Thursday, March 02, 2006


By the demise of ALM Lafir, JP., the Muslim community, especially the Moors, have lost a remarkable personality of rare grit, distinction and indomitable courage. The only son of Ahmed Lebbe, of a highly respectable family of Colombo, he was an alumni of Wesley College, Colombo, and was fastidious even in his school days, traveling daily in a rickshaw with electroplated rimmed wheels to and from College to his home in New Moor Street, Colombo.

He spoke polished English and won a Gold Medal in an Oratorical contest held at Zahira College, when he declaimed “Impeachment on Warren Hastings”. He was the Secretary to the then Principal, T B Jayah, until the time when Colombo was bombed by Japan in 1942. His talent for organization became known and soon after he worked under Sir Mohammed Macan Markar.

He was a founder member of the All-Ceylon Moors’ Association and was a member of the Association’s delegation which appeared before the Soulbury Commission and submitted a supplementary memorandum in the name of the Ceylon Moor Chamber of Commerce, without the knowledge of the Association, because one of the Jt. Hon Secretaries, Mr SM Ismail (the spokesperson), had opposed it. Mr ARA Razik (later Sir Razik Fareed), led the deputation. Lord Soulbury, quite surprisingly, took up this memorandum of the Moor Chamber before that of the main memorandum of the Association and began questioning Mr SM Ismail, the spokesperson, who dumb-foundedly hesitated to reply until the undaunted Mr Lafir stood up, with his monocle dangling, not unequal to that of Lord Soulbury’s own.

His contact with A Hussain Macan Markar became even more closer. The twoof them were the pioneers, amongst others, who founded the Moors’ Islamic Cultural Home (MICH) in 1944 and even took up the responsibility of Hon Jt. Secretaries together with Mr AIL Marikar. In 1947 however, as excessive work necessitated an Administrative Secretary, Mr Lafir gave way for Mr MHM Kamil to take his place as Hon Jt Secretary. He took up the onerous post of Administrative Secretary which he carried out most successfully until he retired in 1979. However, he still remained an active member of the Board of Trustees – lotyal, resoluteand dedicated. He was also the Secretary of the Ceylon Muslim Educational Society Ltd. And the Serendib Sufi Study Circle, and Assistant Secretary to the Ceylon University Mosque Association, besides holding his parental link with the Zaviya Movement.

As a Justice of the Peace (JP), he held that office in high honor and integrity and served the people who went to him. He led a regulated life to furnish it with an illuminating record of service to the country and community – a life dedicated loyally to a cause, a mission that few dared to carry out, and a dream, he realized in his own lifetime.

His beloved wife, Saleema Noordeen, was a personality who was an example of Muslim womanhood – an avant garde type who held fast to the commands of Islam and Muslim society.

Saleema, realized correctly, that Islam has raised the status of women and that they could prosper if they live by its ideals, rather than be shackled by irreligious practices and alien customs. She inspired the other women to live ideal Islamic lives by her own example.

While still a maiden leading a sheltered life, Saleema was so progressive and prominent in women’s affairs that special reference was made to her in a book “Muslim Womanhood in Revolution” by Syed MH Zaidi (Calcutta 1937).

Of the Muslim ladies in Ceylon who have taken a keen interest among the younger generation, Saleema will be remembered as an ardent well-wisher of her sex.

When she married ALM Lafir, who was then a Qazi for over a decade and held court at his residence, she was an asset to him, saving many a marriage from ending up on the rocks with her persuasive manner, personal charm and sweet reasoning, which helped to cement strained relations between contending parties. Usually these ended in compromises, settlement, and above all, reconciliation.

An United States expert, Fullbright Professor Harold Feldman, who watched the Qazi Court proceedings and the off-court reconciliation efforts, recorded, “The informality of the proceedings were most helpful in aiding the solutions of those difficult and complex personal problems . . . . no one else couldpay enough for this labor of love and love of justice and humanity I saw portrayed in your Court.”

Saleema was guided in this noble work by Islamic ideals. It was this same spirit which spurred her to spread bonhomie and cheerfulness to many families whenever relationships were strained, quoting the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Hadees. And in an exemplary Islamic way her left hand did not know what her right hand offered as assistance to the needy.

To those into whose life she has brought sunshine is a great loss by her demise and everyone’s prayer is that may Allah Grant her Paradise.


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