123rd Commemoration Oration of Alhaj Dr T B Jayah
Published on: Dec 27, 2013 @ 12:36
123rd Commemoration Oration of Alhaj Dr T B Jayah, by Hon Rauff Hakeem, Leader, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Minister of Justice, Sri Lanka on January1, 2013. at 201, Wijewardene Mawatha, Colombo 10 (Muslims Ladies Zonal Education Hall).

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oday, we celebrate the memory of a great leader of the Muslim Community of Sri Lanka Al Haj Dr Tuan Burhanudeen Jayah. He was a visionary educationist, a dedicated nationalist and above all a great humanist.

He was born in the rural backwater called Galagedara in the Central Hills of Sri Lanka on 1st January 1890. That I too claim the same, the town that snuggles in quaint isolation as my home town is not a coincidence. It is only testimony to the spirit of the Muslims of Sri Lanka who live dispersed throughout the island and yet committed to preserve their proud heritage as a community that is integrated to the wider Sri Lankan identity.

Choosing between integration and assimilation

The Sri Lankan Muslim community has always had leaders such as Dr T B Jayah. He was a leader who with great skill and foresight traced the narrow path we Muslims need to traverse between integration and assimilation. We, of the Muslim community share our island home with the Sinhala majority community and the Tamil minority community. Dr Jayah is a Malay Muslim leader who was destined to present the Muslim point of view in the epochal period when Sri Lanka was drafting its constitution ending three centuries of European colonial rule.

I will not dwell at length on his career which is well documented. I hope however to draw some inferences from his writings and speeches that would help us to understand some of the issues that preoccupy us today.

There is one aspect of his illustrious career that needs to be repeated. I do that because it explains Dr T B Jayah, the person.  He accepted the invitation of the late N H M Abdul Cader to become the principal of Zahira College in 1921 at the age of 31. The school he took over was 30 years old. It was then still a tottering elementary school. In his own words, the condition of the school was dismal.

In 1948, he handed over to his handpicked successor the late A M A Azeez, the noblest legacy of his illustrious life. It was an institution with systems in place that formed the nucleus of the hopes and aspiration of the Sri Lankan Muslim Community. It was the fountain head of Muslim thought and activity of Sri Lanka.   He had raised Zahira from painful obscurity to rewarding   prominence.

It was one of the finest educational institutions of the land that had just gained its independence.  What he bequeathed was not a mere institution. He in fact passed on an enduring legacy.

D B Dhanapala the eminent Journalist who was a student of Zahira College writes to the Jubilee issue of ‘Crescent’ in 1949,  “ I am as proud as any Muslim. It has given self respect to the Muslims as Ananda has given to Buddhists. What was more, the modern maker of the school Jayah of Zahira, himself was a gift given from Ananda to Zahira.”

No dichotomy between faith and country

Dr G P Malalasekera who served as a teacher at Ananda with Dr Jayah says of Dr Jayah, ‘We were both members of the tutorial staff of Ananda College. Dr Jayah was the doyen of the academic staff of the college, highly respected by both students and teachers alike. But when the call came from his own Muslim Community, he responded to the call and left Ananda to be head of Zahira College.

I mention this simple reference by Dr G P Malalasekera to his colleague Dr T B Jayah in order to place in context the parallel process of the national resurgence of our country that both these men were destined to initiate first as Educationists then as social reformers and, politicians. They both later served as envoys of the new nation state. Dr Jayah in Pakistan and Dr Malalasekera in Russia.

Dr T B Jayah was one of the Muslim leaders who championed the cause of an Independent Sri Lanka. He aspired to make Sri Lankan Muslims to be proud citizens of the new nation state. He aspired to preserve the faith of Islam and to serve the Sri Lankan nation with equal ardour. While doing so Dr Jayah also displayed his fierce independence as the voice of the Muslims of Sri Lanka.  His words in the state council in the year 1944 have some remarkable relevance to the present day.

When Dr T B Jayah extended the support of the Muslim League to the draft constitution, he said, “I have always been standing up for a constitution which will enable the people of the country to claim their rightful place among the nations of the world. It is no use asking for a constitution unless we are sure that such a constitution will have the support of the various communities in the island. I do not think, as was rightly pointed out that any particular Member in this house can claim a monopoly of love of freedom.”

These words display the fierce independence of the man T B Jayah. They illustrate how he perceived the integrity of the people he represented. –The Muslims of Sri Lanka.

He saw no dichotomy between the faith he professed and the country he served. His colleague Dr G P Malalesekera who is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding Buddhist scholars and reformers did not see any dichotomy in his endeavours either. They were both following different paths but were united in purpose.

I need to say this, today with some emphasis.  When we speak of the life and times of men such as Dr T B Jayah we cannot help but say to our selves it was another time.

When we look back on those days, we see our leaders concerned with one overarching purpose- ‘freedom from colonial rule and the dream of an independent nation state’. This common purpose forged a civic nationalism where the individual, irrespective of ethnicity belonged to a nation, which in turn aspired to be a state. I call it civic nationalism in order to distinguish it from ethno nationalism.

A nationalism that is democratic not populist

Political supremacy was the common objective. Ethnicity and religion were no doubt important.  Yet, they were not emphasized to the extent of exclusion or denial. It was a form of nationalism that was firmly rooted in democracy.

This was the civic nationalism that brought Dr T B Jayah, Dr G P Malasekera and Dr C Suntheralingam together as teachers at Ananda College under P.de S. Kularatne. The Late C Sunderalingam who later became the Professor of mathematics of the University of Ceylon said that “Kularatne has helped the people of Ceylon to shed their inferiority complex, at least in the secondary schools. He contributed directly to a Buddhist revival and indirectly to a national revival in this Lanka of ours.”

Note the words “This Lanka of ours”.

This nationalism was democratic but not populist. They believed that through education, people could be integrated into a composite nation with a ‘high culture’ that accommodated diverse cultures. The political rights were to supersede all other rights. They did not subscribe to the notion that elite could manipulate the populace. The role of the elite was to educate and not to manipulate.

Leaders fall into many categories. Leaders emerge in times of opportunity, of peril or of transformation. Dr T B Jayah was a leader who was needed at a time when the people needed a transformational leader.  It was Dr Jayah, the leader who decided what that transformation was, why it was needed and how it should be brought about. He decided on the priority of the Muslims of the time. It was education that was needed.

He was a leader who served the people as a servant of the people. Aggressive advocacy was not his style. Spell binding oratory was not his forte. Quiet persuasion, dedicated application and well defined objectives determined his strategy in leadership.

Transformational servant-leader

Leaders come in many types. Authoritarian, prophetic, laid back, transactional, transformational etc. Dr Jayah was what is described as a servant leader.

Robert K Greenleaf who coined this term describes the servant leader accurately. “The servant-leader is servant first. He begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

This person is different from the leader who is leader first. The leader first is driven by the quest for leadership. The servant leader is pursued by the task that he is needed to execute. The leader-first and the servant first are two extreme types of leaders.  Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature, says Greenleaf a hypothesis I tend to endorse.

Dr T B Jayah was a leader who knew that intricate art of showing the way instead of pointing to the direction.  He traversed the path first so that others could follow. It is the kind of leadership that is sorely needed today. In order to lead the leader must have a goal. Leading with no goal in sight is not leading. It is misleading. The goal can be an inspiration or a consensual objective. But a definite goal defines the leader. A servant leader converts his dream into a goal and the mantle of leader descends on him not because he sought it but because he is required to do it.

We should ask ourselves how the life of Dr T B Jayah could inspire us to serve our community and our nation. In another four months comes May 2013 and we would complete four years of peace or rather the absence of war.  But it would be futile to claim that we have achieved national reconciliation. That continues to elude us.

What are the lessons we can draw from the life of Dr T B Jayah? Being an active politician I am weary of ascribing my own interpretations to history. I would rather allow the historical record to speak for itself.

Civic nationalism versus communal nationalism

The civic nationalism that forged the coalition for independence during the times of Dr T B Jayah gradually gave way to a communal nationalism.

The architect of modern India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, has described communalism as a dangerous form of neo fascism.  He had said that while both majority and minority communalisms are bad, the majority communalism is more dangerous as it presents itself under the garb of the nationalism. The minority communalism at the worst comes through as the separatist tendency, it also keeps giving provocations to the majority communalism; it keeps providing them pretexts to undertake what they want to do anyway.

As the leader of a party that represents a Minority Community today, I find the Nehruvian prognosis of communism both reassuring and disconcerting. It is reassuring because it gives me an explanation for the problems that confronts us. It is disconcerting because it tells me that there are no easy solutions. As the leader of the SLMC, I must reassure the Minority I represent and also prevent giving any pretext to the majority to do what they want any way.

I am the Minister of Justice and a member of the Cabinet. If an attempt is made to relate the recent Muslim intake to the Law College to the fact that the Minister of Justice is a Muslim, I can understand it in the light of the Nehruvian prognosis of nationalism. However, it is my task to ensure that it does not become a pretext for anti Muslim rhetoric to be unleashed.  Here, I can take solace in the fact that Leaders such as Dr T B Jayah had not only confronted the same problem but have in fact taken the proverbial bull by its horns.

Multicultural communities and the complexity of nation building

The subject of my lecture today clearly understood the complexity of nation building after the end of colonial rule. In the early 1930s Dr Jayah addressed the Ceylon Students in London. A student who was to become a well known Sama Samaja leader asked him “You speak of unity. How can you have unity when you advocate communal representation? How are you going to bring about unity in this country?”

Dr Jayah says “I asked him a counter question. ‘Do you suggest that in Ceylon, unity should be brought about by a fusion of the races? Do you suggest that the Sinhalese with their age-old traditions with their historic past, with all that, they have done for this country, should shed their racial garb and after undergoing a process of this evolution should transform themselves into a Ceylonese community? Similarly, should the Tamils, with a civilization dating back to hoary antiquity with all their Tamil culture behind them, sink their individuality and be content to join with other communities in making a Ceylonese nation?  Should the Muslims with all that dynamic Islam stands for, efface themselves in such a way that they should join in this artificial union and call themselves a Ceylonese community’?”.

Dr Jayah then continues, “They probably expected some spiritual union, some union which at the time could not be expressed, which could be labeled a Ceylonese community, a Ceylon Nation. I took up the position that we were very anxious for a united Ceylon which would take into account the existing communities which had lived here for generations and which were going to live here for generations.”

Dr T B Jayah ended his peroration on the reforms bill in the state council with an analogy that has absolute contemporary relevance:

“Swift says that Lilliput was divided into warring sections owing to differences of opinion as to the best manner of breaking an egg. I hope that Ceylon will escape that fate and the communities will escape that fate and the communities will unite and unite in such a manner that all our difficulties will be settled.”

Today, we seem to be still engaged in that old debate on the best manner of breaking an egg. Civilized societies are civilized because they accept their imperfections and are continually engaged in addressing their imperfections. Political correctness in a majority dominated society is a tyranny imposed on minorities. Let me conclude by saying, a solution is possible only if the minority could persuade the majority to move from what is legally possible to what is morally essential.  Thank you.

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