Ilankayil Muslim Kalvi: Shafie Marikar Cinthanayum Pangallipum: An excellent research study on Muslim education | Sunday Observer

Ilankayil Muslim Kalvi: Shafie Marikar Cinthanayum Pangallipum: An excellent research study on Muslim education

Author: A. M. Nahiya,
Publisher; All Ceylon Muslim Educational Conference, Colombo, 2018
Chapters XXI and Pages 328, References and black and white illustrations
Price:Rs. 950/=

(Reviewed by Dr B. A. Hussainmiya, Visiting Professor, South Eastern University of Sri Lanka)

Last May, A. M. Nahiya, a well-known educationist, author and accomplished public servant invited me to his book release ceremony held at the Abdul Ghafoor Hall at Zahira College –Colombo, in the presence of a distinguished audience, an occasion graced by chief guest, Priyasath Dep, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. I was privileged to receive a complimentary copy of the above titled book from the author. This book written in Tamil is a tome on the thoughts and contributions of S.L.M. Shafie Marikar(1926-2008), a renowned Muslim educationist who had served the cause of national education in various capacities. His main claim for eminence stems from his role as a successful Principal, first at Aluthgama Zahira, later in the premier educational institution of Muslims, namely Zahira College - Colombo where he served from 1967 until his retirement in 1982.

Nahiya’s account of the late Principal Shafie Marikar has trailed a new path in the history of Sri Lanka Education in general and Muslim education in particular. This is a well-researched and documented study based on multiple sources from primary documents, books, articles, personal experience and interviews. Rich in information about educational matters, the book makes an objective assessment of various factors, influences, and even hurdles for the fulfilment of national education policies and how it impacts the progress of contemporary educational attainments of an under privileged community. Essentially, the book has to be classified as a history of Education in Sri Lanka with its special focus on the neglected field of Sri Lanka Muslim education. To me, no one in the Muslim community has written in such detail of matters that have impacted the development of educational attainments of this minority community in keeping up their identity in a multi-racial nation. The book is one of its kind which can serve as a launching pad for further exploration by future scholars.

Nahiya’s book consists of 21 chapters, each a gem on its own. Beginning with a brief biography of Shafie Marikar, the story neatly lays out educational progress in the community with special reference to his thoughts and contributions. In this process one is able to understand many challenges faced by the community from conservative thinkers, apathetic elders to State ineptitude in fulfilling its aspirations to produce well rounded individuals. We learn a lot not just about education for worldly success but as a foundation for spiritual attainments. The book neatly delineates every cause espoused by Shafie Marikar throughout a distinguished career as an educationist par excellence. While being a promoter of national education, Shafie Marikar exhibited special concern to promote the special identity of Sri Lankan Muslims through the operation of special Muslim schools which has had a population of more than 50% of Muslim pupils. Moreover, he was convinced that whatever the benefits a secularized curriculum could bring forth, it is important that Muslim pupils and others in Sri Lanka must necessarily be given a sufficient dose of religious education as well to become full rounded individuals. Hence, he strove to promote special Arabic Madrasa schools and establish Islamic Faculties in the universities.

Shafie Marikar’s highest contribution had been in the promotion of Zahira College movement from Aluthgama to Colombo Zahira where he served as Principal in its most critical period by arresting its decline in the early 1980s and how until his retirement he struggled to raise the profile of the school to bring back the shine it enjoyed once, under the leadership of people like T.B. Jayah and A.M.A. Azeez.

What impressed me most in the book is how Shafie Marikar, the unassuming person that he was, took over the running of this school which was at a low ebb, beset with financial and political problems in the wake of the nationalization of leading private schools at the time. Poorly paid, albeit at the helm of the school, he lived a Spartan life confining himself in ill equipped quarters in the school to devote himself full time for service to the school. He proved himself as a man of integrity, not enticed by material wealth but earned the trust of his sponsors to build up an institution of high integrity. It is important to point out that in order to accept the Principal’s job, he sacrificed his education to become a lawyer, just as one of his predecessors, the late A.M.A. Azeez resigned his lucrative Civil Servant’s position to become a Principal of Zahira College.

Overall, the book documents all the major undertaking of Principal Shafie Marikar, not just as Principal of Zahira College, but more importantly in pioneering educational reforms, chief among them being the formation of the All Ceylon Muslim Educational Conference which performed yeomen service to redress several grievances of the Muslim community which suffered in the education field since the colonial period. While the Tamil Language had played a historical role in the education of early Muslims, Shafie Marikar recognised the need for the community to be well versed in the national language of Sinhala and hence, promoted Sinhala as a Muslim’s medium of instruction. At the least, he insisted that Sinhala must be a compulsory language for Muslim pupils along with English beyond Standard 3.

In many ways, the book highlights Shafie Marikar’s efforts as a continuation of reforms initiated during the late 19th century revivalist period spearheaded by reformers like Orabi Pasha, Siddi Lebbe and others. During Shafie Marikar’s tenure, Zahira College, Colombo returned to its former glory despite initial setbacks experienced by the community. Today’s generation of Muslim entrepreneurs and intellectuals owe a great debt of gratitude to him for improving their life’s prospects through Zahira College education. Aware of the plight that Shafie Marikar underwent without having a house of his own, one of his well to do pupils in the late stage of the Principal’s life gifted a house for him to live in Colombo as a mark of gratitude.

Author, A.M. Nahiya has written the book not just as a distant observer, but more as an inside-observer of Colombo Zahira College, during the ebb and flow of the tide. Ever since 1972, he had been associated with Shafie Marikar and witnessed the inner spirit of this man who had done so much for the progress of national and Islamic education in the island. Nahiya himself was a onetime Deputy Principal who worked under Shafie Marikar at Zahira College and is therefore well positioned to write about him. In fact, as Nahiya claims, he wrote the book not just out of loyalty to his Principal, but more importantly as a person who observed the determination and humility in a great soul who selflessly dedicated himself to improve the lives of other people.

I believe, Nahiya’s book is timely, in that if he had not attempted this writing, the great Shafie Marikar would be a forgotten person. Nahiya has elevated the name of Shafie Marikar as a Principal par excellence, as onetime head of Zahira College. With this book Shafie Marikar has now joined the galaxy of the great stars of Muslim Education in Sri Lanka such as T.B. Jayah, A.M.A. Azeez and others.

As a reviewer, I consider the book as a worthy contribution to Muslim educational history. It is well researched and documented and the author does not seem to leave any stone unturned in his endeavour.

The book includes a number of photographs as illustrations, but their value is somewhat lost as the photographs mostly are printed too small to catch our attention. The book has a reasonable bibliography, but unfortunately, lacks an index which would have helped any common reader to search in terms of his interest.

Books merit their place in society for pursuit of objective research and strict methodology. Despite some minor shortcomings of abstruseness in part, the book tells the story of Muslim education in a coherent sequence. The author has experience in writing other good books including, “A.M.A. Azeez and Tamil”, hailed as a path breaking publication.

An accomplished writer, he has written this book in flowing Tamil prose with clarity, although the subject matter is at times too dense and complex for quick absorption by a general reader. The book merits many positive attributes as an important contribution in bringing to life the accomplishments of a gentleman who was the cause of education. Other researchers in its trail can use it as a good model to explore the contributions of similar leading educationists in the Muslim community.

Author A.M. Nahiya must be congratulated for his painstaking effort to give us a worthy book for enlightenment and happy reading. It deserves to be kept on the shelf of every leading library in the country, and abroad.