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N M Mohamed Haniffa : 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