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Dr. T. B. Jayah: the politician, freedom fighter and brilliant orator

by Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer, M.P., Minister of Parliamentary Affairs - Fri May 31 2002


Dr. T. B. Jayah 

Jayah... that very name evokes pleasant memories among us, a remarkable personality in the history of Sri Lanka and a peerless Malay Muslim leader. I can assuredly say that without his immense contribution in the field of education, politics, diplomacy and social work, the Muslim community of Sri Lanka would not be holding its head as high as it is today.

Jayah the educationist, almost single-handedly managed to elevate Zahira College Maradana from a tottering elementary school to a brilliant seat of learning. The College brought dignity to the Muslim community in no small measure. Those who learnt under his stewardship rose to highest position in society: Desamanya M. A. Bakeer Markar Dr. Badi-u-din Mahmud, M. L. M. Aboosally, M. H. M. Naina Marikkar, Justices M. M. Abdul Cader, A. M. Ameen and M. A. M. Hussain, former Attorney General A. C. M. Ameer, Professor A. M. M. Mackeen of the University of Malaya, and renowned sportsmen of the calibre of Albert Perera and Ben Navaratne are just to name a few who achieved great heights in their respective positions and were the proud children of Mother Lanka.

One would never be able to mention Zahira College without associating Dr. Jayah's name with it.

In 1935 he was appointed to the State Council and served on the Executive Committee of Education. Along with Sir Razik Fareed, he toured the length and breadth of the country and impressed on the Muslim parents the need to give education to their children. Zahira's sister schools in Gampola, Matale, Aluthgama, Puttalam, Mawanella, Slave Island and elsewhere were the results of their untiring efforts to impart both secular and religious education among Muslim children throughout the country. Dr. Jayah also fought for the rights of teachers and was largely responsible for the establishment of a pension scheme for them.

Jayah the politician, freedom fighter and a brilliant orator, his efforts to bring freedom to our beloved motherland from the colonial shackles are second to none. When the British expressed reservation about granting freedom to us on the grounds of possible discrimination of minorities by the majority, it was Dr. Jayah who rose to the occasion. He made an eloquent speech on the Dominion Bill in the State Council, very determinedly and forcefully assuring all those who are concerned that such a situation would not arise.

"We should fight for national independence without opting for any pre condition", he declared on that momentous occasion.

For him, self-respect of the nation as a whole was the most important ingredient for gaining independence. Subsequently it was accepted by many Sinhalese leaders that it was indeed an epoch making speech that paved the path to freedom.

In the Cabinet of D. S. Senanayake he held the portfolio of Labour and Social Services. As a Minister he was responsible in passing several enactments for the benefit of the working class.

Jayah, the diplomat par excellence, was Sri Lanka's first High Commissioner in Pakistan. In that newly created nation he even helped Prime Minister Liyaqath Ali Khan in the drafting of its Constitution. His contribution in the relations between the two countries was such that when Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala visited Pakistan the Pakistani Government requested him to allow Dr. Jayah to remain there for a longer period to which Sir John readily agreed.

The bonds between the two countries grew to such an extent that Pakistan has since on every occasion when demanded willingly come to the rescue of Sri Lanka. The Pakistani Government even offered him the citizenship of Pakistan an honour no other diplomat could boast of.

Jayah, the great student of Islamic history was a deeply religious man. He fervently believed all his belongings and his knowledge be used for the benefit of his fellowmen. He loved humanity. Never a harsh word did he speak. He had a monumental patience. He accepted happiness and sorrow as inevitable as the work of God.

It was for these that he had the all sought for death while performing the pilgrimage to Mecca, and that too in the Holy City of Medina, (where the Prophet himself passed away), on 31 May 1960. He lies buried with the companions of the Prophet.

Jayah, his memories linger among us always. He passed away 42 years ago but his name still lives among us, for he was no ordinary man, as Allah (S) reminded us in the Qur'an: "do not think those who died in the cause of Allah are dead, rather they are alive and well!"

The Malay community has given mother Lanka many distinguished sons. It is my fervent hope that the community will continue to produce worthy citizens such as Dr. T. B. Jayah who brought honour to the Malay community - nay the entire nation.

Dr. T.B. Jayah - the visionary

by Dr. M.S. Jaldeen

Dr. T.B. Jayah was undoubtedly a pioneer, a visionary and a leader. This article is an attempt to portray the extent to which, what he envisioned, nearly a century ago, had become a reality.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in November, 1921 to be exact, speaking about the backwardness of the Muslim community as regards education said:-

"...Think of the large number of Muslim children who are being more or less denied the priceless blessings of education.... if they are to ask themselves the question, they themselves were to blame for that state of things. They had allowed matters to go on with the result that they found themselves in a really awkward position as compared with the other communities for the island who had made vast strides of progress."

He, therefore, emphasized that:

"The supreme need of the hour is education, not merely elementary education, not mere half-hearted education, but an education that will turn out heroes and heroines, leaders and reformers, thinkers and philosophers, an education that will make us a progressive enlightened and powerful minority."

In 1924 at a Mass meeting he bemoaned the:

"....humiliating condition of the community and who realized that unless definite steps were taken to bring home to the Muslims the supreme need of education the time would come when ignorance would sap the foundation of Muslim society and cause its economic decay. Fired with this new born enthusiasm and inspired as they had been by the splendid traditions of Islam they set out in right earnest to raise the people from their lethargy."

Dr. Jayah pointed out that the Muslim community was:

".....A backward community, for on looking at their public life in the country, the public service, the learned professions - where are the distinguished Muslims to be found?........ Their backward position today was due to the utter disregard of the educational advantages which other communities availed themselves of, which ought to put them to shame. It was an admitted fact that their community was a whole did not take sufficient interest in education. It was a shameful confession to make. Yet they must make it, especially knowing as they did, that they were the inheritors of a glorious past."

Perhaps because of these exhortations, there were positive results even during his lifetime. In 1946, Dr. Ivor Jennings, the Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, writing to the "The Crescent" - Golden Jubilee indicated that:-

"When the University was formed in 1942, there were 904 students, of whom 25 were Muslims and today there are 1902 students, of whom 37 are Muslims. The University figures include, of course, the Faculty of Medicine, but in the other Faculties, which replaced the University College, there are 894 students, of whom 27 are Muslims.

Thus from 1928 to 1946 the number of students in Arts and Science has increased by 184% and the number of Muslim students in those Faculties by 800%. Proportionately the number is still small; but in education it is easier to multiply a large number than to multiply a small one. Because each generation has to educate its successors. The figures therefore bear witness to the effort devoted to Muslim education over the past 25 years."

Now in the 21st century let us take a head count of what the Muslim community has achieved. We have Cabinet Minister (not forgetting that Dr. Jayah who was the first Muslim to hold the portfolio of Minister of Labour and Social Services in the first Cabinet of independent Sri Lanka), Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors, Municipal Councillors, holders of high post in the Public and Education Services, in the armed forces and Police; in the field of law, Judges (of the highest Court to the lowest), lawyers; in the field of medicine, Professors, Surgeons, Specialists, General Practitioners; in the field of science, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers; in the field of Information Technology and Computer Science; in the field of business and commerce, Company Directors, Executive officers, heads of professional bodies; in the field of arts and culture, musicians, artists, film directors, in the field of education, Professors, senior lecturers, principals; in the playing fields, ruggerites, soccerites, billiard players, just to name a few.

In asmuchas Jayah envisioned the desirability of education in the upliftment of Muslims, he also emphasized that the community to survive, in a multi-lingual, multi-religious nation like ours, was only possible by projecting the community on to the political arena.

This ideal is best understood by a brief study of the political creed of Dr. Jayah. It is a well-known fact that he was drawn into politics while engaged as an educationist - Principal of Zahira College.

Dr. Jayah's selection to the Legislative Council in 1924 was a result of the agitation for increased representation of Muslims to that body. The Ceylon Moor Union formed in 1900 and replaced by the Ceylon Muslim Association founded in 1920 spearheaded these. Consequently, Muslim representation was increased to three members, Jayah being elected Third Mohammedan Member (and later referred to as Muslim Member on the initiative made by him).

Even as a member of the Legislative Council he advocated increased spending on education, the establishment of schools and increased teacher salaries. In 1925 he supported the motion for granting of leave to government servants to attend Jummah prayers.

In the meanwhile, the Donoughmore Commissioners had recommended universal adult franchise based on domicile, extending the vote to the Indian immigrant population shutting out representation to the minority communities particularly the Muslims. Several memorials were presented to the Colonial Office, Dr. Jayah being the leader of the Muslim delegation that went to England to present them.

Nevertheless, on the recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission, the State Council was established and Jayah lost the elections. Fortunately he was nominated to the Council which enabled him to espouse the cause of expanded representation of Muslims, which was debated in the State Council itself. This was consequent to the several demands of the minorities and the Secretary of State authorizing discussion of the matter in the Council which resulted in the Reforms Debate of 1937.

Speaking in the Council as regards the Reform Debate, Dr. Jayah who spoke for three hours said, inter alia:-

"But I think I have to show you that in this great struggle for political freedom, freedom not only for one community but for all communities the minorities have been always prepared to contribute their share."

and elsewhere in the same speech:-

"That is why, Sir, on the 2nd March, Muslims from all parts of the island assembled in their hundreds and thousands, and perhaps they would have assembled in their millions if there had been millions in this country, to give expression to the feelings that were uppermost in their minds. On that occasion definite resolutions were adopted to be placed before the authorities and before this House. That meeting of Muslims consisting of all shades of opinion, ............. all of them without exception took part in this meeting because they felt that the occasion demanded their presence - resolved on behalf of a united Muslim community to put forward the demand for balanced representation in which Muslims will have eight representatives in a Council of sixty-eight Members." And again:-

...."But I can say this much of the Muslim community, that the Muslims to a man stand by the demand they put forward at their public meeting and if the Board of Ministers or others who think they are in power think that they can brush aside the united wishes of a community like that I can only say that they are doing something which is calculated to harm not only the country but even themselves....."

The paramount consideration was national interest above communal (or Muslim) ones, when he says as a Muslim:-

"We might stand up for our community, but it cannot be said that we have stood against the interests of the country as a whole. I have always said, and I repeat it today, that I consider the interests of the country as a whole, to be paramount." Because:-

"....if we are going to have a party system on definite political and economic lines, we cannot have a communal majority party, under whatever name it may be disguised. We cannot have a communal majority invested with plenary powers. Such a majority would prove to be not only a great tyranny but a curse to the country."

The thrust of the speech was this:-

"As far as the Muslim community is concerned our position is bad enough under the Donoughmore Constitution; we have been reduced to a position of helplessness. There is not a single elected Muslim Member in this Council and if there is no amendment of the Constitution our position will continue to be as bad as ever. Therefore we are very keen that the constitution should be amended."

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, there was a deceleration of the demand for constitutional reforms.

Nevertheless, in February, 1940, there was a constitutional crisis resulting from the Governor usurping the powers of the Council and/or the Ministers over the Bracegirdle and the Moolaya Estate incidents. D.S. Senanayake and six other members resigned and later withdrew when the Governor relented by agreeing that a Select Committee studies the measure. By 1941, agitation for reforms was re-started which by 1942 was by way of a resolution of the State Council demanding "conferment of Dominion Status to Ceylon after the war."

Although the United Kingdom government called upon the Board of Ministers to draft a Constitution, which was started by had to abandon it as the Soulbury Commissioners were appointed.

In 1944, the Soulbury Report and the UK government White Paper was debated in the Council. Dr. Jayah spoke because he was in a position to say that the "......Muslim Members of this Council have the fullest backing of the Muslim community in this island." He took up the position that even if the country was not offered full Dominion Status we should accept whatever is granted and thereafter work out a scheme of complete freedom for all communities, all of them working together to achieve that goal. His speech was commended by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who said:-

"The Hon'ble Member, Mr. Jayah, has made a speech today that will have a great effect in bring about unity among the people of this country, in bringing some sense of reality to this struggle, however it may shape, that we are going to undertake to obtain a satisfactory measure of freedom. ..............

.........There is provided in this Bill a scheme of representation under which the Muslim Community more than any other community in this country might suffer, in this form in which it appears, but yet he himself was so sincerely determined to work for the main idea of freedom that he was prepared to vote for the principle embodied in the Bill. But I can give the nominated Member (Mr. Jayah) this assurance on behalf of, I think, the vast majority, at least of the community that I represent, that in the struggle for freedom, whatever may or may not be the recommendations of the Soulbury Commission on representation, he may be rest assured, that I will be quite prepared to consider any reasonable point of view that he might put forward."

The matter was resolved, however, D.S. Senanayake decided that the Soulbury Report as modified by the White Paper be accepted for the interim period on 3rd November, 1946. Elections to Parliament were to be held shortly. By, September, 1946, the United National Party had been formed, the All Ceylon Moors Association and the All Ceylon Muslim League joined the party (as did the Sinhala Maha Sabha led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike).

Dr. Jayah contested the three-member Colombo Central seat and was elected the Second Member for that electorate.

History records that thereafter he became the first Muslim Minister in the first Cabinet of the first Parliament of Ceylon as the Minister for Labour and Social Services. We also know that he was later the High Commissioner of Ceylon in Pakistan. And then on the 13th May, 1960 on a visit to inspect and finalize the Ceylon House project at Mecca he fell ill and on the 31st May, 1960 - the 9th day of Zul Haj passed away and was buried in the Holy City of Mecca.

In retrospect we can be assured that Dr. T.B. Jayah has, as a Muslim, contributed greatly to the political scenario of our country.

(Excerpts of the speeches and most of the facts have been gleaned from the book "T.B. Jayah - A National Hero of Sri Lanka" by the same author. Published by the Law Publishers Association, 1996)

Dr. Jayah: A perfectionist in all his undertakings

By A.H.M. Azwer

"I must say at the outset that I am strongly in favour of Dominion Status for this country. From the very beginning, when I was connected with the Ceylon National Congress

I have stood up for freedom for this country. And even as a member of the Ceylon Muslim League, it has been my chief and primary aim to see that this country gets freedom which is its birthright…"

The voice of T. B. Jayah echoed in the State Council in late 1945 on the motion for the acceptance of the White Paper proposals for self -government when it was debated in Parliament. He was a freedom fighter in his own terms. His brilliant oratory no doubt helped our beloved motherland to come out of the colonial shackles.  

When the British expressed reservation about granting freedom to us on the grounds of possible discrimination of minorities by the majority, it was again Dr. Jayah who rose to the occasion and very determinedly and forcefully said, "We should fight for national independence without opting for any precondition."  

For him, self-respect of the nation as a whole was the most important ingredient for gaining independence.  

By that frank and forceful expression, Dr. Jayah defined the attitude of the Muslim Community and therefore earned the gratitude for generations still unborn. Subsequently it was accepted by many Sinhalese leaders that it was indeed an epoch-making speech that paved the path to freedom. The immediate effect of Dr. Jayah's utterance could be gauged by the remarks made on that day by Mr. Bandaranaike, who said, "I say, that if any member has brought closer the achievement of agreement among the various sections of the people of the country by an attitude of generosity where even those with whom he is concerned stand to suffer. I say the fullest credit must go more than to anyone else among us to the Nominated Member Mr. Jayah. He has made a speech today that will have a great effect in bringing unity among the people of this country, in bringing some sense of reality to the struggle."  

Dr. Jayah always promoted national politics as the ideal system of governance in Sri Lanka. For him, national unity should go hand in hand with political freedom, although he vigorously espoused the cause of Muslims. He said, "we might stand up for our community, but it cannot be said that we have stood against the interest of the country as a whole. I have always said, and I repeat today, that I consider the interest of the country as a whole to be paramount."  

"If we are going to have a party system on definite political and economic likes, we cannot have communal majority parties under whatever names it may be disguised. We cannot have a communal majority invested with plenary powers. Such a majority would prove to be not only a great tyranny but also a curse to the country."  

Indeed it was Dr. Jayah who seconded the resolution to form the United National Party which was moved by Mr. S. Natesan, M.P. for Kankasanthurai on 6th September 1946 at Palm Court, Albert Crescent. The resolution was passed unanimously and Dr. T.B. Jayah was elected as one of its Vice Presidents.  

Born on 01st January 1890 at Galagedera, young Jayah was educated at St. Thomas' College, Modera. He passed the Cambridge Junior Examination and won a scholarship to study in England. He was a trained teacher by profession having passed his London Bachelor of Arts examination in 1911. Subsequently, he held the position of Chairman, Samasta Lanka Guru Sangamaya. Dr. Jayah first taught at Dharmaraja, Kandy, then Prince of Wales, Moratuwa and at Ananda, Colombo. It is from this Buddhist seat of learning that Jayah's greatness began to flow. He had the unique distinction of having tutored some of the greatest Leftist and Marxist leaders of the country, viz. Philip Gunawardene, Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, Robert Gunawardene etc.  

It was the golden-era of P. de S. Kularatne at Ananda and the anti-imperialist agitation was at its peak in Sri Lanka and the fever was felt in schools as well. Students of Ananda College too joined in the campaign. Young and radical Philip who later became the father of socialism in Sri Lanka was debarred from attending classes for his anti-British campaign. But student Philip was taken care of by his teacher Jayah, who took him to his house 'Fairlight,' at nearby Stafford Place and gave tuition for him to pass the examinations. Later, when Philip Gunawardena qualified from Wisconsin University, USA, he wrote to his mentor Jayah; "Sir, if not for you, I would never have been able to come to this position...."  

Dr. Jayah was the foremost Muslim educationist of this country. He has been described as the Sir Seyed Ahmed Khan of Sri Lanka, who was the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University in India. He elevated Zahira College from being a tottering elementary school to one of the foremost educational institutes in Sri Lanka. Zahira College became the radiating centre of Muslim thought and activity under his guidance.  

He set up branches of Zahira College in various parts of the Island in Aluthgama, Matale, Puttalam, Gampola and Slave Island.  

In November 1923, Dr. Jayah said, "the supreme need of the hour is education, not merely elementary education, not mere half hearted education, but an education that will turn heroes and heroines, leaders and reformers, thinkers and philosophers, an education that will make us a progressive, enlightened and powerful minority".  

In 1924, Dr. Jayah said that the Muslim community was "a backward community, for on looking at their public life in the country, the public services, the learned professions, where are the distinguished Muslims to be found? Their backward position today was due to the utter disregard to the educational advantages, which other communities avail themselves of, which ought to put them to shame. It was an admitted fact, that their community as a whole did not take sufficient interest in education.  

It was a shameful confession to make. Yet, they must make it, especially knowing as they did that they were the inheritors of a glorious past."

Dr. Jayah roused the Muslims from their lethargy and helped them to make giant strides in the sphere of education. Dr. Jayah was elected as a Member of the Legislative Council in 1923. He was nominated to the State Council in 1936 and was elected to the Sate Council in 1947 when he became the Minister of Labour.  

Dr. T.B. Jayah supporting in the State Council, the adoption of the Soulbury Scheme of Reforms said, "where the Muslims are concerned, it has been the practice, in fact it has been considered the duty of Muslims wherever they may find themselves, that they should be first and foremost in any movement that is intended to secure for the people of the country a full measure of freedom. If the fight is for full freedom, the Muslim community as far as it is concerned, will be prepared to work without any safeguards, because they know the spell of freedom can obliterate any differences."

Dr. Jayah was a diplomat par excellence. He was Sri Lanka's first High Commissioner to Pakistan. In the newly created nation of Pakistan he even helped Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in the drafting of the Pakistan Constitution.  

His contribution to the relations between the two countries, Sri Lanka and Pakistan was such that when the Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala visited Pakistan, the Government requested him to allow Dr. Jayah to remain there for a longer period to which Sir John readily agreed. The Pakistan Government even offered him citizenship-an honour no other diplomat could boast of.

Dr. Jayah was an eminent exponent of Islam, being so well versed with the Islamic religion, its culture and its civilisation. In 1936, Dr. Jayah was invited to deliver a lecture at the Jawatte Muslim burial grounds.  

The subject was the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and the tragedy at Karbala. Justice M. T. Akbar, who was the Senior Puisne Justice of Ceylon, presided at this meeting. Justice Akbar commented after Dr. Jayah's speech was delivered. His oration was very illuminating.  

He said, "you have just now listened to Mr. T .B. Jayah, who spoke for nearly two hours, displaying great erudition and learning on Islam by his stirring oration. It looked as if Imam Hussein was martyred at the Jawatte burial grounds and not at Karbala. In other words, Mr. Jayah re- enacted the tragedy of Karbala at the Jawatte burial grounds."  

In the arena of world politics, he was an arch-supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Hand in hand with contemporary Muslim leaders such as Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel, M.A.C.M. Saleh, O.K. Mohideen Sahib, S.H.M. Mashoor, S.M. Sahabdeen, M.A. Bakeer Markar, M.H. Amit, A.L.M. Hashim, and veteran journalists of the calibre of A.L.M. Kiyas, M.K.M Aboobucker and a host of young turks of his time, he influenced the thoughts of British Raj, in our freedom struggle as well as on the Palestinian issue.

Dr. Jayah was a perfectionist in every field of activity. He was highly disciplined. It will be of great interest to note what he had written in his diary, which was in the possession of his eldest son, T. A. Jayah. It is stated there, that Dr. Jayah never failed to attend a single sitting in the Legislature, was always present in the House before the Mace was brought in by the Sergeant-at-arms followed by the Speaker. Herein lies a great example for the present generation of Parliamentarians.  

Many tributes have been paid to Dr. Jayah by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, both here and abroad. But the greatest tribute to his greatness comes from Almighty Allah who has destined for him a place in Jennathul Baqi in Madinah where the Holy Prophet and His companions are laid to rest.  

The beckoning was on 31 st May1960, prior to performing Hajj, where he was visiting with the objective of acquiring a building to house the pilgrims from Ceylon. By the help of God Almighty, Jayah was able to establish the 'Ceylon House,' following his discussions with His Majesty the King Faisal Ibn Abdul Aziz. (The writer is the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs)

     

Daily Mirror Sat, May 31,2003,

Daily News 2,June 2003