Wednesday, March 01, 2006

N M M Haniffa & N M M Ishaq

Nagoor Meera, his brother Meera Lebbe, and their father Assen Ali, had left behind their landed property in their home village of Kongaraya Kurichchi when they came to Ceylon. Contacts witheir relatives back home were, therefore, lost in time and the two brothers were busy carrying on their business activities in far-away Ceylon. This led to the caretakers of these properties becoming the de facto owners, enjoying the fruits. None of the children of Nagoor Meera and Meera Lebbe took any interest in staking their claims to their paternal properties back in Tamil Nadu.

After Nagoor Meera's demise, the herculean task of presiding over the huge business empire, he had laboriously built over the years, fell on tghe shoulders of his sons, NMM Haniffa and NMM Ishak who had aklready mastered the techniques of the old man reasonably well. Haniffa gave up his lucrative legal practice in order to devote his full time to the business, social activities, and religious work. The two brothers, acting with wisdom and caution, built up the business in spite of the many great challenges that came their way after the Great Depression in the early thirties.

It was in the late thirties that the two brothers decided to go their own ways in business keeping the family unity and integrity intact. Haniffa chose to run AM Nagoor Meera Sons & Company, engaged in Ship Chandelling and import & export, while Ishaw launched AM Nagoor Meera & Son, specializing in vegetable marketing. Later on, Haniffa established another firm called EH Mohideen & Company.

Like his father AM Nagoor Meera, Proctor Haniffa was a keen student of Islam and an exponent of the Tamil language and literature Islamic scholars from various parts of the country, and even South India, were regular visitors to Haniffa's Dematagoda Road residence. They used to conduct regular weekend sessions between Haniffa and the visiting Islamic scholars, seated on mats spread out on the sprawling visitor's hall at his residence. They discussed various subjects, interpretations, meanings and connotations on Islamic and Tamil works as well as Arabic Literature. They were also of a very high intellectual standard. Some of tghem were, Kakka Lebbe, Abdul Hassan (son of Muthuwappa Sinna Alim sahib of Kayalpattanam in Tamil Nadu who was the Imam of the Hanafi Jumuah Mosque in Kandy) and Idroos Moulana of Maruthamunai in the Amparai District.

The Tamil speaking Muslims of Ceylon should be grateful to Haniffa for having it translated from Arabic into Tamil. Maulana Allama AK Abdul Hameed (Bhakavi), of Tamil nadu in South India, commenced his historic task of translating the Quran into Tamil on February 19, 1926, the first ever attempt to meet the crying need of the millions of Tamil speaking Muslims living in Ceylon, India, Singapore, Malaya & Burma. At that time Moulana Abdul Hameed, father of AK Abdus Samad, the well known leader of the Tamil Nadu Muslim League, was already 50 years old. Exactly after three years of tireless labor and extensive consultations with religious scholars and experts, Moulana Abdul Hameed successfully published the frist Tamil translation of Surah Al Baqarah on February 19, 1929. Slow and unsteady flow of funds impeded further progress of the project. He tapped as many sources as possible to complete his mission. Timely financial support by the NIzam of Hyderabad on the recommendations of his uncle, Nawab Nazeer Yar Jang Bahadur, in 1938 enabled Moulana Abdul Hameed to complete the translation of the entire Quran on October 24, 1942.

By now Moulana Abdul Hameed was 70 years old. He sailed across to Ceylon in 1946 in search of generous minded souls who could extend a helping hand to have the translated manuscripts printed and published. It was Proctor Haniffa who generously donated a handsome sum of Rs 50,000 for the project. The translation saw the light of day on May 1, 1949. Sadly, Haniffa had already passed away when the historic mission was completed and fulfilled. However, his generosity was acknowledged in the foreward of every copy of the translation that was published ever since. It is also reported that duing the publishing phase of the project Haniffa himself rushed to Hyderabad to bring paper that was in shortage after WWII.

An ever grateful Abdul Hameed sent several copies of the translated Quran to Sithy Naseema, aniffa's second wife whom he married after the demise of his first wife, Ummu Hafeera. When Naseema travelled to Makkah to perform Hajj in 1950, accompanied by her oldest daughter Marhooma, she presented copies of the Tamil translation of the Quran to the Imam of the Ka'abah for the use of Tamil speaking pilgrims who visit on pilgrimage. They are still preserved there.

Since then, seven editions of the Tamil translation have been published, in 1949, 1950, 1955, 1958, 1978, 1986 and 1995. The last two publications were financed by the Rabitah Al-Alam Al-Islami (The World Muslim Council), which has its headquarters in Makkah, at the personal initiative and efforts of MH Muhammad, son of NMM Haniffa.

Haniffa wa a towering personality in Colombo's social and religious circles, although he shunned publicity. It was in recognition of his contributions to the Community that Haniffa was inducted as a Member of the first Board of Trustees of the Maradana Mosque, when it was incorporated in 1924, on the personal recommendation of the Hon WM Abdul Rahman, Legislative Councillor and father of Sir Razik Fareed. A great honor at that ripe young age, indeed!

Nevertheless, Haniffa's charity was not just confined to the country of his birth alone. Sithy Naseema recalled how her late husband even helped the economically-backward Muslims across the seas. "In 1946, we went to Kayal Pattanam in Tamil Nadu in South India. Though there were Madarasas (Islamic religious schools), they were not enough to cater to the demand. My husband provided financial assistance to build a Tamil School and a Madarasa in a Kayal Pattanam locality that was populated with a large number of illiterate children. I remember that this institution was named "Naseema" after me." (Sithy Naseema in an interview with the late MS Muhammad of Thinakaran Newspaper on April 18 1991 Page 5). The people of Kayal Pattanam still recall, with gratitude, the generosity of Haniffa and describe the school and Madarasa as a testimony to the committment of Haniffa to hekp the educational development of the backward Muslim children anywhere.

MH Muhammad, his son stated, "When I won my first Municipal election in 1947, I went to seek his blessings. His advice to me was,'At times of triumph and in power, be humble. You must behave in such a manner that people would have the same regard and respect for you even in times of defeat. The people who were with you in victory should remain with you even in times of defeat -- forever.' I vowed to practise it to its very letter and spirit in my political and private life - never to be arrogant and uppish but to be always accessible, considerate and listening to various voices."

Haniffa was 56 years old when he departed this world on Friday, March 25, 1949. he was the proud father of 21 children, 10 sons and 11 daughters; 12 by Ummu Hafeera, his first wife, and 9 by Sithy Naseema who survived him. Sithy Naseema passed away in 2003. Her children are Yahya (deceased), Sithy Marina (wife of Sa'eed Sulaiman BSc, Petroleum technologist), Rabiyathul Adhawiyya (wife of SAM Faleel, Lawyer & ex-Assistant Commissioner of Labor), Mumtaza (wife of Rasheed Sulaiman, ex DIG and first Muslim Police Officer to head the Prime Ministerial and later Presidential Security Division during the tenure of President Ranasinghe Premadasa and Dingiri Banda Wijetunge), Muwaffaque (who married Rosemary Ondaatje and later Haseena), Zainamb Farhana (who married Colombo businessman, Imamdeen), Fazlul Haque (deceased), Fazlur Rahman (deceased), and Mariathul Qibithiya (wife of Muhammad Ashroff Hussain, prominent businessman of Batcha & Company fame and also socio-religious activist in Sri Lanka). The two Sulaimans who married two of Naseema's daughters are brothers and children of Marjoona Sheikh Sulaiman, the youngest daughter of Meera Lebbe (older brother of AM Nagoor Meera).

Haniffa'syounger brother Ishak, who married Ummu Khulzum, daughter of Idroos Lebbe (elder brother of paternal grandmother Zainambu Natchiyar), passed away in 1965 when he was 64 years old. Ishak's five children are Sithy Aysha (wife of Dr MIM Nilar), Abdul Qadir who passed away at a young age, Muhammad Haleem Ishak, Sithie Mariam Muhammad and Sithie Fathima. Haleem Ishak passed away in Sep 2003.

Proctor Haniffa's family can be proud of their progeny who held top office in the national political organizations, dominated by the Sinhalese at that time. NMM ishak was the first Muslim to function as the Treasurer of the Ceylon Labor Union. Ishak's son, Haleem, rose to the position of Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1978-1992, succeeding Dr Badiudin Mahmud. Dr MCM Kaleel, father-in-law of Haniffa's two sons, Jaffer Sadique and Dr Munsir Meeran, was Treasurer and later Chairman of the United National Party.

Social worker and philanthropist

Proctor Nagoor Meera Mohamed Haniffa was an eminent personality who shone in social and business circles in pre-independent Ceylon. He was form a great and illustrious Muslim family that could proudly claim to have.

Born in 1893 was the eldest son of the famous Nuwara Mudalali A.M. Nagoor Meera who in the Mid 1800 set up a successful vegetable business in Kandy. Later he returned to Colombo and established a thriving vegetable wholesale, ship channelling firm in a complex opposite the Old Town Hall in Pettah which was founded in 1886. The place was popularly called Nuwara (Kandy) Market. A.M. Nagoor Meera Sons & Company is 110 years now.

Proctor Haniffa married a granddaughter of M.C. Abdul Raheman who crated history being the first-ever Muslim Member of the Colombo Municipal Council and Municipal Magistrate (1886-1887) and the first-ever Muslim Member of the Legislative Council (1889-1899) during the British RJ.

Haniffa was elected to the Colombo Municipal Council in January 1944 as a member for the Maligawatte Ward and continued to serve the Council until December 1946.
A younger brother of Haniffa, N.M.M. Ishak represented the Maradana Ward. Ishak was a pioneer Muslim trade union leader who functioned as the Treasurer of the Ceylon Labour Union led by the repressible A.E. Goonesinghe in the 1948. Ishak's eldest son Halim Ishak becomes a Sri Lanka Freedom Party MCC for Kuppiyawatte East from 1963 to 1978 and SLFP MP from 1977-1994. Today Halim Ishak's eldest son, Haniffa, is occupying a seat in the Colombo Municipality.

After Proctor Haniffa's withdrawal from active civic politics, one of his sons, M.H. Mohamed, won the Maligawatte Ward and retained it without a break from 1947 to 1965 when he successfully entered the Parliament as MP for Borella and was appointed as a Cabinet Minister.

M.H. Mohamed, who had the honour of becoming the first-ever Muslim Mayor of Colombo in 1959, later became the Speaker of the Parliament, besides holding several Cabinet portfolios.

M.H. Mohamed's eldest son Hussain Mohamed succeeded his father to represent the Maligawatte ward from the early 70s and himself became a Mayor of Colombo.
Thus, the Maligawatte ward remained a pocket borough of Proctor Haniffa's family from 1944 onwards. At present both Hussein and his younger brother Shahul Hameed (Sons of M.H Mohamed) are members of the Western Provincial Council.

Proctor Haniffa's eldest son Munas was a prominent figure in political and business spheres. Munas produced several popular Sinhala and Tamil films and his only daughter Sithy Nazly Married S.H.M. Zubair Farouqe of Ceylon Civil Service who was first Muslim to occupy the post of Registrar General of Sri Lanka in early 1970s and is now a Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Another son of Haniffa, Jaufer Sadique, was the first Muslim public servant to serve as the Chief Assessor of the Colombo Municipality in the 1960.

The first Muslim to rise to the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police and to become the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives in 1947 was M. Ismail the elder son of Meera Lebbe who was the elder brother of Haniffa's father. Professor Mahroo of Ismail and Dr. Ifthikar Ismail are SSP Ismail's children who play a leading role in their respective fields.

Proctor Haniffa was a great Philanthropist who always shunned publicity.
It was Haniffa who set up the Arabic School at the Mina Mosque at the Dematagoda Road, a mosque built by his father. He also helped build a number of educational institutions, both Islamic and secular in South India. The Muslim Community honoured Haniffa by appointing him as a member of the first Board of Trustees of the Maradana Jummah Mosque in 1924 when he was just 31 years.

The Tamil-speaking Muslims in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere are ever grateful to Proctor Haniffa because it was his outright financial contribution of Rs. 50,000 in 1946 that enabled the publication of the first-ever Tamil Nadu in 1949, thus fulfilling a long felt need. It was an astronomical sum at that time indeed. Unfortunately, Haniffa was not amongst the living when the Tamil version saw the light of the day.

Haniffa a proud of father of 21 children peacefully asset away on March 25 1949 at the age of 56 at his spacious bungalow, "Dharul Mina" (formerly Horton House) at Horton Place and was interred at the Kuppiyawate Muslim burial groups.
Though 53 years have passed since the demise of Proctor Haniffa, he has left an indelible mark in the Muslim community and is still respectfully remembered as a great humanist for the yeomen service he rendered both to the Muslims and other people with discrimination. May Allah grant him Jennethul Firdhouse.

- Al Haj M. Ashroff Hussain - Daily News, Monday Mar 25, 2002


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