MUNNA HASSAN NAINA LEBBE
The Ancestors of Abdul Cader Sheikh Muhammad Ajward of Matara
The ancient and historical town of Matara, on the banks of the Nilwala Ganga (river) was a very famous location significant to the Ceylon Moors of Sri Lanka. The Moors, have been living here for many centuries. During the Portuguese Colonial era the Matara Disvani (District) extended from Badulla to Aligoa (Alutgama). The Disave (Chief) during the Portuguese period was a Moor (vide Paul Peiris translation of “Portuguese Era”). At the same time there were persecutions of the Moors by the Portuguese. AC Sheikh Muhammad Ajward, remembers as a child, when he went for picnics with his parents that they used to halt their cart on the way to Meddawatte near the east end of the twon. They recited the opening verse from the Qur’an and invoked Allah’s Blessings on those Muslim Martyrs who were executed by the Portuguese on the banks of the river Nilwala Ganga. There used to a small wall that signified the location of this massacre but it is no more to be found. It is said that the Portuguese gathered all the males and killed them. The women and children were sent to Colombo. They could possibly form a part of the nucleus of the Colombo Chetty’s.
However, the Moors thrived in other parts of the town. During the Dutch period, in order to build the ramparts, the Moors who were residing near the Fort Gate were asked to vacate their abodes and subsequently they made Kadayaweediya and other similar locations their places of residence. One always finds in the history of the Matara Moors that they generally inter-married with Moors from Alutgama, Weligama, Galle, and Beruwela.
So it happened, a very handsome young man from Beruwela called Ahmed Lebbe, who was Sheikh Ajwards paternal grandfather, paid a visit to Matara to meet his uncle Usoof Lebbe, who was already married and settled in Matara. They belonged to the famous Hasana Lebbe clan of Aluthgama. While in Matara, Ajwards grandfather, Ahmed Lebbe visited a young relative of his named Aliyar Marikar Lebbe, son of Aliyar Marikar. While chatting with him, at his home, he was served with sweets and coffee. Ultimately, he was so taken up with the taste of the coffee that was served tro him that he requested for the hand of the maiden, who had made the coffee, in marriage. This lady was Aliyar Marikar Lebbe’s sister who lived in the same house with him. The proposal was accepted and the couple were happily married to one another.
Sheikh Ajward’s grandfather, Ahmed Lebbe, periodically visited India. He was a cloth and rice merchant. Some years later, when he was on a business visit in India, Sheikh Ajwards grandmother, who was pregnant then and in Ceylon, had been told that this time, after having borne 3 or 4 daughters, she could seek Allah’s Blessings, by His Will, for a son. When Ahmed Lebbe returned home after completing his business he was most overjoyed to hear that he was blessed with a son. When the infant son was presented to him, he was taken aback by the dark color of the baby’s skin complexion and immediately retorted, ”This can never be my offspring…”. The fact was that the infant that was presented to him was not his own son but another baby from a neighboring house. It was simply a practical joke played on theman. When his own son was presented to him he was so pleased and happy. This infant son went on to become Sheikh Ajwards father, Muhammad Abdul Cader.
Sheikh Ajward’s grandfather had left a prayer book in which he had written a part of his genealogy identifying all his ascendants all the way up to the first Caliph of Islam AbuBakr Sideeq (raliAllahu anhu). The family tree states that a descendant of the Caliph AbuBakr (rali) had visited Ceylon and married a lady from Aluthgama.His name was Munna Hassen Naina Lebbe.
His paternal grandfather had five sons. The youngest, was a personal friend of Lord Elphinstone, and who worked as Manager at the sugar factory established at Paraduwa by him. Lord Elphinstone bade farewell to Ceylon on the death of his dear friend who was managing his factory. Another son was the father of Mohideen Bawa of Galle, who was the first Muslim Municipal Councillor at Galle and a supplier of provisions to the P&O Shipping Lines boats that berthed at Galle harbor. Mohideen Bawa was considered to be a replica of Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan, the then ruling monarch of Turkey, because of his mighty and generous deeds for his community. Mohideen bawa had two daughters. The older, Khadeeja, had two sons, Segu Mohideen and Muhammad Haniffa, and a daughter Ayesha who was married to MAC Ismail. The youngest daughter, Mariam Umma, hada son named Zubair Cassim.
Aliyar Marikar’s and Mohideen Bawa’s grandfather, the father of the five sons mentioned earlier, was the first to construct a two storeyed house in the District of Matara. It is said that villagers of the area brought pingo’s full of gifts and paid homage to this good man. This house, with a few alterations, is still existent at No 188, Main Street, Matara (1969). This had, originally, been a house of reputed families. Ultimately it came to the possession of his ancestors and it is the same abode where Sheikh Ajward was born 63 years ago.
Sheikh Ajward’s maternal grandfather, Aliyar Marikar whom he was not fortunate enough to see, whose sister was married to his paternal grandfather, Ahmed Lebbe, was a well-known personality in Matara. He was the agent of his cousin Mohideen Bawa and was residing in Calcutta. It is reported that Aliyar Marikar used to travel in a coach drawn by four horses.
Aliyar Marikar carried on a lucrative trade by sending rice and provisions to Galle. He usually booked more space than what was required on the ships that used to sail to Galle. Hence when Borah and Chetty merchants required cargo space to export their goods they were informed by the shiping agents that Aliyar Marikar had already booked all the available cargo space on board the vessels. Thus, these merchants were forced to approach Aliyar Marikar who then resold the space to them at a premium making a profit in the process.
Whilst in Calcutta, Aliyar Marikar had constructed a Mosque named “Sholiya Masjid” with the assistance of three other merchants from Kayalpatnam, Keelakarai, and Madras. He also functioned as the first Trustee of this Mosque. Ceylon Moors were thus given a pride of place to perform their prayers at this Mosque with a special room assigned especially for them whenever the Mosque was filled to capacity. A Muslim burial ground attached to this Mosque also afforded facilities for the burial of Muslims from Ceylon.
Back in Ceylon, Aliyar Marikar functioned as a Trustee of all the Mosques in Matara. An interesting incident occurred, once, when the Katheeb of the Mosque was delivering his Friday sermon from the pulpit. Aliyar Marikar, unconcerned for the dignity and respect of the Mosque, demanded the Katheeb to surrender his turban and the book from which he was narrating his sermon and climb down from the pulpit and conclude his talk. This conduct of Aliyar Marikar was supposed to have been due to the fact that this Khatheeb had solemnized the marriage of his own daughter to a man without due consideration to his family and status in society. Things took a turn for the worse and the congregation was divided into two groups. However, Aliyar Marikar succeeded in replacing the officiating Katheeb and putting an end to the confusion.
Aliyar Marikar married a very beautiful lady, the granddaughter of Bawa Sarap (Shroff). Incidentally,many of the Shroffs (Cashiers) in Government Kachcheri’s (Departments), at that time, were Muslims, and it is said that one was deported to Malacca for alleged malpractices. Aliyar Marikar’s wife, Sheikh Ajward’s grandmother, survived her parents and lived to the ripe old age of 90. She was generally referred to as “Nona”, meaning “Lady”.
Though arrogant at times, Aliyar Marikar was also a man of great dignity and principles. It is said that when his oldest daughter, Sheikh Ajward’s mother, attained puberty he had resolved to offer a grand feast on one of the ensuing nights. During this time while Aliyar Marikar was involved in a chat with some of his friends he had noticed a respectable lady carrying a frying pan and walking out into the night. On inquiry by his friends, from her, as to where she was going she had responded that she was taking the frying pan to be sold in order to buy a gift for Aliyar Marikar’s daughter, without having known that Aliyar Marikar was also present within the group of men. On hearing this, Aliyar Marikar was very much perturbed and promptly ordered an announcement through his family members that no gifts will be accepted for his daughter on the occasion. When this daughter was subsequently proposed to his nephew, Sheikh Ajward’s father, Aliyar Marikar objected and refused to have anything to do with him as he belonged to the newly formed order of the Shadhuliya Sect which he did not accept as a valid Islamic group. However, Allah’s Will prevailed and this and Muhammad Abdul Cader, who happened to be the Naquib (Captain or Leader) of the Shaduliya Order and also a very successful textile merchant, married the young lady and they went to become the proud parents of fourteen children of whom Sheikh Ajward was the thirteenth.
One of Aliyar Marikar’s nephews, ILM Ibrahim, was reputed to be the Citronella King of Matara. He was the father of Surveyor Marikar.
Aliyar Marikar’s youngest brother, who was married in Galle, was the father of MA Rahim, founder of Messers Ismail A Raheem, the famous diamond merchants in Singapore. After his demise in 1928 the business which had survived for over seventy years was closed down.
One of Sheikh Ajward’s paternal aunts, a niece of Aliyar Marikar, married in Beruwela.This person from Beruwela, after his marriage, paid numerous visits to Matara and acquainted himself with Western habits. Thus the elderly folks of Beruwela relate that this man who came to wear modern style shoes created an interest and wonder and was referred to as the “Matara Mapilla” (Matara Bridegroom). It is said that children flocked to see him when he walked, wearing his shoes.
In his retirement, Aliyar Marikar became a vaccinator and was generally referred to as “Ali Doctor”, a position then held in high esteem.