Al Qutb Al-Sheikh ISMAIL Al-YAMANI Al-SAILANI
Amongst the early migrants from the Arabian Peninsular to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), during the rule of the Sinhala Monarchs – that is, long before the South Indian Tamil kings and the Roman Catholic Portuguese colonists invaded Ceylon – was Al Qutb Al-Sheikh Ismail Al-Yamani Al-Sailani, also known affectionately as "Arabi Appa", a tamil phrase, meaning Arab GrandFather.
Arabi Appa was a great Islamic and Arabic scholar and also a widely respected theologian. His immediate ancestors were Al-Seyed Sheikh Shaoosi Al-Rabahiyyi Zabeediyil Abbasi wa Siddiqui, Al-Seyed Salih Abdullah, Al-Sheikh Salih, and Al-Sheikh Izzadeen. He married three times, first in Kerala, South India, then in Ceylon and was blessed with ten children.
Arabi Appa was interred at the Mohideen Jummah Mosque grounds at New Street, Weligama.
Arabi Appa married three times, first in Kerala, South India, and then in Ceylon, and was blessed with 10 children.
Of his sons, Al Qutub Al-Sheikh Yahya bin Al-Sheikh Ismail al-Yamani was, popularly and respectfully, also known as Hajiar Appa of Matara who died on June 7, 1884 and was buried at Matara. Another, Al-Sheikh Abdullah Moulana was interred at Maligawatte in Colombo. The other children were Fathima, Haleema, Al Sheikh Abdus Samad Moulana Hafiz, who is interred at the Town Uumuah Mosque in Akkaraipattu, Moomina, Al Sheikh Abdul Razzak Moulana, interred at Maligawatte, Colombo,Al Sheikh Abdul Azeez Moulana, who died young at Aluthgama,Al Sheikh Abdul Wahid Moulana, interred at Masjidul Mohideen at Kattankudy in the Batticaloa District, and Al Sheikh Abdul Qadir Moulana, interred at the premises at Masjidul Sagheer (Shinna Palli) at Symonds Road, maradana in Colombo.
Arabi Appa’s eldest daughter, Fathima, married Muhammad Cassim Bhoy, a merchant from Surat in the State of Gujarat in Western India. They were blesses with four sons and two daughters, viz; Muhammad Ismail, Khadijah, Amina Umma, Abdul Rahman, Abdul Ghaffoor and Muhammad Yousoof Salih Babu.
M C Abdul Rahman
Honourable Muhammad Cassim Abdul Rahman, Merchant, Reformer, Legislator, Leader
Muhammad Cassim Abdul Rahman, son of Fathima (& Cassim Bhoy), the daughter of the renowned Qutb Sheikh Ismail Yamani who is interrred by the side of the Weligama mosque, married Khadija, daughter of his maternal uncle Qutb Sheikh Yehya Al-Yamani, also known as Hajiar Appa of Matara. Qutb Sheikh Ismail and Qutb Sheikh Yehya are reverred by many Muslims in the southern province as saints even until today.
Abdul Rahman began life as a businessman, both in the Colombo Fort as a mercer of silk and soft goods in Pettah, and as a purveyor of groceries for homes. He had a large clientele, mainly, because of his fair dealing in business. His head was erect because his honour was perfectly above board at all times. He owned shipping vessels for the transportation of the goods that he imported. SS "Rahmaniya" was a vessel named after him. The more he earned the more he distributed to deserving cases and laudable causes. That was Abdul Rahman, the Merchant.
The “White Horse” building at Chatham Street, Fort, in Colombo was the head office of his business empire. He had a distribution center at Pettah, in Colombo, and a warehouse complex at Slave island, also in Colombo. The British firm of darley Butler & Company acted as one of his agents in those times.
His activities became well known and recognized by all. He was nominated to a seat in the Colombo Municipal Council in 1876 to look after and promote the interest of the local Ceylon Moors (Muslims). He made such an impressive mark, that, while a Counsellor he was also appointed as an unofficial Municipal Magistrate. The Moors of Ceylon of the time, incoherent though, yet made calls for representation in the Legislative Council to which Abdul Rahman was appointed on October 29, 1889, as the first Mohammedan member, by Governor Gordon. His indispensability received such recognition, that, at the end of his five year term, he was re-appointed for a further five years by Governor Havelock. However, he did not live long enough to fulfil that extended term.
During that period appointed members were generally more or less stooges of the British Colonial rulers and were silent warmers of their seats. Abdul Rahman was different. In proposals or debates that concerned the nation or his own community, he spoke out his heart with an earnestness that evoked sympathy and understanding. The Hansard of December 1894 is replete of references of the concern Abdul Rahman, the Reformer, showed towards the community.
The Moors of the time were lagging behind even in matters of their social and educational life. These were spheres where Abdul Rahman felt that urgent action was necessary. He had much to speak but little to add to what he strongly urged for necessary inclusion of amendments to the Marriage Registration Ordinances No. 8 of 1886 and No. 2 of 1888, whereby Muslim marriages would also be registered. Until then "Kadutham" of the Katheebs was the only feeble form of documentary evidence, available, of Muslim marriages. Compulsory registration of Muslim marriages in a legalized form was the brainchild of Abdul Rahman. Even more, he urged that in cases where specified fees could not be levied or collected, the imposition of such fees be waived. His thinking was so meticulous even to such detail.
Female Muslim education was, wrongly, held to be foreign within the fold of Islam, by the Muslims of Ceylon. A very few female adults received some form of education in what was called "secluded" schools. But that was far below the standard. Abdul Rahman, with vision and foresight, spoke out his mind, urging special provision for the education of female Muslims, when the question of female education was discussed at the Legislative Council. Thus, he was the pioneer of Muslim female education in Ceylon. He was also responsible for the appointment of female doctors and vaccinators to cater to the needs of Muslim women. His insistence ultimately resulted in the Colonial Secretary authorizing half the cost of the building for the first Mohammedan Girls School in Colombo, in 1898.
Abdul Rahman married Khadija, the second daughter of his maternal uncle, Hajiar Appa. He was also a multi-linguist proficient in Tamil, Sinhala, English, Arabic, Urdu and Pharisee. He underwent a strenous education in Islam, Islamic Law and culture. He lived at "Icicle Hall", at 532, Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3, a symbol of social stature and prestige. "Icicle Hall’ was later renamed to "Sri Kotha" where the United National Party purchased it from its new owners to whom M.C. Abdul Rahman had sold it to, in order to set up their new headquarters. The "Mumtaz Mahal" at Kollupitiya, now the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament, was also owned by M.C. Abdul Rahman, and years later, his great grandson, Muhammad Haniffa Muhammad, was destined to occupy the sprawling mansion as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, during the period 1989 to 1994. The "Rhineland" at Colpetty, a mansion at the site of the present Central Theatre at Maradana, and three houses at Grandpass were some of his other bungalows. He also owned the stretch of land from Kanatte to Borella, including the present Kanatte burial grounds, up to Rajagiriya, which served as his grass fields.
Abdul Rahman was always nattily dressed in Shalwar and Khameez over which he wore a long coat, Jutha on his feet and a richly embroidered Surat Cap. He used to ride in a twin-horse carriage. He owned a fleet of horse carriages of different structures. On ceremonial ocassions he rode a special carriage drawn by apair of his choicest horses with two footmen colorfully dressed in attendance. The Kahatahena Estate at Galagedara in Padukka, where the Ceylon Refractories is presently located, was specially used by him for rearing his horses.
Abundant affluence did, however, not bar him from serving the economically-weaker sections of the society, and, especially among those belonging to the Muslim community. A highly religious personality he was a great philanthropist who generously helped a large number of Mosques, Schools and other Muslim institutions as well as needy individuals. Al Mahadul Bukhariyul Khadiriyah Jumma Mosque at Layards Broadway in Colombo was built by him and managed under his personal supervision and control.
MC Abdul Rahman possessed one of the finest collection of books on Unani Medicine and specialized in spiritual healing. He also went on to play a major role in the Muslim Society in Ceylon at a time when the community was a badly neglected and hopelessly backward one.
Abdul Rahman was so engrossed in his service to the people that he found very little time to devote to himself. Frail in frame, yet, strong in spirit, he carried on the difficult task with many sacrifices, the hallmark of true leadership. Strangely, he had at heart a penchant for the welfare of the female more than the male. Yert it was quite natural. As a devout Muslim he had been taught that "Paradise lies at the feet of the Mother". That had been his inspiration.
The strain and stress of his crowded program of daily services told on his health and he passed away, during the middle of his second five year term in the Legislative Council. That was Abdul Rahman, the Leader, an example for all times. He passed away peacefully on June 12 1899 and his remains were interred at the Maligawatte Muslim burial grounds.
Abdul Rahman was blessed with four sons and three daughters, viz;
Abdul Majeed, Safia Umma, Ummu Habeeba, Ne’math Umma, Abdul Azeez, Muhammad Ismail and Izzadeen.
Abdul Majeed, who married Safia Umma, had two daughters and two sons. One son passed away at an early age. His eldest daughter, Jariath Umma, married OLM Levana Marikar, a leading light in Colombo’s world of commerce. Jariath Umma’s second daughter, Ummu Hafeera (second bed), married NHM Abdul Cader, Colombo Municipal Councillor and later member of the Legislative Council (father of Jabir A Cader).
Abdul Majeed’s second daughter, Muhusina, married YM Naina Marikar JP, also a prominent figure amongst the Muslim Community and the business world of that era. Amongst Muhusina’s nine children are NMM Bishrul Hafi JP, a well known Muslim social activist, and NMM Izzeth Hussain. Izzeth Hussain was the first ever Muslim to join the Ceylon Overseas Service and the first ever Muslim career diplomat to rise to the highest position in the Foreign Service by holding the position of Director General of Foreign Relations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1980’s. He was also the Ambassador to the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States, based in Moscow.
MC Abdul Rahman’s third son, Muhammad Ismail, was an active social worker who took a keen interest in religious and educational activities of the Muslim Community. The British Governor bestowed on him the titular honor of Mudaliyar for his exemplary social service. He was also the Managing Trustee of the Maradana Mosque and Honorary Secretary of the Colombo Muslim Educational Society. Mudaliyar Ismail married twice, Hajara Umma – a first cousin of Sir Razik Fareed – and Ummu Ayesha. His son MACA Abdul Rahman functioned as the Principal of Hameed Al Hussaini Maha Vidyalaya, one of the prominent government Muslim Schools in Colombo, for many years.
MC Abdul Rahman’s fifth child, Abdul Azeez, maternal grandfather of MH Muhammad, was a successful businessman and was affectionately known as “Prince Charming”. He did not seek public office. Yet, the British Government bestowed on him a titular honor. Azeez played a quiet role in the Muslim community, helping religious and educational institutions in an effectively constructive way. He was generous in his charity and helped the needy, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. He preferred silent service and avoided publicity.
Abdul Rahman’s youngest son, Muhammad Izzadeen married Muthu Natchiyar but had no issue.
The Sri Lankan Muslim Community gratefully remembered MC Abdul Rahman when his portrait was unveiled by J R Jayawardene, the then leader of the opposition, at the Moors’ Islamic Cultural Home Auditorium at Colombo Fort on June 13, 1975, on the occasion of his 76th death anniversary.
On January 21, 1987, the then Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa, unveiled a portrait of MC Abdul Rahman at the Colombo Town Hall under the patronage of B Sirisena Cooray, the Mayor of Colombo.
In December 1989, MC Abdul Rahman’s portrait was unveiled at the gallery of the Parliament of Sri lanka at Kotte-Sri Jayawardenepura, by President Premadasa, on the occasion of the cventenary of Abdul Rahman’s entry into the Legislative Council as the first ever Muslim Member. MH Muhammad, his great grandson, was the Speaker of the House at this time.
Muhammad Cassim Muhammad Ismail
Abdul Rahman’s eldest brother, Muhammad Cassim Muhammad Ismail, had four children. Of them, Muhammad Ali had the distinction of becoming the first ever Muslim Justice of the Peace in Ceylon in the 1890’s, while holding the prestigious office of Consul for Persia in Ceylon.
Perhaps, he was the first Muslim to function as a Consul for a foreign state in Ceylon. Another son, Muhammad Haniffa, was a member of the Colombo Municipal Councul during the period 1884-1900, the second member in the family to become an MMC following in the footsteps of Abdul Rahman.
Both Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Haniffa married two daughters of Hajiar Appa. Ismail’s eldest daughter, Yehiya Umma, married MLM Zainudeen Hajiar, who was also a member of the Colombo Municipal Council from 1900 to 1907. Ismail’s grandson, Muhammad Hussain, son of Muhammad Ali, married Ayesha Umma, daughter of NDH Abdul Ghaffoor, the top flight landed proprietor who played a dominant figure in the country’s business circles. Hussains oldest son, Mehdi Hussain, is a graduate from the Oxford University and a Barrister-at-Law and his youngest son, Ali Feizal, is an MBBCh from Oxford. Hafsa, a daughter of Hussain is married to Dr Hamza Sulaiman of Sulaimans Provate Nursing Home at Grandpass.
Two of Ismails great granddaughters married Zubair A Caffoor, son of Falil A Caffoor, and Majeed Abdul Cader, while another great granddaughter, Ummu Kulzum, married the distinguished educationaist and scholar, AMA Azeez, the first ever Muslim Member of the now extinct Ceylon Civil Service and later on the incomparably brilliant Principal of Zahira College, Colombo, in the 1950’s. Azeez was also a member of the now abolished Senate, the Upper Chamber of the Parliament, for many years from 1953 and was also a member of the Public Services Commission. Another great granddaughter of Ismail, Sithy Fathima, married Jabir A Cader, a member of the Colombo Municipal Council from 1954, Mayor of Colombo in 1966-1969, and a United National Party Member of Parliament representing the Colombo Central Seat from 1977 to 1994.
Although educated in English in the Colonial system of education, Muhammad ismail was a deeply religious man. He, together with his younger brother, Muhammad Cassim Abdul Rahman, were the live wires behind the moves to expand the premises of the Colombo Grand Mosque at New Moor Street and also to provide a Muslim burial ground therein.
Muhammad Cassim Abdul Rahman - 76th Death Anniversary Jun 13 1975 (Jamad Al Thani 2, 1395 H)
published in the MICH Souvenir III of 1970-76
Venue: Moors' Islamic Cultural Home, Bristol Street, Fort, Colombo 1
Presided by : Sir Razik Fareed, OBE, JP UM
Sir Razik Fareed, in his opening address, said:
I am very happy, indeed, to preside at this function today on behalf of the MICH and I extend a most cordial welcome to all of you. I was planning to travel to Pakistan by the 2 O Clock flight, but evidently Allah Willed that I should preside at this grand meeting. Alhamdulillah!
It has taken us 76 years after the demise of this grand old man to pay our respects to a Ceylon Moor pioneer. He, as you know, was the first Ceylon Moor Member of the Legislative Council and the Colombo Municipal Council. He was also the first Moor unofficial Magistrate in 1876.
We had a void in the portrait gallery of Ceylon Moor patriots. Today, Alhamdulillah! we have been able to fill that gap. We are thankful to Marhoom Anis bin Haji ismail Effendi, whose heir had handed over the photograph of the late Abdul Rahman, which his late father had carefully preserved.
We must also remember, with gratitude, Marhoom Sameer bin Haji Ismail Effendi, who has kept a careful record of the Moors of the past and also evidence of the history of the Moors. I understand that the organizers of this function have obtained very valuable information from the files of Marhoom Sameer bin Haji Ismail Effendi and that information is in your hands in the form of a booklet.
To a certain extent Marhoom MC Abdul Rahman was a man of outspoken ability. His speeches indicate that he was no "Yes" man. If the Government of the day introduced legislation that was beneficial to the country he supported such legislation and if it was not in the best interest of the country he opposed it. Specially at a time like that he had the guts to oppose.
As a Municipal Councillor, Hon MC Abdul Rahman, has been responsible in getting the streets of Colombo lit by gas. But in later years, when I entered Municipal politics, as a City father, I had the privilege of changing them to incandescent bulbs and that in spite of vehement protests by interested parties who tried to tempt me with various rewards if I withdrew the motion.
His other notable work in the Colombo Municipal Council was the appointment of female vaccinators who were very useful to our community, specially to the Moor women.
I understand that the teenagers have brought out a very comprehensive biographical sketch of this law-giver, educationist, merchant prince and social worker.
I believe - I can say this without any fear of contradiction - that I am the only man alive today who had seen the happy couple. They always sat together, she dressed in a white saree and he in Shalwar & Kameez complete with a Surat cap. A beautiful beard adorned his manly face. Undoubtedly, he looked a born leader. May their souls rest in peace!
Citation by MH Mohamed, World Muslim Congress (Sri Lanka Council) and representative Rabitat-Al Alam Al Islami, Makkah Al Mukarramah:
Mr Presisent, Mr JR Jayawardene, Your Excellencies, Mr Premadasa, member for Colombo Central, Ladies & Gentlemen:
It is my privilege to speak a few words on Hon MC Abdul Rahman, who was no ordinary mortal, but a merchant, reformer, legislator and leader. He had in his veins the same saintly blood from his mother, Fathima, a daughter of the renowned saint, Al Khutub Al Sheikh Ismail Yemeni.
Khadija, his wife, was also of saintly blood, being the daughter of his paternal uncle, Al Qutub Sheikh Yahya al Yamani, commonly known as Hadjiar Appa, whose remains lie interred at the Main Street Jummah Mosque, Matara.
Abdul Rahman became a businessman of repute by the establishment, in Colombo Fort and in Pettah and Slave Island, of an extensive import and export business. he owned shipping vessels for the transport of goods, the SS "Rahmaniya" was the first vessel named after him. He was helpful to everyone. That was Abdul Rahman the merchant. His activities and his conspicuous ability became well known and recognized.
He was nominated to a seat in the Colombo Municipal Council in 1876 to look after the and promote the interests of the local Muslims. he made such an impressive effort that while being a Councillor he was made an Unofficial Magistrate, being the first Ceylon Moor to hold these two posts.
As a result of the enlargement of the Ordinance and a Moor being allowed to be appointed to the Legislative Council, Abdul Rahman was appointed as the first Muslim Member of the Legislative Council on 29 October 1889. This appointment was made by Sir Arthur Gordon. His work received universal recognition. At the end of his five year term he was appointed to a further period of five years by Governor Elibank Havelock. In those days appointed Members generally sat and warmed their seats but not so Abdul Rahman. In any proposal or debate he was concerned with the rights of the nation. He spoke out his heart in earnestness and evoked the sympathy and understanding of the Ruling British. The HANSARD of December 1894 is replete with reference to his concern towards the community. That was Abdul Rahman the Reformer.
The Moors of the time were lagging behind in matters concerning their social and educational life. This was a sphere where, if at all, Abdul Rahman felt action was necessary. He had much to speak of on the inclusion of amendments to the Marriage Registration Ordinance No 2 of 1886 and Marriage Registration Ordinance No 2 of 1888 whereby Muslim marriages also came to be registered. Until then, the "Kadutham" filled by Khateebs were the only unstable form of registration. Compulsory registration of Muslim marriages was a brain-child of Abdul Rahman.
Another field of his activities was the championing of the cause of Muslim female education. The Moors of Ceylon then held that female education would jeopardize the practice of Islam. A few female adults had some form of education in what was called "secluded schools". Abdul Rahman's vision and foresight spoke out his mind urging special provision for the education of Muslim females and the question of general female education was discussed in the Legislative Council. He was thus a pioneer for the promotion of Muslim female education and for the appointment of doctors and vaccinators who catered to the needs of the Muslim women. His insistence ultimately resulted in the Colonial Secretary, in the year 1898, authorizing the cost of the building which housed the first Muslim Girl's School in Colombo.
Abdul Rahman became so engrossed in his political work that he found little time to look after himself. Frail in body and weak in health he carried out his tasks at tremendous sacrifice. A devout Muslim, he had learnt the Hadeeth "paradise lies at the feet of the Mother". She had been his inspiration. Amidst his crowded program, on account of failing health, he passed away on 19 June 1899, while serving only the second five year term of the Council. That was Abdul Rahman the Leader.