Noordeen Hajiar Abdul Caffoor Hajiar (NDH Abdul Caffoor)
The Arabs who settled in the maritime coast, particularly in Beruwela, had expert knowledge of gems and precious stones. They penetrated into the gemming centers and did considerable mining for these precious stones. The ancestors of Abdul Caffoor started gemming in this area. They took their stones to Colombo where the Arab navigators bought Ceylon produce in the warehouses of the "Yons" or "Yonakas", later known as "Moors".This family made Colombo their permanent residence and continued their gemming activities at Asthen Korale at Eheliyagoda. The earliest known record of Abdul Caffoor’s ancestors name in a public document is in 1840 where Samosothen Lebbe Cassim Lebbe appears in a list of seventy four contributors for the purchase of a property for Maradana Mosque.
Cassim Lebbe had several sons:-
- Noordeen Hajiar - father of N.D.H.Abdul Hameed, Caffoor, Careem, Cader & Wahab
- Samsudeen Shroff Mudaliyar of Colombo Kachcheri - father of Haji Cassim, a Trustee of Maradana Mosque, who had two sons, Mohideen Cassim and Ilyas Cassim
- Rahmatullah alias Periya Thamby - father of P.T.M.Kiyas of St. Joseph’s Street, Grandpass
- Abdul Rahman - father of Dr. A.R.M.Waffarn
Cassim Lebbe’s male lineal ascendants in reverse chronological order are:-
Samsathen Lebbe - Bahaudeen - Noordeen - Rahmatullah - Abdul Rahman
Cassim Lebbe married the widow Ummu Hany, a daughter of Oduma Lebbe Marikar Sekadi Marikar. She was the younger sister of S.M. Cassim Lebbe Marikar (Mudaliyar).
Noordeen Hajiar, besides carrying on his own business, was one of the Commissioners selected by the Municipality to value Colombo properties for the recovery of rates.
His brother, Samsudeen Shroff Mudaliyar, carried the stately features of the Arab origin of his family that Governor Gregory and Lord Stanley doubted that he was a native of Ceylon, based on his appearance. Another brother was Sheikh Abdul Cader Marikar, Shroff of the Treasury and grandfather of Nazli Samsudeen (Duke). Another son was C.L.Rahmatullah, alias Periya Thamby, a gem merchant in whose shop Abdul Caffoor learnt the gem trade.
Abdul Caffoor started his gems and jewellery business at Bristol Hotel building in 1894. He had special permission to board the ships that called at the Colombo harbour and sell his gems and jewellery to the sailors. By special command, Abdul Caffoor was allowed the privilege of exhibiting pearls, diamonds, rubies and sapphires and art works to the Prince and Princess of Wales at the Kandy Pavilion, during their Royal visit in 1901. His stall was given a prominent place at the Wembley Exhibition in 1924 and Her Majesty Queen Mary personally visited his pavillion and made purchases. It was by sheer merit that he achieved success.
At his own expense he took part in a series of world exhibitions which, while increasing his own reputation, brought publicity to the Island. Some of the exhibitions in which he participated were, the St. Louis Exhibition in USA in 1903, All Ceylon Exhibition in 1912, the British Expire Exhibition in 1924 and the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1925. His gems were considered some of the finest collections to be exhibited in the USA. When he returned to Ceylon after the Wembley Exhibition, the then Governor of Ceylon congratulated him on "the valuable work done".
Among the many Muslim institutions that benifited from Abdul Caffoor’s philanthrophy was the Zahira College. He built and equipped a complete Science block, in addition to building sixteen classrooms for the school. Further he donated a sum of Rs. 100,000 to inaugurate a building scheme for Zahira College Hostel and also donated 18 acres of land at Maharagama to be utilized for practical schools. The branch schools of Zahira College also received his generous gifts, as also many Mosques throughout the Island, the Deaf and Blind School at Ratmalana, and the Boy’s Industrial School at Maharagama. The major cost of building Masjid Muhiyadeen at Messenger Street, Colomso, with its striking Minarets and Saracenic horeshoe arches, was borne by him.
Later, in 1932, he established a Muslim Theological Institute, known as the Ghaffooria Arabic College, for the study of Arabic, at Maharagama. He has endowed the institute with a premises at Grandpass valued at five hundred thousand rupees. The Ghaffoor Trust has been established for the purpose of promoting the education of Muslims. It is endowed with the Gaffoor building in the Fort, valued at four million rupees.
When His Excellency Governor General Sir Henry Moore unveiled the portrait of Abdul Caffoor at Zahira College on March 1, 1949, he said, "that the portrait would not only be a lasting memorial but also serve as an encouragement to others to emulate him". Further His Excellency said, "Wherever he travelled, he maintained the highest traditions of business and promoted the best interests of Ceylon, and, despite his great business acumen andthe wealth he acquired, he lived a simple life according to the devout Muslim tradition, and he was always happy to share his wealth with the needy and the less fortunate".
Mr. A.M.A.Azeez, Principal of Zahira College, said referring to Abdul Caffoor, "his charity was not the kind that was alloyed with local or Imperial honours or with places in the Councils of the realm. In his charity there was no ostentation displayed and there was no applause sought. In the true Muslim way he concealed his charity so much that his left hand did not know what his right hand spent".
Comparing him to the Carnegies and the Rocerfellers, Mr. Azeez added that he had not only given abundantly in his lifetime but had also provided for abundant giving even after his death.
Relating an incident in which the late Abdul Caffoor had proved his integrity and sense of fair play, Mr. A.F.Molamure, Speaker of the House of Representatives, stated at a meeting at Zahira College, that, as a businessman it was difficult to find his equal in honesty. His father had offered a stone to Abdul Caffoor and had wanted forty five thousand rupees for it. Abdul Caffoor had given him sixty five thousand insisting that that was its correct value.
In the Memorandum of the Ceylon Moor’s Association to the Chairman and Members of the Royal Commission on Constitutional Reform, submitted on January 20, 1945, the following reference is made to the munificence of Abdul Caffoor: "the endowment of a property worth 20 lakhs of rupees in the heart of the city of Colombo by a Ceylon Moor as gift to the nation is unprecedented in the history of the Island".
At a lecture in 1945, at the Moor’s Islamic Cultural Home, Dr. W. Balendra LMS (Cey), FRCS, LDS (Eng), LRCP (London), referring to Abdul Caffoor stated,
"you come up to this Island from abroad. When the ship approaches the harbour I have come several times and what is it you find the Gem Palace (Gem Museum) standing over-looking the harbour. You go past from the harbour and you go along Galle Face and you find a series of flats, the creation of Moor business integrity, but there is something more in the Gem Palace"
"Here is a man, a native of this Island, creating wealth from unpolished stones, taking these stones to far off lands in New York, Paris and other parts of the world, bringing wealth to this country, putting up buildings (Caffoor Building) which are some of the highest in this land, but at the end giving a part of his wealth for the benefit of his fellow-men. A civilization which can produce such a man is a very high type of civilization".
"It is different from the civilization of the other races of the world. It is a civilization which asks you to look forward to some other world, a civilization which advises you to exploit the useful to man, and after exploiting it, after using it, not to possess it but to divide it among the fellow-men is a very high type of civilization".
Abdul Caffoor had a unique collection of precious stones and jewellery. In 1929 Abdul Caffoor established a Gem Museum at Church Street, Fort, Colombo. Sir Herbert Stanley, then Governor, when opening he Museum paid tribute to him for his presentation for permanent exhibition, at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, of a valuable exhibit of Ceylon stones.
His devotion to religion was deep and profound. He never missed his daily prayers even when travelling in mid winter and his entire life was characterized by piety. He had travelled extensively around the world and he visited the placeses of Islamic interest in Makkah, Madinah, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and India. many travellers enjoyed his lavish hospitality during their stay in Colombo. "Icicle Hall" (now Sri Kotha), in Colombo, was latterly his residence.
Abdul Caffoor will always be remembered, besides other things, for his philanthropy. His name is well known in many a foreign land.
He breathed his last at his residence at Colpetty, at the age of 73, and was given the honour of being buried at the Maradana Mosque ground.
His eldest son was Al Haj Falil Abdul Caffoor (1907-1980), MP (Colombo), MMC, MBE and Honorary Consul for Iraq. Falil was educated at St. Thomas’ College, Colombo. Henheld a Gem Exhibition in England and also founded the All Ceylon Muslim League of which he held the position of Deputy President. He entered politics in 1954 by contesting the CMC election and winning in 1965. Was elected MP Colombo Central in 1965. Presdient YMMA Sports Club. Director, Bank of Ceylon. Died:31-Mar-1980
Another son Mohideen Caffoor was resident in England and Muhammad Rafi Caffoor succeeded in carrying on the business. His other sons, the genial Yusuf Caffoor and the upright Zubair Caffoor pre-deceased him.