. 35,000/- from the government. With this amount and with Rs. 60,000/- donated by Al Haj N. D. H. Abdul Ghaffoor, contribution of Rs. 20,000/- by the Maradana Mosque and Rs. 25,000/- by other Muslims, the Main Building with 16 classrooms and the Abdul Ghaffoor Hall was constructed and declared open on 28.01.1928 by Sir Herbert Stanley, Governor. Further a block to accommodate kindergarten classes was donated by P. B. Umbichy.

The Principal gave all possible encouragement and assistance towards the development of sports at Zahira College right from the beginning. The abandoned cemetery was converted into a first class playing field with financial assistance from P. B. Umbichy. Rugby, Football, Boxing, Scouting, Cadetting were introduced. Zahira College students performed quite well in all forms of sports.

The Principal also encouraged visits by distinguished visitors from abroad who addressed the students. The College made steady progress until 1930 when the economic depression caused a serious set back. In 1939 Al Haj A. H. M. Ismail succeeded Hon. N. H. M. Abdul Cader as Manager of the College.

In 1942 College celebrated its Golden Jubilee on a subdued note. In the meantime the Second World War had already started in 1939 and the emergency situation caused particularly after the entry of Japan against the allies in 1942 led to mass evacuation of people of Colombo to the outstation and the closure of the College and Hostel as well as the requisition of the College buildings and premises by the military authorities. However T. B. Jayah the great visionary sensed that the cause of Muslim education need not suffer and that the emergency situation could be made use of for the benefit of the Muslim community. The Principal therefore conceived the idea of providing education in areas of Muslim concentration and established branches of Zahira College in Alutgama (1942), Gampola (1942), Matale (1944) and Puttalam (1944) and also in Wekande. The branches despite initial teething problems blossomed into leading independent Muslim institutions in their respective Districts.

In 1943 M. M. Jayah won the Government Scholarship in Science. In 1945 Zahira College entered the free Education Scheme – being one of the first Schools to do so. This led to further increase in the numbers seeking admission. The Zahira Evening School was commenced to provide education for over-aged pupils – also a source of income for the school.

In 1946 Zahira College celebrated the Silver Jubilee of Mr. T. B. Jayah. A special issue of the “Crescent” was published in connection with these celebrations. The “Crescent” editorial commented – “There is an institution within this institution. It is twenty-five years old. Mr. T. B. Jayah appositely called the Seyed Ahmed Khan of Ceylon …….. “He was definitely made for some mission in life. The past twenty-five years constitute a momentous era not only in the annals of Zahira and Muslims but also in those of the country at large. In the same issue of the “Crescent”, Sir Ivor Jennings, the Vice Chancellor of University of Ceylon refers to the role of Zahira College and Mr. Jayah in the sphere of Higher Education.

In 1927 there were only 3 Muslims in a student body of 315. When the University was formed in 1942 there were 904 students of whom 25 were Muslims and in 1946 there were 1302 pupils of whom 37 were Muslims. The figures bear witness to the effort devoted to Muslims education in the past 25 years – of that effort Zahira College and Mr. Jayah have borne a noble share”.

After the General Elections of 1947 Mr. T. B. Jayah was appointed Minister of Labour and Social Services but continued to function as Principal till August, 1948. The Principal’s period at Zahira was now drawing to a close. In his Prize Day address in August, 1948 referring to the appointment of Mr. A. M. A. Azeez as his successor. Mr. Jayah confessed “I was anxious to find a successor in whose hands the future of Zahira College would be safe. I passed many anxious moments till I succeeded in persuading Mr. A. M. A. Azeez to give up an alluring career in the Civil Service for National Service with great possibilities for which his talents specially fitted him”. Mr. A. M. A. Azeez was therefore appointed on Mr. T. B. Jayah’s recommendation. The transition from T. B. Jayah to A. M. A. Azeez at Zahira has been aptly described in “T. B. Jayah – Pioneer of Muslim Educations as follows:

“In August, 1948 Mr. T. B. Jayah handed over the reins (of Zahira) to his successor Mr. A. M. A. Azeez. What he handed over was in fact the outcome of a life of devoted service to an educational system in which the hopes and aspiration of the entire Muslim Community were centered. He had found Zahira lowly and humble. He raised it to prominence among the finest institution of the land with several ancillary institutions. He had assumed duties as Principal of a single institution with 59 pupils and 6 teachers. When he retired there were ten institutions with over 3500 pupils and 150 teachers. He found Zahira almost penniless and barely able to pay her way through. He left Zahira with full coffers an assured income – it was indeed a splendid heritage to which the new Principal succeeded in 1948. His Treasury was full. He had a willing and cooperative staff. He was provided with everything necessary for turning out young men of character, integrity and honesty. All the advantages that early Zahira credit for and did not get were now his for the asking”.

Under Mr. Jayah Zahira College had been one of the foremost educational institution in the island with its own special traditions and “a place, which may rightly be called the cradle, home and citadel of Muslim education; for it was at this College Mr. Jayah’s vision of the Universality of Islamic Civilization and the mission of Zahira College in the realization of that civilization was conceived, incubated, born, fostered, cherished and attained. He had shaped the destiny of Zahira College during the most crucial years of its life, established guidelines for further development and set the background for consolidation.

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