Farzana Haniffa
Social Scientists’ Association
Pamphlet No. 01
© Social Scientists’ Association 2014
ISBN 978-955-0762-24-8
Published by
Social Scientists’ Association
12, Sulaiman Terrace,
Colombo 5, Sri Lanka.
Tel: +94-11-2501339 / 2504623
Printed by
World Vision Graphics
077 2928907
(November 1945 to December 1970)
Due to the advancements in women’s education
throughout the country, and the drastic changes in gender roles
that are occurring throughout the world, Muslim women in Sri
Lanka today too are very visible in universities, private sector
companies, NGOs and other work places. The traditional
stereotype of the conservative housebound Muslim woman seems
to be a thing of the past. Unfortunately however, in keeping with
the countrywide statistics with regards to political participation
for women, Muslim women too are a significant absence in the
political sphere. In other leadership roles too, there have been
very few Muslim women. The emergence of Jezima Ismail as a
prominent educationist and Chancellor of the South Eastern
University and Ferial Ashraff as MP, former cabinet minister and
leader of the National Unity Alliance are some very recent positive
steps in this direction. They too, however, have been the focus of
much anti-female vitriolic from time to time from sections of the
However, prior to the advance of Ashraff and Ismail there
was yet another Muslim woman who made many interesting
inroads into the arenas of politics and education. This was Ayesha
Rauf (1917-1992), founder principal of Muslim Ladies’ College
and the first Muslim female municipal councilor. Ayesha Rauf
was a pioneer concerned with improving the conditions of Muslim
women’s lives. However, Rauf is a personality who has been
“hidden from history.” Fallen through the cracks even of Sri
Lankan feminist historiography, Rauf hitherto merited a short
footnote in the narratives on education, politics or the status of
Sri Lankan Muslim women.
Born in India, Rauf arrived in Sri Lanka in the immediate
aftermath of the Second World War and made an important
contribution to Muslim society in the country. Starting off as a
teacher, Rauf went on to become founder-principal of Muslim
Ladies’ College and contest municipal elections. Rauf was from
a family that was connected with Indian politics prior to
independence. Ayesha Rauf’s father, Vayaparathu Kunath Mayen,
was involved both with the Congress party and later the Muslim
League. Ayesha completed secondary school, university and her
licentiate in education in Malabar and worked as an inspector of
schools, traveling widely in the region. The Muslim community
in post-war Colombo could not make too many claims about the
success of female education in the country. Muslim girls were
only just being allowed to attend secondary schooling after the
onset of puberty, and in 1942 the community could only boast of
one female student who had entered university.
The employment
of women was only encouraged after independence.
Ayesha Rauf with several years of experience behind her easily
entered public life in Sri Lanka.
The Muslim community has often experienced catalyzing
moments in its history with the arrival of Muslims from other
places. One instance of this was the arrival in 1883 of Orabi Pasha
of Egypt who led a rebellion against the British and was exiled to
Sri Lanka. He inspired the local Muslims to give priority to
modern education and inspired the founding of Zahira College,
an English medium school for boys. Ayesha Rauf, too, bringing
a whiff of the outside world and other possibilities of modernity
pursued by Muslims elsewhere, was lined to the opening of the
first Muslim English–medium school for girls in Sri Lanka. Then
a few years later she entered politics as the first Muslim woman
municipal councilor.
The Indian Connection The Indian Connection The Indian Connection The Indian Connection The Indian Connection
Ayesha Beebi Mayen was born in 1917 in Tellicherry in
the province of Travancore-Cochin, now Kerala. Ayesha belonged
to the Mappila community, the Muslim community in Kerala.
Ayesha’s mother was Puthiya Walapul Kayumma. She had two
sisters and a brother. The four children in the family who lost
their mother when Ayesha was six years old, were raised by their
father in a somewhat unorthodox manner.
Kerala is located on a narrow fertile strip of land on the
southwestern coast of India. It is somewhat cut off from the Indian
interior by the Western Ghats mountain range. Traders have
been sailing to Kerala seeking spices, sandalwood and ivory for
over 3,000 years. The coast was known to Phoenicians, Romans,
Arabs and Chinese. Kerala was also a trans shipment point for
spices from East Asia and it was through Kerala that Chinese
products and ideas found their way to the West. European contact
with Kerala began with the 1498 arrival of Vasco Da Gama, and
consequently Europe took over the spice trade from the Arabs.
Kerala’s unique geographical position and trade history has meant
that there is a very interesting mix of populations in the area.
Kerala is also known for good relations between communities
and has not seen the level of communal tensions prevalent in
other parts of the subcontinent.
The present–day state of Kerala
was created by combining the former provinces of Travencore,
Cochin and Malabar in 1956.
The Mappilas of Kerala The Mappilas of Kerala The Mappilas of Kerala The Mappilas of Kerala The Mappilas of Kerala
The Mappila community, Ayesha belonged to are very similar in
orientation to the Moors of Sri Lanka. The Mappilas – Sunni
Muslims who followed the Shafi school of law like the Moors of
Sri Lanka – had long-ranging linguistic and cultural ties with the
Muslim community in Sri Lanka. These constituted Arabic-Tamil
literary and religious linkages through the worship of common
Sufi saints. Both communities claimed descent from Arab traders
who were plying the seas since pre-Christian times. Both
communities also developed languages that were a mixture of
the local language and Arabic: Arabu Tamil and Arabi Malayalam.
The Mappilas were long-term residents of the Malabar coast and
currently number about 7 million. They have long been politically
active and are famed for the several anti-colonial agitations since
1792 and the tragic Mappila rebellion of 1921.
The Khilafat Movement and the Mappila Rebellion of 1921 The Khilafat Movement and the Mappila Rebellion of 1921 The Khilafat Movement and the Mappila Rebellion of 1921 The Khilafat Movement and the Mappila Rebellion of 1921 The Khilafat Movement and the Mappila Rebellion of 1921
The Khilafat movement that led to the Mappila rebellion was
spawned by a global crisis that resonated with the Muslim
community in Sri Lanka as well. The issue that affected the
Muslim communities in both countries was the rising enmity
between Britain, the colonial power, and Turkey, the Caliphate
of Islam, and the dilemma of those who supported both. The
reactions of the Muslim communities in the two countries were
completely different. In the case of Sri Lanka the Muslim
community’s support for Turkey reached its zenith during the
Islamic Revival of the late 19
century. Sri Lankan Muslims saw
the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph of Islam and went to great
lengths to identify with the Caliphate. There was a massive
celebration to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Sultan’s accession
to power; funds were raised locally for the Damascus Medina
railway, and the Red Crescent fund was established to raise money
for Muslim countries fighting in the Balkan War.
The fez was
the Muslims’ chosen marker of identity/distinction and many
Muslim dignitaries in Sri Lanka used the Turkish prefix of effendi.
When Turkey entered the First World War against the
British, however, the Muslims in Sri Lanka were perturbed. Their
support for Turkey at this time would undermine their strong
position of loyalty to the colonial regime. But the Caliph of Islam
could hardly be abandoned out of hand. At a mass meeting of
Muslims called by the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA)
a communal declaration of loyalty to the British was issued; but
according to Samaraweera, the organizers were careful not to
overtly condemn Turkey for its politics. Later the trend was
quietly and almost imperceptibly towards an abandoning of their
earlier affinity to Turkey. Maintaining good relations with the
colonial master seemed to have been a high priority for the Sri
Lankan Muslim elite of the time.
In India, however, the British war against the Caliphate
spawned the Khilafat movement. According to Gopalakrishnan,
the colonial government, in order to gain their sympathy and
support during the war, gave Indian Muslims the assurance of
sympathetic treatment to Turkey at the end of the war. However,
at the end of the war the Turkish empire was dismembered by
the treaty of Versailles and Britain and France took over many of
its territories under the guise of continuous mandates. Indian
Muslims formed the Khilafat movement in protest and it was
soon active everywhere on the scale of the nationalist movement.
Understanding the importance that the Khilafat movement had
for Indian Muslims and in hope of fostering Hindu-Muslim amity,
Gandhi placed the Khilafat movement on the same level as the
agitation for home rule.
There was considerable interest in the Khilafat movement
on the part of the staunchly religious Mappila community in
Kerala as well. In August 1920, Gandhi and Muslim leader
Shaukat Ali visited Calicut and delivered powerful speeches on
the issues of Khilafat and noncooperation.
The British
government, perturbed by the interest generated by the
movement in Kerala, suppressed the Khilafat agitation using
excessive force. Simmering peasant unrest also flared up during
the time with Mappila peasants attacking several Hindu
landlords. At the height of the rebellion Mappila rebels blocked
the roads, cut the telegraph lines and destroyed railways at a
number of places. When the administration was paralyzed the
Mappilas declared Swaraj or Khilafat Raj and their leader Ali
Musapher proclaimed himself Khilafat king. The towns of Ernad
and Waluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. During this
period Khilafat currency notes appeared throughout the Madras
The British used extreme and brutal force to bring
down the rebellion. During the struggle, Mappilas accusing
Hindus of not assisting them and of supporting the British,
attacked many Hindu landlords and conducted forced
conversions. It is currently termed one of the most tragic events
of Indian history where, as a consequence of riots, many
thousands of Mappilas lost their lives.
The Khilafat movement
is also thought to have augured the beginning of religion-based
politics among the Indian Muslim community and the demise of
Hindu-Muslim cooperation that was envisaged by Gandhi.
Mappila rebellion occurred during Ayesha Mayen’s childhood.
Modernization in the 1920s Modernization in the 1920s Modernization in the 1920s Modernization in the 1920s Modernization in the 1920s
Ayesha’s father, V. Kunath Mayen, held many unorthodox views
that clashed with the accepted notions of the Mappila community.
Mayen’s determination to provide all his children, male and
female, with a sound and rigorous education was one such
revolutionary view. It even earned Mayen the nickname of “Kafir
Mayen” or the ‘infidel.’ Because of his progressive ideas on female
education, his two older daughters gained professional
qualifications at a time when, according to Ayesha, not many
Muslim women of the Mappila community were allowed to
attend secondary school.
V.K. Mayen traveled extensively and as mentioned earlier
was highly involved in politics, and thus was no doubt influenced
by the political movements of his time. Mayen was appointed
the diwan of Conmanore under the Maharajah of Conmanore.
Mayen was also the president of the Tellicherry branch of the
Indian National Congress. Later, after the formation and
ascendance of the Muslim League in southern India, Mayan
became its local president in Tellicherry. As a child, Ayesha
witnessed many heated debates on the nationalist politics of the
time. Through her father, Ayesha met many of the prominent
personalities in Indian politics. Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu and Nehru
were among the leaders to whom she was introduced on their
visits to her hometown.
Influence of T Influence of T Influence of T Influence of T Influence of Turkey urkey urkey urkey urkey
The early 1920s was the heyday of the modernization process
that swept through the colonized world. This was the time of
Mustapha Kemal (1881-1938), the Turkish reformer who came to
power in 1923 and who had revolutionary notions about the place
of women in society. During a time when the Turkish intelligentsia
was extremely influenced by the modernist tendencies afloat in
western intellectual circles, Kemal worked to institutionalize
western modernity inside Turkey. Kemal spearheaded economic
development along capitalist lines, and not only worked to
separate politics from religion, but also attacked tradition,
introduced civil marriage and divorce, and banned polygamy.
He campaigned widely for the emancipation and education of
women. Kemal had once stated, when speaking of the necessity
to educate women, “If only some of the members of a social body
are active while the rest remain inert the social body is thereby
During his reign as Turkey’s president he instigated
a variety of highly crucial reforms, including the opening of
secular educational institutions for both men and women, and
the introduction of the new civil code in 1926. Under the new law
polygamy and marriage by proxy were declared illegal. Women
were given equal rights regarding inheritance, custody of children
and divorce. The minimum age of marriage was raised to 18 for
men and 17 for women. Also Muslim women were legally
allowed to marry non-Muslim men and adults were legally
allowed to change their religion. Turkey was the first Muslim
country to adopt a civil code in place of the Shariat. Kemal also
agitated for reform in dress. Under the emergency laws that
prevailed during his time in office Kemal passed decrees on dress
reform for men. Women’s dress too became a controversial issue
and the Kemalist regime requested women to abandon the veil
in favor of western dress. Kemal hesitated at flouting tradition
through using emergency laws for abolishing the veil. However,
he vigorously campaigned against the practice. The Kemalist
reforms were celebrated throughout the world as a success story
and they were emulated in Afghanistan and Iran. Known as
‘Ataturk’ or the father of Turks, Kemal’s influence was felt
throughout the colonized world.
It is evident that some of it
filtered into the Muslim community in Kerala as well. V.K.
Mayen’s ‘progressive’ notions on women had once earned him
the title of ‘Ataturk of Malabar.’
Education in India Education in India Education in India Education in India Education in India
The British established a public education system in India.
However, Indian Muslims were slow to accept the kind of
education offered by the British and the missionaries. Regarding
all education as religious education, many Muslim clerics, in
Bengal for instance, considered education in anything other than
the literature and principles of Islam irrelevant and heretical.
Therefore, the Muslims lagged far behind the Hindus in accessing
the British system. In the 1870s, however, there were state-
sponsored measures to attract greater participation of Muslims
in state educational institutions through a broadening of the
curricula of these institutions. Education improved a good deal
in India by 1943, with increases in the number of girl students at
all levels of education – arts, colleges, professional colleges,
secondary and primary schools. Since 1947 in post-independence
India, by law every girl and boy between the ages of 6 and 14 had
to attend school. Education today is more advanced in Kerala
than in many other parts of India. There is also a higher rate of
literacy amongst the Muslims in this region than in other Indian
Although literacy rates were quite high in Malabar during
Ayesha’s childhood, rates of female higher education were still
very low. She came from one of the most orthodox and
conservative of Muslim families in the Mappila community of
Malabar. For generations women of her clan lived in ‘strictest
None of them received much education. There was
much initial apprehension amongst the Mappilas when Ayesha
Rauf and her sister took to higher education.
Early Early Early Early Early Y YY YYears in Kerala ears in Kerala ears in Kerala ears in Kerala ears in Kerala
Thanks to their father’s liberal views, Ayesha Mayen and her older
sister received an extensive education. They attended secondary
school at the Sacred Heart convent in Tellicherry where the two
Mayens were the only Muslims. Ayesha Mayen was a successful
student and was appointed head prefect during her final year.
After completing her secondary education, Ayesha Mayen went
to St. Anne’s College and later Queen Mary’s College, both
affiliated to Madras University, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts
degree. Her sister attended medical school and qualified as a
doctor, a rare achievement for a Muslim woman during those
times. Ayesha studied political science, English, French,
economics and history while at college. She played tennis and
debated for her school team. When Ayesha graduated she became
the first Mappila woman in Malabar to receive a university
After graduation Ayesha worked briefly as a teacher at a
local training college and then became an inspector of schools.
Her first appointment was as sub inspector in Malabar. But her
job as an inspector, since it involved extensive amounts of
independent travel, was looked upon with disfavor by the Muslim
community. “When I began my work I had many a threatening
letter from fellow Muslims saying I was a disgrace,” Mayen once
stated (Sunday Observer, 10 January 1988). Furthermore, the fact
that she lived on her own with a maidservant caused much
Subsequently, Mayen began to work with her brother
who was also an inspector of schools. After some time as a sub-
inspector, Mayen went on to pursue a postgraduate licentiate in
education at the Lady Wellington Training College in Madras.
After achieving her licentiate, Mayen was appointed to a special
post as officer for Muslim education in the Madras Educational
She worked in this capacity for four years until her
Muslim Girls’ Education Muslim Girls’ Education Muslim Girls’ Education Muslim Girls’ Education Muslim Girls’ Education
During her four years as special officer for Muslim education,
Ayesha Mayen worked towards increasing the standard of
Muslim girls’ education in the area. One of her very first projects
was the opening of a number of small elementary schools for
Muslim girls. Though received with caution at first, these schools
soon flourished. Encouraged by the success of this elementary
education scheme, Ayesha moved on to the rather more
challenging realm of secondary schools. She was instrumental in
the opening of a high school for girls in the south of Malabar.
This school was a highly ambitious project with an initial student
body of 200 and its own hostel facilities. Ten years after its
opening, the school became one of the most important educational
institutions in the region.
During this time Mayen was also
involved with several local Muslim women’s organizations
engaged in community-based activities.
Ayesha Mayen was readily recognized and highly
regarded within her community in Kerala as a proponent of
greater rights for women. A letter of reference for her written by
a prominent member of the Mappila community states that
Ayesha Mayen was “keenly interested in the emancipation of her
sex in her community.” Not only was her career a milestone in
the history of female education among the Mappilas, but it was
also “a matter of vital importance to the cause of ameliorating
the conditions of Mappila women folk.”
Her contribution to the
community continued until her 1944 marriage to the Ceylonese
M.S.M. Rauf. She subsequently migrated to Ceylon with her
Arrival in Ceylon Arrival in Ceylon Arrival in Ceylon Arrival in Ceylon Arrival in Ceylon
Ayesha’s husband, M.S.M. Rauf, was a Ceylonese businessman
who lived in Coimbatore, India, in the 1940s. Rauf met Ayesha
Mayen through her superior, the assistant director of education,
who was a close friend. After a brief courtship, which, in deference
to the wishes of their respective communities, was conducted
exclusively through correspondence, the couple was married on
3 February 1943. The wedding took place in Coimbatore with the
apprehensive consent of M.S.M. Rauf’s parents. (Rauf’s family
felt that a woman with Ayesha’s superior education would not
be suitable for a son who had barely completed secondary
) Rauf’s father, C.M.M. Sheriff attended the wedding
and a year later the couple left for Colombo.
M.S.M. Rauf hailed from a family of business people from
Ganetenne in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. His father, moved to
Colombo as a child and later worked with his uncle, a shop owner.
He subsequently started up his own ventures and during the 1920s
sustained himself as an umbrella merchant. His shop was closed
during the depression of the 1930s. Sherif also ran one of
Colombo’s first grinding mills at Old Moor Street. M.S.M. Rauf
was the eldest in a family of seven. As a child, he attended Zahira
College, Colombo, during the time of T.B. Jayah’s principalship.
He studied up to the Junior Cambridge examination, and joined
his father in business. M.S.M. Rauf, with his brother Nizar,
managed a hardware store at Quarry Road, Colombo, until the
outbreak of the Second World War. At the inception of the war,
under the name of the Hafira Trading Company, then registered
under the name of Rauf’s brother-in-law M.H.M. Munas, Rauf
landed the very lucrative contract to supply the British army with
vegetable produce from southern India. The venture was
undertaken in 1941, financed by Rauf’s mother Hameeda Umma.
M.S.M. Rauf ran the Indian end of the business from Coimbatore.
It was while he was thus employed in India that Rauf met and
married Ayesha Mayen.
Muslim Identity in the Thirties and Forties Muslim Identity in the Thirties and Forties Muslim Identity in the Thirties and Forties Muslim Identity in the Thirties and Forties Muslim Identity in the Thirties and Forties
At the time of Ayesha Rauf’s arrival in Ceylon the country was
going through some fundamental political and economic changes.
Independence was barely a year away and the country had been
enjoying universal franchise for over a decade. The Ceylon of the
1930s and 40s was rife with the political maneuverings of various
community leaders while the stage was slowly being set for the
future political relations among the communities in the country.
The Donoughmore constitution, and the later Soulbury
constitution that sought to address minority interests, were
instrumental in bringing about a variety of debates on identity
among the Muslim community. The Malays under the leadership
of T.B. Jayah asserted their own more liberal and social identity
in opposition to the conservative Moors. The Ceylon Moors
asserted their difference from the Coast Moors. In 1930 the
miniscule Pushtu-speaking Afghan community in the island that
was engaged in money lending submitted a memorandum to the
Colonial Secretary asking for its own member in the Legislative
Council. This was also the time when the first debates regarding
language reform were conducted in the State Council. During
the debate of the motion brought forward by J.R. Jayewardene to
institute Sinhala as the national language, Muslim member Sir
Razik Fareed voted against a proposed amendment to include
Tamil as well as Sinhala. Thereby Razik Fareed augured the
accomodationist politics of the Muslim community, which has
since had a reputation for allying mainly itself with the majority.
It also represented a moment of break down in Tamil-Muslim
political relations.
During this time Muslim elite families were well-
established as traders. The family enterprises of Macan Macar,
Abdul Ghaffoor and Sons, Marika Bawa and Sons, and Hamid
and Company were famous in the gem trade. The Macan Macar
Company and Hamid and Company even had branches in other
countries. Prior to the Second World War, Hamid and Company
became the first Muslim company to open branches abroad when
it opened in the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Hotel Majestic in Bombay.
The Macan Macars were famed as suppliers of gems to members
of the British royal family and for selling a 466 –carat blue sapphire
to American financier J. Pierpont Morgan. The company also had
branches in Cairo, Egypt.
Records show that Muslims were also
involved in various other trading activities. For instance, the
Muslims of Kalpitiya did coconut cultivation and export and were
engaged in the import – export trade of dry goods with India.
Then S.L. Naina Marikkar and Company was engaged in the
importing of motor cars and spare parts from Europe since 1920.
While not all Muslims were traders the prominent Muslim
families of that time and many of the Muslim leaders were
engaged in such activities. There was also a large community of
Muslim traders from India referred to by the appellation “Coast
Moors” who were mainly from Kerala and very probably
Mappilas. They managed the import – export trade with India
from this country.
Role of Razik Far Role of Razik Far Role of Razik Far Role of Razik Far Role of Razik Fareed eed eed eed eed
After her arrival in Sri Lanka in 1944, Ayesha Rauf lived with her
husband’s family at Silversmith Street in Hulftsdorf. Ayesha Rauf
thought that her marriage and migration would signal the end of
her career. However, since there were few Muslim graduates in
Sri Lanka at that time and almost no women graduates from the
community, her university degree and professional experience
were seen as useful by leaders of the Colombo Muslim
community. Two years after her arrival in Ceylon, Ayesha Rauf
was approached with a job offer by the prominent Muslim
politician Sir Razik Fareed.
Sir Razik Fareed, from a wealthy Moor family, was a
consummate Muslim politician who was very prominent during
the post- world war years. Entering politics in 1946 as a member
of the newly formed United National Party, Fareed was very
much a part of the trend of asserting particular communal
identitities in immediate post-independence times. He was
instrumental in establishing the Ceylon Moor identity as the
overarching category of classification for the Muslims of Sri Lanka.
Often switching political sides, unlike the other prominent
Muslim politician and UNP stalwart T.B. Jayah, he epitomized
the pragmatic politics even now attributed to the Muslims.
is also the most cited example of the manner in which Muslims
systematically supported the positions of the majority community
in matters that were controversial on ethnic grounds. In 1948 he
voted with the government on the citizenship bill that
disenfranchised persons of Indian origin. Among them were over
35,000 Indian Muslims who Fareed saw as little more than
competitors in trade and as detrimental to the development of a
more exclusivist Ceylon Moor identity. Another of his famed
positions, as mentioned earlier, was his support of the proposal
brought forward by J.R. Jayewardene to make Sinhala the official
language. He voted against an amendment that called for making
both Tamil and Sinhala the national languages. Fareed was
extremely keen to have a Muslim presence within all sectors of
the Sri Lankan establishment and therefore knew the importance
of education. In addition to helping found Muslim Ladies’ College
through engaging Ayesha Rauf and donating his own land, Fareed
also pioneered the move to have Muslim teachers in Muslim-
majority Tamil language schools in preference to having Tamil
teachers in these positions.
Fareed recognized Ayesha Rauf’s potential and introduced
Rauf to the Minister of Education, C.W.W. Kannangara, and to
the Director of Education, Dr. Howes. She was offered the position
of assistant teacher at the Government Girls’ College, Maradana.
The school was in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood and it
was hoped that Ayesha Rauf’s presence would increase the
attendance of female Muslim students. Her term of office at the
Maradana school did not last more than a few months. Razik
Fareed, feeling that her talents could be better utilized, decided
to open, under Ayesha Rauf’s supervision, a much-needed
English– medium school for Muslim girls in Colombo.
Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim Women omen omen omen omen
The opening of Muslim Ladies’ College marked the culmination
of a long journey by some Muslims towards convincing the
community of the necessity of education for all sections of its
populace. This journey was begun by community leaders in the
late 19
century in the face of the Muslims’ lamentable lack of
interest in education at that time. The Muslims lagged far behind
the other communities that were utilizing the educational
facilities. It was of course not a case of there being no educated
Muslims in the country. A few elite Muslims, cognizant of the
many advantages offered by education, availed themselves of the
facilities, but the interest of the community at large was negligible.
Historians concerned with the question have attributed the 19
century “Moormans” lack of enthusiasm for education to two
primary reasons: first, that the trading sections of the community
(it was assumed that all Muslims were traders), did not think
that education held any material or social advantages for them;
and second, the existence of the community’s own Madrassa or
schools that imparted lessons in the writing and reading of the
Koran as well as instruction on Islam. The English schools in the
island offered no facilities for this form of instruction which was
considered fundamental for the future of any Muslim child.
Education and the Muslim Revival Education and the Muslim Revival Education and the Muslim Revival Education and the Muslim Revival Education and the Muslim Revival
The strongest resistance to colonialism in Sri Lanka came not
through a call for administrative independence, but through
assertions of religion and culture. The middle of the 19
saw, several religious and cultural revivals and a growing concern
with identity. The concern in the island was with undermining
Christian influence, especially in education. Missionary
educational institutions were perceived by the local intelligentsia
as primary sites of conversion and indoctrination. Thus, in an
attempt to modernize and combat Christianity, Buddhists and
Hindus had opened their own schools that provided English
education geared to foreign examinations and even higher
education abroad. But they also introduced concern about national
identity, religion and culture. The schools also helped locals enter
the professions and white - collar jobs. Organizations such as the
Buddhist Educational Society and the Buddhist Theosophical
Society opened many schools throughout the island during this
time, including Ananda College (1884) and Sangamitta School
for Buddhist Girls (1889). The Muslim al Madrasathul Khairiyatul
Islamia was opened for boys in 1883.
The leaders of the Muslim community in the late 19
century frequently deplored the lack of education among the
community and recognized the need Muslims to be in step with
the modernizing processes that were taking place throughout the
world. Consequently, Muslims were also part of the move to open
schools although they were somewhat behind the other
communities. Their project was also set in motion with a slightly
different emphasis in motive. For the Muslims it was not a case
of preventing indoctrination or of deflecting Muslim students
from the missionary schools so much as inculcating recognition
for the need for nonreligious education for Muslims. Although,
as stated earlier, there were Muslims who did attend the large
missionary–run schools, the numbers were minimal. The need of
the moment was to convince the larger community to embrace
secular education for both their sons and daughters so that they
should reap the benefits of modernity.
The educational impetus of the Muslim revivals was led
by Siddhi Lebbe (1838-1898), the first Muslim notary of Sri Lanka,
and by Wappche Marikkar (1868-1925), a wealthy Muslim
building contractor.
The arrival in January 1883 of Orabi Pasha,
a leader of the Egyptian rebellion against the colonial state who
was exiled by the British, gave the movement an added boost.
The acceptance of Pasha by the Sri Lankan Muslim leaders
coupled with Pasha’s own experience of modernization and
Europeanization in his country fuelled the Muslim cultural revival
in Sri Lanka (Jayawardena 1986:23-51). Orabi Pasha and Siddhi
Lebbe, together with others of the community who were at the
forefront of the movement, repeatedly lamented the community’s
reluctance to go in for English education. They took it upon
themselves to persuade the community to look beyond the
Madrasas. Siddhi Lebbe’s newspaper the Muslim Nesan (begun
in 1882) reminded the Muslims of their illustrious Arab ancestors
and recommended education as the means to regain their lost
Orabi Pasha played an important part in highlighting the
issue of education. During his exile in the country, Pasha raised
the issue by stating that as there were no suitable Muslim schools
that provided an English education, he would be sending his son
to a Christian school. Acknowledging the importance of religious
education Orabi Pasha stated that, since his son was well–
grounded in the Koran, he did not worry about the compulsory
Christian education imparted by these schools. Thereby Pasha
stressed the fact that an English education did not necessarily
preclude grounding in religion and the Koran, and further that
school going did not have to be limited to denominationally
specific institutions. Pasha had also called, according to
Samaraweera, for the enhancement of Muslim female education.
The first Muslim boy’s English school, Madrasathul
Khairiyatul Islamiah, was founded in 1884 through the joint effort
of Orabi Pasha, Siddhi Lebbe and Wappche Marikkar. It provided
an education that included but was not limited to Arabic and
religion. The school was inaugurated with much fanfare but
foundered upon factionalism and disinterest from the community.
In fact, it had to be completely abandoned after a short interval.
Though spurred on with great enthusiasm by the leaders of the
Muslim revival, the project failed to incite a similar response from
the community at large. There was a lapse of ten years before the
school gained a further lease on life as Colombo Zahira College.
The Colombo Muslim Educational Society was formed in 1891,
and this organization reformulated and relaunched Al
Madrasathul Khairiyathul Islamia under the new name of Al
Madrasathul Zahira. In this endeavor, Orabi Pasha, Siddhi Lebbe
and A.M. Wappche Marikkar received the assistance of I.L.M.
Abdul Azeez (1867-1915). The school was modeled on the grant-
in-aid schools that were run by the missionaries and the newly
established schools of the Buddhist and Hindu educationists. It
was registered with the Education Department as the Maradana
Muhammedan Boys School and received government grants.
Now named Zahira College the institution enjoyed a measure of
success, managed to sustain itself with the help of the government,
and is still considered a premier Muslim boys’ school in Colombo.
The Muslim Educational Society was also concerned with
the improvement of female education and launched a series of
schools for Muslim girls. This movement for the development of
Muslim women’s education received the patronage of the
governor ’s wife, Lady Havelock, and the first Anglo–
Mohammedan girls’ school was opened in Kandy in 1892. There
was of course a glaring need for such institutions. The literacy
rate for all women in the island was alarmingly low; literacy of
Muslim women was 1.7% in 1891, while the rate for Sinhalese
women was 3%.
Newspapers at the time were full of this event
and the Muslim community was praised for taking the initiative
and for being more progressive than the Sinhalese Kandyans. The
Ceylon Independent stated that: “And now instead of being, as
the Moors usually are, the most backward in regard to the
education of their females, they appear to be setting an example
to the Kandyans ….“Considering what has been already
accomplished among the Mohammedans it must surely be
possible to induce the Kandyans to do at least as much.”
Though much of the attention at this time was directed at
Lady Havelock’s efforts in Kandy, the movement also established
schools in Matara, Kurunegala and Galle. There is mention of the
Muslim schools up to the early 1900s and until that time the
schools seem to have flourished. Administrative reports from the
times praise the early progress of these schools. But the movement
was not without its setbacks. The main hurdle that the well–
intentioned endeavors of the Colombo Muslim Educational
Society never quite overcame was of course the general
indifference towards Muslim women’s education that was
prevalent during this time. It seems to have been especially
prevalent amongst the more urbanized sections of the Colombo
Muslim population. For instance, administrative reports from the
times make a reference to the fact that “Colombo is conspicuous
by the absence of any formalized provision for the education of
girls of the Moorish community.” It also states that:
Promises of support in the first instance were made by certain
influential members from among them, and an experimental
school was opened in Vauxhall Street, Slave Island; furniture was
supplied and a competent teacher appointed. But the effort was
spasmodic; no sufficient numbers of children were in attendance,
and the school will have to be closed.
This apathy was not unique to the Muslim community. While
middle-class Muslims were undoubtedly committed in the main
to segregating and confining its womenfolk to the domestic
sphere, they were by no means alone in doing so. The general
feeling about women’s education across all groups, regardless of
the agitation of a few members of the elite, was at best ambivalent.
And the struggle for the common acceptance of the need for
women’s education was slow.
In 1894, when there was public discussion about the move
to institute a government high school for girls of the calibre of
Royal College, there was little support from leaders of any of the
communities. A ‘Memorial’ containing signatures from a cross
section of groups (including Muslim women) stating the need
for a school for girls similar to Royal College was presented to
the Legislative Council. A European member of the legislature,
W.W. Mitchell, stated that this was the “first memorial that had
been signed by Sinhala Ladies,” and the only “memorial of any
kind in this country signed by Moorish Ladies.” The petition
contained over 550 signatures.
At this time the responses of
representatives from the various communities were heard and
the response of the “Mohammedan” member, M.C. Abdul
Rahman, reflected the general wariness with which women’s
education was regarded. Abdul Rahman, who supported the
general drive for Muslim education, was extremely sceptical
about this particular project. According to him the community in
general, in spite of the endeavors of the Muslim Educational
Society, had little interest in education.
… experience of Mohammedan girls’ schools during the past few
years is that it was found to be very difficult to make them
swallow the sweets of social education either at the secluded
schools or at the public schools.
Abdul Rahman goes on to state that he would be surprised if the
Kandy Muslims who signed the petition could among themselves
provide even 25 females from the community who had studied
beyond the second standard. Abdul Rahman seemed to feel that
the Muslims who were not even interested in educating their sons
could not possibly want to educate their daughters and he even
implied that Muslims who had signed the petition were not aware
of what they were doing. Abdul Rahman states that “it is a good
test to verify the signatures” since those who signed did not know
a word of English and were asking for education for their
daughters“ whilst their sons are illiterate and submerged in
According to Abdul Rahman, there was still much work
to be done in the area of primary education for Muslim women
and therefore emphasizing advanced secondary education for the
women of the community would be of little use. This sentiment
was reflected in the comments of the Tamil member of the
legislature as well. Both members claimed that the traditions of
the communities they represented were such that neither was
advanced enough to savour the advantages of such a system.
The movement to have a government-sponsored secular college
for girls was defeated.
During this time Buddhist women had already formed
the Women’s Education Society (in 1889) and had launched a
series of small Sinhala Buddhist secondary schools. By 1892 the
first English Buddhist school, Sanghamitta School, had also been
Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim W Education for Muslim Women: Pr omen: Pr omen: Pr omen: Pr omen: Progr ogr ogr ogr ogress in the Early T ess in the Early T ess in the Early T ess in the Early T ess in the Early Twentieth wentieth wentieth wentieth wentieth
Century Century Century Century Century
There was an increase in the general demand for education during
the decade between 1901 and 1911. There is evidence that girls’
education including Muslim education made some headway
during this time. A report on the census of 1911 stated that: “There
has been of late years, marked progress in female education, and
the number of girls’ schools which in 1870 numbered 95 has
increased to 419 in 1900 and the mixed schools from 30 in 1870 to
714 in 1900.”
E.B. Denham, in Ceylon at the Census (1912),
mentions the existence of a number of Muslim girls’ schools. He
claimed that these facilities were inadequate to cater to the needs
of the community.
At this time the combined effects of the Muslim revival
and the general countrywide trend towards enhancing
educational facilities were reflected within the Muslim
community. Perhaps the influence of the Muslim revival and the
existing schools had some positive effect. Denham also mentions
that the existence of Mohammedan girls’ schools at Galle, Matara,
Tangalle and Mielle, “show an average daily attendance of over
fifty” (Ibid. 411). Unfortunately, little is known of the subsequent
history of these schools.
Within the larger community, too, the drive to increase
interest in education was evident. Community–run newspapers
of the era continued to call for greater participation. The Muslim
Guardian of 1907, for instance, was quite virulent in admonishing
the community for its lack of appreciation for education. It stated
The Mohammedans of Ceylon are apparently entertaining the
mistaken idea that wealth alone would suffice, hence the
lamentable exhibition of contempt for education and educated
noted generally among them. The retrogression of the Muslims
of Ceylon had for its cause the want of education, not the want of
Another comment from an editorial in The People of 7 August
1918 stated that:
While we are confident that Mr Abdul Cader has behind him the
thinking portion of his community, and that whether the
government will come to the assistance of the Mohammedans or
not the community should like to emphasize the equal importance
of encouraging female education so as to ensure its keeping pace
with the education of the boys. Our conviction is that no
communal progress can be achieved without equal opportunities
being thrown open to the girls.
The 1920s saw many interesting developments in the sphere of
education in Ceylon. The first University College was established
in 1921. The college located at Regina Valauwa on Thurstan Road
was affiliated to the University of London. During this time plans
were also made to establish a fully fledged university in Ceylon
but the plan floundered for sometime on the issue of a suitable
site. Legislation on education was also first passed by the
Legislative Council in February 1920. The Education Ordinance
of 1920 included a conscience clause regarding the teaching of
religion in schools and made provisions for the decentralizing of
school administration. State treatment of teachers improved with
a salary scheme being introduced in 1925 and improved in 1927
with the inclusion of a pension scheme. However, the situation
of Muslim education still seemed bleak.There were 2,120
government-aided denominational schools in 1920 and of these
only 14 were Muslim schools.
In 1931 the Education Committee
was formed in the State Council and presided over by C.W.W.
Kannangara, the minister of education. This development led to
a renewed interest in education, and schools for Muslim girls
teaching in Tamil were founded from Galle in the south to
Addalaichanai in the East.
In the late 1930s, various Colombo Muslim women’s
groups discussed the need for a high school for Muslim girls (in
English) in order to further enhance the educational prospects of
women within the community. The Searchlight of 13 September
1933 refers to a plea put forward by T.B Jayah, president of the
Muslim League, for a “greater interest and enthusiasm in the
education of Muslim girls.”
Then, the Times of Ceylon
interviewed a Dr Hayrunisa Ataullah, a Turkish woman doctor
visiting the country who commented on the plan to have a college
for Muslim girls:
That is a splendid idea, she said. It is a pity that such an institution
does not exist at present. Muslim girls like all other girls require
good education, or else how can you expect them to progress? It
is a just demand. My wish is that Ceylon will soon have this
institution which I think is an urgent need. Women must be
educated to get their real home comforts. It is only by uplifting
the women that you can uplift the man.
The Star of Islam, a publication dealing with issues of interest to
the community, frequently featured such calls within its pages.
There is some record of an argument that went back and forth
about the necessity for an exclusively Muslim girls’ school. While
there was a definite move to have such a school there were also
some who thought the move would breed an unnecessary
In 1941 the first Muslim Ladies’ College was opened in
Kollupitiya by the Ceylon Moor Ladies’ Union. Apparently this
institution was geared to the needs of older Muslim women and
had an initial student body of around 15. The school was run by
the principal Mrs A.R.B. Nilam, a B.A. graduate from a British
university, and employed one teacher. During the Second World
War the school was forced to shut down after the Japanese air
raids on Colombo. Immediately after the war another Muslim
Ladies’ College was opened, and it became the first English school
for Muslim girls in Colombo.
Muslim Ladies’ College Muslim Ladies’ College Muslim Ladies’ College Muslim Ladies’ College Muslim Ladies’ College
Muslim Ladies’ College, Colombo, was founded in 1947 on what
is today Fareed Place in Bambalapitiya. The opening of this school
– the first free educational Muslim institution for girls that taught
in English – was an important landmark in the history of the
Muslim community. Though schools for Muslim girls had opened
and functioned in other parts of the country since the turn of the
century, Muslims in Colombo were slow to open one within the
city. The long-term goal of the school was to provide Muslims
with an institution that was of the calibre of the prestigious English
girl’s schools in Colombo. The decision to start Muslim Ladies’
College in Colombo signaled the acceptance of the need for
secondary education for Muslim girls which was broad-based.
Muslim Ladies’ College considerably enhanced the educational
prospects of the larger community of Muslim women in and
around Colombo and, because of its residential facilities that were
instituted shortly after it opened, of those residing in the more
distant Southern and Eastern provinces. It is as the founder
principal of this school that Ayesha Rauf is best remembered.
Muslim Ladies’ College, or the Ayesha Rauf School as it
was popularly known during Rauf’s tenure of office, was founded
after the war in the backyard of the house of Muslim politician
and philanthropist, Razik Fareed. When the war ended in 1945,
Fareed had regained the use of a house of his that had been
requisitioned by the army during the war. He then donated the
premises to the school. Today Muslim Ladies’ College is a premier
Muslim national school with nearly 3,500 students. The demand
for places within the school far exceeds its present capacity. It
offers Ordinary Level and Advanced Level classes in all subject
areas and recently introduced English – medium teaching as well.
It routinely qualifies students for university entrance and there
are many Muslim female graduates who were Muslim Ladies’
College students. However, according to the current Vice Principal
there are very many students even in this day and age who do
not enter university in spite of having qualified to do so. The
reason is generally the parents’ reluctance to provide higher
education for their girl children.
In the words of a prominent alumna of the school,
Anberiya Hanifa, Ayesha Rauf had a vision for the education of
Muslim women. However, as Rauf herself had stated, faced with
a community not too concerned with education, getting Muslim
Ladies’ College off the ground was an arduous task. Regardless
of the publicly professed need for the school in the newspapers,
and among community leaders, support was not readily available
in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. A part of
the initial funding for the school was provided by Sir Razik Fareed
and his sister, who each contributed Rs.1,000, and by the Moor
Ladies’ Union, which contributed Rs. 500. The remainder was
raised through other means, including the selling of flags at the
Pettah railway station by Ayesha Rauf herself. As she once stated:
We even had to go around with tills to collect money for the school,
with the young boys of the Moors Islamic Cultural Home. I stood
at the Fort railway station to collect whatever help we could get.
The school opened on 9 September 1946, and was
registered under the free education scheme on 1 November the
same year.
Today 1 November is celebrated as founder’s day.
The first teacher was a Mrs Werckminister who had responded
to a newspaper advertisement. She was followed by Mrs
Nagendra, Miss Arunachalam and Mrs Thaha. Ayesha Rauf
suggested that hostel facilities should be added on in order to
make the school more accessible to a larger group of Muslims
who lived out of Colombo, as well as to increase revenue. This
suggestion was implemented a few months later and the school
hostel was opened in January 1947. The financial difficulties of
the early years were alleviated by fundraisers. The first of these
was held in Bambalapitiya, in the garden of the home of the
famous businessman Mubarak Thaha. A carnival was held
featuring trade stalls operated by the staff of Muslim Ladies’
College, with a gambling arcade and shooting range run by Mr
Thaha. The carnival ran for a period of one month and brought in
a sum of Rs. 10,000 for the school. The gambling arcade is a telling
reminder of the fact that the current religiosity that is embraced
by the Muslim community, where gambling is taboo and where
even the secular banking sector is held to be inappropriate for
Muslims, is a new phenomenon.
Initially the new Muslim Ladies’ College did not draw
large numbers of students. The Muslim community was
somewhat slow in responding to the school’s presence. Ayesha
Rauf had to personally visit Muslim homes and urge parents to
send their daughters to the school. She persuaded young men of
the Moors Islamic Cultural Home (MICH) to convince their
parents to send their sisters to Muslim Ladies’ College.
As a result
of Ayesha Rauf’s campaigning, the student body, which was a
mere 20 when the school opened in September 1947, increased to
200 within two months. The school’s increase in popularity was
inevitable. Before the advent of Muslim Ladies’ College, parents
had to utilize educational institutions run by ‘non-Muslims’ to
educate their daughters. Often this education was terminated
when the child reached puberty. Sections of the community who
distrusted the Christian schools were more receptive to the new
Muslim institution. Others who could not afford the big
missionary-run Colombo English schools soon utilized the facility
of English education that Muslim Ladies’ College provided.
Muslim Ladies’ College, with Ayesha Rauf’s strict practice of
seclusion, provided an institution in which their children could
be educated without too much deviation from community
traditions. Further, the missionary-run institutions often did not
provide hostel facilities for students who were not Christian. Thus,
the presence of Muslim Ladies’ College made the process of
educating Muslim women far less complicated.
The school began to be accepted within the community
and its numbers swelled. Muslim Ladies’ College in the early
days was composed of Muslim students from a variety of class
backgrounds. Big businessmen from the south and the east of the
island, along with slum dwellers of Colombo, sent their daughters
there. One of the goals of the school was to provide a stable
environment for the poorer children. The school often provided
meals for these students and free textbooks were given to those
who needed them. Unfortunately, due to a variety of economic
pressures, few of the poorer children remained with the school
for very long. The student body of Muslim Ladies’ soon
represented a veritable crosssection of the Muslim population
within this country. The English-educated Muslim elite, however,
continued to send their children to the Christian-run missionary
Ayesha Rauf readily appreciated the type of education
provided by the big Colombo schools, the missionary-run
institutions like Ladies’ College, and thus also aspired to provide
similar instruction to her own student body. Therefore, attempts
were made to teach the children of Muslim Ladies’ the skills
considered necessary to become ‘young ladies.’ According to a
former teacher, students were taught to sew and paint and
appreciate tasteful attire, to speak well, and appreciate music and
drama – sometimes, she felt, to the detriment of academic
Teachers’ suggestions regarding school trips and
tea parties were encouraged by Rauf. The philosophy was: “They
first had to be taught to appreciate the value of an education,”
before such an education could be successfully imparted to them.
Thus, a foundation in bourgeois social skills was considered
important. In keeping with this general trend, a literary and drama
society was formed and the school conducted several productions,
among them Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.
Recollecting the days when the school had just opened,
former teacher Iris Jayasooriya stated that Rauf even accepted
women far beyond school-going age into her school. According
to Jayasooriya the primary classes were often attended by a
number of older students. Many older girls would treat the school
as a place for an outing, and come dressed in their best clothes.
Although this was never the intention of the school, Ayesha Rauf
never sent them back. She states that Ayesha Rauf understood
the needs of these young girls who were often confined to the
limits of their homes. Therefore, she encouraged them to attend
the school whenever they could. “… this was good in the long
run because these students were exposed to the world of
education. Some of them sent their children to the school later on
and this was a great asset to Muslim Ladies’ College,” Jayasooriya
said. One of the primary goals of the ‘Ayesha Rauf School’ was to
provide a stable environment for many of the poorer slum-
dwelling children. In fact, Rauf was especially eager to extend
the facilities of her school to the disadvantaged sections of the
populace. Part of her vision for the education of women was to
get as many women as possible to acquire at least basic literacy.
Therefore, the school was run along very unorthodox lines.
The very flexible nature of such an institution made
different demands of those running it. And in the early years this
flexibility limited its ability and interest in producing results at
government examinations. Muslim Ladies’ College under Ayesha
Rauf, therefore, was slow to attain acclaim as an institute of
academic excellence. It is clear that the need was to provide young
Muslim women with a community sanctioned “out” and provide
students a facility to access at least a basic education. Facilities
for government exams, however, were not provided at the school
for quite some time, and in the 1940s and 1950s students interested
in higher education had to look elsewhere for instruction towards
university entrance.
It is clear that Ayesha Rauf’s ultimate goal was to
encourage Muslim women to attain higher education. However,
in a community where a majority of parents were unwilling to let
their daughters complete even a basic secondary education, this
met with only limited success. In pursuing this goal she had to
confront conservative parents. Jayasooriya recalled early
difficulties faced by the school. According to her there was a lot
of opposition at the beginning and fathers were very adamant
against their daughters being educated. Consequently sveral
girls, many of them good students, dropped out of the school.
Rauf often had to personally urge parents to reconsider
terminating their daughters’ school education after the age of
puberty. However, with time and the growth of the school’s
facilities and popularity, several continued on to become doctors,
lawyers, apothecaries, secretaries and teachers of MLC itself. And
many of them owe a large measure of their achievement to Ayesha
A Model Principal A Model Principal A Model Principal A Model Principal A Model Principal
Many of those whose reminiscing was sought in producing this
history commented on Ayesha Rauf’s personality – her ease with
people, her strength, ambition and perseverance. Iris
who taught with Rauf during the school’s early
days, recalled that during Ayesha Rauf’s time “the best thing
about the school was the atmosphere.” According to her Ayesha
Rauf got on amicably with the local people. She was friendly with
the Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and Burghers. The teachers at
Muslim Ladies’ College were also from all the different
communities and Rauf was revered and respected by all of them.
“Because she was so friendly and charming with everybody, there
was no friction amongst the teachers. We could all work towards
our one goal, which was the progress of the school and the
education of Muslim women,” Jayasooriya stated. Christine
Chanmugam, another teacher, stated that Ayesha Rauf was
“broad-minded and lighthearted, yet strong-willed and
ambitious.” Most of the teachers considered her their friend. Even
after Ayesha Rauf’s retirement, the teachers kept close contact
with her, and looked forward to the reunion meetings on 7 June –
her birthday. The idea of a Retired Teachers Group (RTG) was
mooted at one of these meetings. According to Chanmugam, the
RTG still continues to meet once a year on 7 June – their Founder’s
Day. “Mrs. Rauf was so petite, she would come up to about my
shoulders … but it’s amazing the things she did!” said
“As the first principal of MLC, Mrs Rauf laid the
foundation for the education and emancipation of Muslim
women,” said Christine Chanmugam.
According to her, “the
later principals also did a lot for the school, each having their
own agendas, but they were able to continue with improving the
school only because Mrs Rauf had laid a solid foundation.”
Commenting on Rauf’s character, Chanmugam said, “She was
very gentle, motherly, charming. Parents could trust their children
in her care.” Just as much as she was “friend, counselor and
advisor” to her staff, Ayesha Rauf was also very caring towards
her students: “with her gentle charm and unruffled manner, she
nurtured and cared for her students, especially those from poorer
A former student and teacher of MLC, Ariffa Sameem,
called Rauf “a wonderful person, completely dedicated, a true
guide, philosopher, friend and mother.” However, Rauf could be
very strict with her students. This was important to maintain
discipline within the school. Chanmugam recalled an occasion
when a student was expelled for “bad behaviour”
despite being
one of the brightest in the school. The longer-term objective was
to protect the name of the school, and make conservative Muslims
feel that it was a safe place to send their girls – a place where the
rules of Islam were maintained. Ayesha Rauf understood that if
the school were to succeed it was important that, while children
had access to education, they also grew up in an environment of
Islamic religious and ethical values.
A AA AAyesha in Politics yesha in Politics yesha in Politics yesha in Politics yesha in Politics
During the time of her tenure as the principal of Muslim
Ladies’ College, Rauf was also involved in politics. She contested
at the general election in 1947 (unsuccessfully) and successfully
ran in municipal elections thereafter until her retirement from
politics in 1962. Sometime in the 1960s there was considerable
protest from her students’ parents regarding the amount of time
that Ayesha Rauf spent on politics. They claimed that Rauf’s
extensive involvement in politics impeded the progress of the
school. Rauf and Muslim Ladies’ College were accused of
producing only ‘good cooks.’
A petition to have her removed
was circulated.
During the same period, the much-publicized school’s
takeover was instigated and Muslim Ladies’ College was handed
over to the government. The general election of 1960 brought to
power the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) under the leadership
of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, wife of the slain former prime minister
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The SLFP had campaigned on
establishing a unified system of schools under direct state control.
Therefore, when it came to power one of its first acts under
Minister of Education Badiuddin Mahmud was to pass the
Assisted Schools and Training Colleges Act of 1960. This act made
the director of education the manager of every assisted school to
which the act applied.
Although there was much opposition
from other denominational schools, particularly the Catholic
schools, there was not much that changed for Muslim Ladies’
College. Since the school was already funded and regulated by
the government under the free education scheme, the transition
was not difficult. In fact, the school prospered further under the
patronage of Minister of Education Mahmud.
The move, however, impacted significantly on Ayesha
Rauf’s own career. Under Sri Lankan law, no employee of the
state is allowed to run for office. And, as the principal of the newly
state-controlled Muslim Ladies’ College, Rauf was no longer
eligible to contest municipal elections. There was some agitation
and protest as to the fairness of this rule, but it had little effect in
Rauf’s case. She was called upon to choose between her political
interests and her teaching career. At this point Rauf chose to
maintain her position as principal; she felt that her energies would
be best utilized in this arena, “in the service of the community.”
Thus, in 1961, Rauf handed in her resignation to the Municipal
Council and brought to a close a successful 12 years in politics.
She continued to serve as the principal of Muslim Ladies’’ College
until her retirement in 1970. In 1970 Ayesha Rauf, aged 56, retired
from her job as principal of Muslim Ladies’ College. Barely a year
later, she left for Zambia to work as a high school teacher of
political science.
The First Muslim W The First Muslim W The First Muslim W The First Muslim W The First Muslim Woman in Politics in Sri Lanka oman in Politics in Sri Lanka oman in Politics in Sri Lanka oman in Politics in Sri Lanka oman in Politics in Sri Lanka
In 1931 Sri Lanka achived universal franchise. Part of the success
of the Sri Lankan bid for universal franchise was due to the work
of the Women’s Franchise Union formed in 1927. Organizing
themselves under the leadership of Lady Dias Bandaranaike the
Women’s Franchise Union demanded the right to vote on the
grounds that women were responsible for the welfare of their
children and their homes, and that there were many issues –
education, the health and sanitary conditions of the cities that
they lived in – that directly impacted upon women fulfilling their
responsibilities. It was only right, members of the WFU argued,
that women be allowed to impact such conditions through the
exercise of their vote.
Although there were members from several
different communities within the union, Muslim women were
not among them.
However, the general unease against granting
universal franchise that was evident at the time – Ponnambalam
Ramanathan for instance – was reflected among the conservative
Muslims as well.
Although winning universal franchise was a considerable
victory for the women’s movement in Ceylon it unfortunately
did not lead to the mass participation of women in electoral
politics. The first election held on 13 June 1931 did not include
any women candidates.
The improvements that occurred in later
years were also sporadic. Adeline Molamure in 1932 became the
first Sri Lankan woman in electoral politics when she contested
and won the Ruwanwella seat after the death of her father.
than the very successful Bandaranaikes, few women have gained
prominence in political leadership, and to date, women constitute
only 5.8% of parliament.
Ferial Ashraf, former MP for the
Digamadulla District and leader of the National Unity Alliance,
and the widow of the founder leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress, remains the only Muslim woman who has had any
significant electoral success. Ferial Ashraf was minister of
Housing and Construction Industries, Eastern Province Education
and Irrigation Development. As Kumari Jayawardena has pointed
out women at the highest levels in politics in South Asia have
often achieved their success due to dynastic affiliation.
as daughters or wives of prominent politicians, they have become
part of political elites throughout South Asia. Arguably any
woman in politics is better than none,
but such dynastic
monopolies do not augur much for the future of women’s
participation in Sri Lanka. Ferial Ashraff is of the latter breed;
Anjan Umma who contested elections from the Gampaha District
under the Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
is an interesting inclusion that begs some inquiry.
Ayesha Rauf hailed from a family steeped in Indian
politics and she often claimed that her success in Ceylon was due
to her upbringing. And certainly Rauf’s childhood was more than
usually infused with the Indian politics of that time. As stated
earlier, her father V.K. Mayen was extremely active in regional
politics and was leader of the Indian National Congress and later
the Muslim League in his area.
As a child Ayesha Mayen met
many leading political personalities of her times. The Mappila
community from which Rauf hailed was also known for its volatile
politics in the preindependence era. Rauf often claimed that
politics was in her blood, and that her participation in Sri Lankan
politics was no surprise. She did not enter politics in India, Ayesha
Rauf claimed, because as a government servant she was not
eligible to do so.
On her arrival in Sri Lanka, Ayesha Rauf was quick to
recognize the slow pace at which women’s involvement in politics
was progressing in the country. Speaking once of her decision to
enter Sri Lankan politics, Ayesha Rauf stated:
I knew that if women were to achieve a fair deal and equal rights
they needed women representatives in parliament to fight for
them. I also saw that Ceylonese women in general were politically
backward and that there were very few really interested in doing
something for their country by entering the political arena.
Throughout her career in politics Ayesha Rauf repeatedly stressed
the fact that she represented women’s interests and that her
political programme largely concerned the alleviation of problems
that were unique to women. She was firm in her conviction that
women needed to assert themselves in order to bring about
changes for women, and stressed the need for greater participation
of women within all aspects of the public sphere.
Rauf also felt that women in privileged positions had a
special responsibility towards women who did not possess such
advantages. She felt that they owed it to poorer women to become
publicly involved and to agitate for change. Shortly after her
appointment as deputy mayor in 1952, Rauf reiterated the need
for accomplished and privileged women in politics: “University
women in particular, with their education and influence, could
do much to better the plight of their less fortunate sisters.”
her role as principal of a girls’ school, Ayesha Rauf did much to
steer students towards higher education and more active
participation within the public arena, especially in the sphere of
politics. A former student, Anberiya Haniffa, recounted how
Ayesha Rauf had often stated that she would die happy when
she saw a Muslim woman in parliament.
Ayesha Rauf’s maiden venture into politics in this country
began with the first parliamentary elections in 1947. This was
one year after she took on the responsibility of running the newly
formed Muslim Ladies’ College. Rauf received much persuasion
and encouragement for this venture from her husband. It was
M.S.M. Rauf, in fact, who arranged for her initial publicity
through a journalist friend, A.J. Samuel. Ayesha Rauf’s decision
to contest elections received the support of women activists as
well as her compatriots among the Malayali business community
of Colombo. For example, she gained the support of the women’s
groups involved with the agitation for women’s franchise. Sri
Lanka gained universal franchise under the Donoughmore
Constitution in 1931, and the need for women to put their vote to
better use and hold public office was widely discussed at this
time. Thus, in 1947 Ayesha Rauf, herself an avid proponent of
women in politics, received the patronage of these groups. Dr
Mary Rutnam, Sri Lanka’s first woman municipal councilor and
a member of the Women’s Franchise Union, personally endorsed
Rauf’s candidacy for the election.
Since her arrival in the island from Kerala, Ayesha Rauf
maintained close relations with members of the Malayali
community in Colombo. Her decision to venture into politics was
applauded by members of this community who saw her as an
ally, as one of their own. The Malayalis of Colombo, though
substantially depleted in numbers at the time of Rauf’s entry into
politics, had previously played an important part in the trade
union and Left politics of this country. In the early 1930s, however,
the Malayalis became targets of chauvinistic agitation by trade
union leaders. In attempting to come to terms with unemployment
and the extreme hardships of the depression, some union leaders
like A.E. Goonesinha played the ‘communal card.’ Ethnic
differences were used as a way of addressing the problems of
their main support base, the Sinhalese workers. Union leaders
incited Sinhalese workers against Malayali labour with the claim
that these “foreigners” were taking away their jobs.
At that time
the newly formed Sri Lanka socialist party, the Lanka Sama Samaja
Party (LSSP), stood by its anti-racist policy and supported the
rights of Malayalis, but many Malayalis returned to Kerala during
this era.
Some of the Malayali workers who stayed on formed the
base of the Communist Party in the 1940s, and many Communist
leaders from Kerala such as A.K. Gopalan frequently visited Sri
Ayesha Rauf, who had their support, was also generally
sympathetic towards the Left when she entered politics. In a bid
to serve the interests of her compatriot Indians residing in Sri
Lanka, Rauf also joined the Ceylon India Congress (CIC) and
worked in close alliance with Abdul Aziz, the CIC leader who
was a sympathizer of the Communist Party. During her days with
the Ceylon India Congress, Rauf was involved in the campaign
to guarantee Indian plantation workers their civic rights. The
elections of 1952 were to be based upon the 1950 register which,
subsequent to the citizenship bill of 1948, disenfranchised a
majority of persons of Indian origin residing in the island. In
response, the Ceylon India Congress staged a massive campaign
to obtain voting rights for those who had opted under the law to
become citizens of Sri Lanka. The campaign included satyagraha
by leaders outside the premises of the prime minister’s office,
and a hundred-day-long hunger strike.
Rauf was heavily
involved with the activities of the CIC during this time.
Although Rauf was not a member of any of the Left parties,
her early affiliation with the Left was never doubted. Rauf’s
nomination for the post of deputy mayor in 1952 was supported
by the leftist members of the Municipal Council. And, even after
her 1954 move to the more right-leaning UNP, Rauf continued to
be regarded by many of her contemporaries as a proponent of
progressive politics.
To return to Rauf’s political debut, she contested the
parliamentary elections in 1947 as an independent candidate for
the Colombo Central multi-member constituency. Rauf was up
against 16 others, all men, many of them seasoned political
veterans. One of her opponents was M.H.M. Munas, another
Muslim who was also her husband’s brother-in-law. Though she
gave a good fight, Rauf did not win a seat at these elections. The
winners were: A.E. Goonesinha of the Labour Party, working then
with the UNP (23,470 votes); Pieter Keuneman the Communist
Party (15,435 votes); and T.B. Jayah of the Labour Party (18,439
votes). Rauf came in fifth with 8,486 votes behind M.H.M. Munas
(8,600 votes).
Ayesha Rauf, who had the support of many of the
poorer slum dwellers in the constituency as well as considerable
numbers of her compatriot Malayalis, claimed that she lost as a
direct result of the split of the Muslim vote between Munas and
In 1949 Rauf contested Municipal Council elections, again
as the only independent woman candidate. She contested the
Pettah ward and won with an impressive majority, ousting the
sitting member, Deputy Mayor M.F. Ghany.
With this victory
Rauf joined Meena Ratnam and Vivienne Goonewardene to
become one of the three women municipal councilors at the time.
She was also the first ever Muslim woman to hold a seat in the
Municipal Council.
The Colombo Municipal Council The Colombo Municipal Council The Colombo Municipal Council The Colombo Municipal Council The Colombo Municipal Council
The Colombo Municipal Council was established in 1865 as a
result of the colonial government’s local “experimentations” with
self-rule. The Legislative Council of Ceylon was established in
October 1833, and the bill constituting the Colombo and Kandy
municipal councils was passed in the Legislative Council in 1865.
In the first council there were nine elected members and five
members nominated by the colonial government. The first
chairman of the Colombo Municipal Council was C.P. Layard,
Government Agent, Western Province. The Governor of Ceylon
who introduced the legislation was Sir Hercules Robinson (later
Lord Rosmead). According to him, “if ever the bulk of the
population can be fitted for the right use of a large measure of
political power it can only be affected through the training which
the exercise of Municipal functions afford. They can thus establish
a right to claim further concessions by proving that they are
prepared to make personal sacrifices for the public good … and
can carry on local self-government with justice to the contending
interests and classes.”
While Ayesha Rauf’s entry into politics was when she
contested general elections in the expectation of participating in
central government. Her success, however, was in local
government elections. In January 1952 she was elected deputy
mayor of Colombo by the leftist members of the Municipal
Council. She held office from January 1952 to July 1954. During
the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, Ayesha Rauf was presented to her
as the first woman to hold this position. By 1954 Rauf had
detached herself from the Left and joined the UNP, in keeping
with the general trend among Muslim politicians of the time.
On joining the UNP, Rauf moved from the Pettah ward to
the nearby St. Paul’s ward, Kochchikade, since Jabir A. Cader
was then the UNP candidate for Pettah. She contested municipal
elections from St. Paul’s in 1954 and in 1957. In both instances,
Rauf beat the Communist candidate: in 1954 by just one vote,
and at the next election by a margin of 110 votes.
Motions put forward by Rauf when she was a member
and then deputy mayor within the Colombo Municipal Council
provided for the central government to acquire vacant land in
the city and put up houses for the middle and working classes, a
slum clearance scheme in Kochchikade South, and the
construction of a children’s playground in Kochchikade. She also
proposed that a strict check be made on food grinding mills in
the city to prevent adulteration of food.
In 1961, after the much-debated declaration of Muslim
Ladies’ College as a state-sponsored institution, Rauf handed in
her resignation as municipal councilor to the mayor of Colombo,
M.H. Mohamed, and ended her political career. Thereafter, until
the general elections of 1977, politics in Rauf’s life took a back
seat. In 1977, after retiring from government service, she hoped
to make a comeback in the political arena as a candidate for the
UNP, but, unfortunately, she had been absent from the country
for five years (working in Zambia), her name had not been
included in the voters list, and she was therefore not eligible to
contest. Rauf nevertheless campaigned for her colleagues, Jabir
A. Cader, R. Premadasa and Vincent Perera, leading members of
the UNP.
During her twelve-year political career, Rauf acted in
keeping with her declared intention to speak for women and the
poor, and earned a name for herself as an advocate of issues of
women and poverty. Just after her appointment as deputy mayor
of Colombo, Rauf gave an interview declaring her immediate
goals: to achieve equal pay for women, improve and establish
more creches, and alleviate the housing and sanitation problems
of Colombo. She also advocated the abolition of the dowry system
among Muslims and even hoped to bring about a law to ban the
practice. Even during her time with the UNP, Rauf persisted in
her quest to better the living conditions of her constituents and
remained the champion of the common people.
W WW WWomen and Politics omen and Politics omen and Politics omen and Politics omen and Politics
Since Ayesha Rauf’s departure from politics in 1977, there were
no women politicians from the Muslim community until Ferial
Ashraff’s taking over from her husband in 1998. Ferial, speaking
of her decision to enter politics, commented on what a male
preserve electoral politics still seemed to be in this country, and
stated that one of her goals was to make a point regarding
women’s own capabilities as politicians. Further, she stated that
while many feminists call for the participation of women in
politics, there is very little support provided by such women to
those who do enter. It is also not always true that women’s entry
into politics necessarily guarantees the addressing of issues
pertaining to women. In fact, most famous women-led regimes
have been notoriously conservative on such issues. Margaret
Thatcher and Indira Gandhi are only the most obvious examples.
South Asian women’s entry into politics has often been through
the death of a male member of the family: Indira Gandhi, Benazir
Bhutto, Khalida Zia and now Sonia Gandhi. In Sri Lanka alone
Ferial Ashraff is in the company of former Prime Minister
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and former president Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. However, there is still no culture
of significant female participation in electoral politics. The practice
of party politics and election campaigns are infused with so much
extremely male thuggery and violence that women are not
considered a part of such a world, and conditions are such that if
women do participate they need to act like the men. There is still
very little effort to inculcate an extrememely necessary code of
conduct for politicians from either the male or female political
camps. So far Ferial Ashraff holds great promise with her level of
commitment, her command of all three languages–Tamil , Sinhala
and English – and her progressive positions on most issues.
However, there seems to be a perception in the greater Eastern
Province, probably fed by insidious discriminatory thinking, that
she is a far greater “speaker” than she is a “doer.”
There is also
opposition to Ashraff’s position from a great number of Muslims
including women who see politics as belonging to the male part
of (for them) the strictly sex-segregated universe that we occupy.
During the past 20 years the Muslim community in Sri
Lanka has seen an efflorescence of sorts through the influence of
globally prevalent Islamic reformist. While many of its
manifestations are conservative – with rigid rules as to specific
practices, and the propagation of the hijab for women – these
influences have also energized the community considerably.
Today number of educational institutions imparting both secular
and religious education, a growth of social service organizations,
and numbers of Muslim youth have been inducted as Maulawis
and Maulawiyas. Women have also played a part in this
energizing of the community, and despite the outward appearance
of conservative practices such as hijab, women have made
significant inroads into prominence through asserting their own
claim to the religious resurgence that is happening. It is to be
hoped that the new – found presence of women in decision-
making positions will also lead towards greater political
participation in the future. It is in such a context that the
contributions of pioneering women like Ayesha Rauf have to be
remembered and revered.
Conclusion Conclusion Conclusion Conclusion Conclusion
Extremely well– educated, capable and convinced of the need to
improve the lot of Muslim women, Ayesha Rauf rendered yeoman
service to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Rauf served the
community not just by considerably expanding the space for
education available to Muslim women but also through
introducing the possibility of Muslim women appearing on public
platforms and running for election. She was clearly ahead of her
time as evinced by the very minimal presence of Muslim women
in politics today.
Ayesha Rauf was a consummate politician. When
dogmatic Muslim men began to distribute leaflets during her
political career, stating that she should be at home rather than
contesting the elections, she stated dramatically: “Please ask these
men to drive away the Muslim beggar women near the
Devatagaha Mosque and the Jumma Mosque before they ask me
to go home. I am speaking on their behalf.”
Premalal Kumarasiri
reminisced about how Ayesha Rauf was a fearless public speaker
and could command an audience from the campaign platforms.
Many commented also that Rauf had never presented herself as
a ‘militant woman.’ Her goal was to create awareness among
women as to their rights and she did this with great tact and
understanding. Granting due place to religion in keeping with
the community’s aspirations meant that the new opportunities
offered to women at school were less threatening to the
community at large. Her disruption of the status quo was never
to the extent that it was detrimental to the work conducted. It
should also be noted that her own awareness of the limits of her
work went far beyond community expectations.
Ayesha Rauf had the “knowledge” and the “spirit” that
was necessary to achieve anything she wanted, stated Hanoon
Jauffer Sadiq. “Her enthusiasm impressed everyone.” The men
were amazed by such a daring woman, and the women were
proud to have a representative of themselves such as Ayesha Rauf,
who was determined to work for their cause. They gave a lot of
support to Rauf. She was “very gentle, very kind, interested in
social welfare … improving community life by improving the
conditions of women.” Sadiq thought she had a “deep
understanding that allowed her to size people up.”
Ayesha Rauf led a very busy life as principal, politician,
social worker, wife and mother.
As one of her granddaughters
stated:, “that was what made her very special and that was also
why she was such a successful lady.” In 1990 Ayesha Rauf, a
grandmother of six, was awarded the Deshabandu class two
award in recognition of her contributions in politics and
education. Even after her retirement, she kept herself busy and
productive through a variety of volunteer social service activities.
On 8 January 1992, in Colombo, Ayesha Rauf died of a heart attack.
She was 78 years old. Her death was a deep loss not only to those
who knew her, but also to the entire Muslim community that
benefited greatly from her energy enthusiasm and commitment.
As suggested in the introduction, Rauf was a product not
of a Sri Lankan Muslim upringing but of a highly unorthodox
Indian one. It is possible therefore that, unconnected with the
larger Sri Lankan Muslim community over any significant period
of time, Rauf was not as influenced by the codes in place regarding
the role of women. Her early exposure, upbringing and education
were very different from that which many Muslim women in Sri
Lanka from a similar class background could have experienced.
Therefore, the conservatism of the Sri Lankan Muslim middle
class social milieu was perhaps not a part of her background and
sensibilities. Her “modern” upbringing and ideas had a greater
freedom to flourish. Of course such a flourishing could not have
occurred if not for the support of her husband. Ayesha Rauf often
stated that her husband was at the forefront of her entry into
public life. She admitted once that at her marriage she had
considered her working life to have ended. However, with the
support of M.S.M. Rauf she was able to continue her contributions
to society. During her young adult life in India, too, she was
considered somewhat unusual and as pioneering the entrance of
Muslim Mappila women into the public sphere. Therefore, it
would not have been difficult for her to decide to enter public
life in this country.
Unfortunately today, Ayesha Rauf does not have the place
that she merits in the history of the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Her
status as outsider, gave her the skill and courage to pioneer many
avenues of activity for Muslim women, and her lack of
engagement with entrenched Muslim conservatism was an asset.
Even Muslim Ladies’ College of which she was an integral part,
has only a partial memory of her. Their Founder’s Day celebrates
Razik Fareed–not Ayesha Rauf. For instance, the current vice
principal stated that Rauf is only remembered as the “Indian lady”
who was principal for a time. However, Ayesha Rauf’s memory
is strong among those who knew her and benefited not just from
her personal qualities and insight but also from the work that
she did. At a time when many Muslim women are trying to find
their voice and do some social good through any means available,
it is important that Ayesha Rauf’s memory be resurrected and
she be given her due place in the history of Sri Lanka’s Muslim
Muslim Ladies College has periodically benefited from prominent
Muslims having taken an interest in developing the school
towards providing a better basic education for Muslim girls. In
the 1980s Mrs. Jezima Ismail was principal and brought many
significant changes to the school during her tenure there. Mrs.
Ismail introduced public dramatic productions, and
improvements in sports. The M.S. Alif family contributed
substantially towards the development of the school. M.S.Alif,
as Sir Razik Fareed’s lawyer was involved with many aspects of
the school on behalf of Sir. Razeek. Mrs. Alif and her sister Mrs.
Mumtaz Amanulla, and Mr. Alif’s sister Mrs. Rashida Mohideen
(later, founder principle of Ilma International Girls School) were
teachers at the school. Teachers at MLC recall that Mr. M.S Alif
helped the school when the SLFP government was in power. Mr.
M.S.Alif was very influential in the party.
Endnotes Endnotes Endnotes Endnotes Endnotes
I thank the friends at the SSA especially Rasika Chandrasekera and
Kumari Jayawardena for their help in completing this pamphlet , and
Christine Chanmugam for commenting on the text. I am also grateful
to Ayesha Rauf’s daughter Neloufer Buhari, Anberiya Haniffa, and
JAzima Ismail for discussions on Ayesha Rauf and the Muslim Ladies
College. Special thanks are are due to Yasmina Mubarak for her research
which provided us with more details on this subject.
See Vijaya Samaraweera, “The Muslim Revivalist Movement, 1880-
1915,” in Michael Roberts ed. Sri Lanka: Collective Identities Revisited
V.1. Colombo: Marga Institute, 1997.
See, for instance, the website of Al Muslimaath. This organization does
excellent educational and social service work for Muslim women and
girls; however, they carry on their website article that speaks of the
horrors of women entering the man’s world.
M.A. Nuhman, “Ethnic Identity Religious Fundamentalism and Mulsm
Women in Sri Lanka,” in Alternative Perspectives: A Collection of Essays
on Contemporary Muslim Society. MWRAF/WLUML 1997.
Interview with Neloufer Buhari, daughter of Ayesha Rauf, June 1994.
Officially founded in 1956, Kerala eventually came to be known as
‘God’s Own State’ and ‘The Spice Garden of India.’ Standards of living
were higher than rest of India. In modern times, the literacy rate in
Kerala is 90% and life expectancy is 72 years. Despite being an
economically poor state, it has prospered much in every other sense.
Hence, Kerala is said to challenge the prevailing view that the quality
of life is measured by per capita income. Amartya Sen often cites the
state as an example of what can be done when government invests
effectively in “public goods” like land reform, primary education and
health care.
Vijaya Samaraweera, “The Muslim Revivalist Movement,1880-1915,”
in Michael Roberts ed. Collective Identities: Nationalism and Protest in
Modern Sri Lanka. Colombo: Marga Institute, Colombo: 1979, 243-79.
S. Gopalakrishnan, Political Movements in South India 1914-1929.
Madras: New Era Publications, 1981, 95.
Ibid., 99.
Ibid., 103.
K.N. Pannikar, “E.M.S as a Historian,”Frontline, Vol. 15, No. 7, Apr.
4-17, 1998. While the movement was by and large anti-colonial and
reflected peasant grievances it was not without its religious elements.
In addition to the several Hindu landlords who were attacked, E.M.S.
Namboodripad mentions the large numbers of forced conversions
conducted by the Mappilas.
S. Gopalakrishnan, Political Movements in South India 1914-1929.
Madras: New Era Publications, 1981, 107-109.
V.K Mayen died before Ayesha Rauf’s youngest sister, the third of the
Mayen girls, could complete her education. At the time of his death the
child was withdrawn from school by the rest of his family. Interview
with Neloufer Buhari.
According to Neloufer Buhari, the Maharajah of Conmanore was
married to Ayesha Rauf’s aunt. Therefore the two families were
connected by more than the father’s job.
Sunday Observer, 1 October 1988.
Jayawardena, 1986, 36-37.
Rafiuddin Ahmed, The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906. A Quest for
Identity. Oxford University Press, 1981, 151.
Aghar Ali Engineer.
Ceylon Observer, 16 January 1952.
Interview with Neloufer Buhari. K.M. Seethi, in a character certificate
written for Ayesha Mayen, states that she has the “unique distinction of
being the first Mopplah lady graduate of British Malabar, Tellicherry,
20 November 1937, letter in collection of Neloufer Buhari.
Ceylon Observer, 16 January 1952.
Ismail, Jezima no date.
Ceylon Observer, 16 January 1952.
Ibid. I have not been able to identify these schools by name. The
information is from Ayesha Rauf’s own comments that appeared in
newspaper accounts.
K.M. Seethi, in character certificate written for Ayesha Mayen,
Tellicherry, 20 November 1937, letter in collection of Neloufer Buhari.
Interview with N. Buhari.
Interview with Mrs Rashid, sister of M.S.M. Rauf, June 1995.
Kamil Asad, The Muslims of Sri Lanka under the British Rule. New
Delhi: Navrang, 1993, 98.
Ibid., 111-15.
Ibid., 118-24.
Although Fareed’s record was truly extraordinary, he began his
political career with the UNP in 1946 and was joint treasurer of the
party. He contested general elections in March 1960.
Ceylon Observer, 16 January 1952.
Vijaya Samaraweera, The Muslim Revivalist Movement 1880-1915,
in Michael Roberts ed. Colombo: Marga Institute, 1997, 300.
Ibid., 299.
M.S. Issathunissa, Muslim Women’s Education: A General Survey.
National Conference on the Education of Muslims in Sri Lanka, Abstracts
in University of Peradeniya, 1993.
The Ceylon Independent, 13 May 1892.
Administrative Reports 1892. Part iv/D14, Public Instruction.
Ceylon Legislative Council Debates, 5 December 1894, 66-67.
Report of the Census of 1901, 131.
E.B. Denham, Ceylon at the Census (1912). Denham states that there
was a shortage of Mohammedan schools for both boys and girls; he
also mentions the support offered by a wealthy Mohammedan, one
Magdon Ismail, “to be distributed among the Moorish girls schools of
the southern province in prizes for attendance and needle-work.”
Quoted in Vijaya Samaraweera, The Muslim Revivalist Movement
1880-1915, in Michael Roberts ed. Colombo: Marga Institute, 1997, 298.
The People, 7 August 1918.
K.H.M. Sumathipala, History of Education in Ceylon. 1796-1965.
Colombo: Tissara Prakasakayo, 1968, 50-59.
Times of Ceylon, 13 July 1939.
Searchlight, 13 September 1933.
Times of Ceylon, 16 April 1937.
Times of Ceylon, 16 April 1937. Times of Ceylon 14 August 1937.
There was some controversy in the early seventies as to the origin of
Muslim Ladies’’ College (MLC). The Ceylon Moor Ladies’ Union
(CMLU) claimed that the school, far from being started by Mrs Ayesha
Rauf, was in fact begun much earlier under the patronage of the CMLU
and principalship of A.R.B. Nilam. Rauf hotly contested this statement
on the basis that the MLC started by the CMLU in Golconda “died a
natural death the same year and had nothing whatsoever to do with
the present Muslim Ladies’’ College” (Ayesha Rauf’s personal notes
and draft of letter written in response to the CMLU). The CMLU strongly
protested Ayesha Rauf’s claim that she was the first principal of Muslim
Ladies’’ College. This dispute is also mentioned in an article on Ayesha
Rauf that was written subsequently, Jezima Ismail’s “Deshabandu Mrs
Ayesha Rauf, a Model of Women.”
Interview with Maulawiya Zubair, vice principal Muslim Ladies’
College, 16 October 2003.
Letter written by Ayesha Rauf to The Island, 1990 (in the collection of
Neloufer Buhari).
Sunday Observer, 1 October 1988.
Interview with teacher from Dehiwala, June 1994.
Interview Jayasooriya, former teacher of Muslim Ladies’ College, 17
August 2000.
Interview with Mrs Christine Chanmugam, former teacher of Muslim
Ladies’ College, 18 August 2000.
While it was not clear what “bad behaviour” meant in this instance
the slightly dated term was generally used to indicate some violation of
the strict rules of male female segregation demanded of Muslim girls.
Chanmugam, 1996.
It is interesting to note then that by this time the Muslim community
aspirations for its women was to be more than “good cooks.”
Unfortunately the trend has not been uniform. There is much evidence
to show that many Muslims today too would be more than happy to
have their daughters only be good cooks.
K.H.M. Sumathipala, History of Education in Ceylon. 1796-1965.
Colombo: Tissara Prakasakayo, 1968, 406-408.
However, the further legislation that was brought about as a result of
the agitation against taking control meant that the ownership of school
premises too would fall into government hands. Thereby Sir Razik
Fareed’s property, by then worth over a million, also became state
property. Its loss was lamented. Further, Zahira College the other
educational flagship of the community too fell into state hands. It had
first opted to stay independent, but inability to pay teachers’ salaries
on time meant that this institution too was taken over amidst much
resentment from the Muslim community. Jalaldeen Mohideen, “The
Educational Plight of the Ceylon Moors Malays and Other Muslims.
“ Moors Islamic Cultural Home Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 1970.
The Times of Ceylon, 17 November 1961.
From Dr Mary Rutnam’s speech at the inaugural meeting of the
Women’s Franchise Union, quoted in de Alwis and Jayawardena.
Casting Pearls The Women’s Franchise Movement in Sri Lanka.
Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association,. 2001, 19-20.
Violet Bawa, with the identifiable Muslim last name, was a member
of the founding committee. She was the daughter of Ahamadu Bawa,
Proctor and S.C. However, the Bawas, with Ahamadu Bawa having
married a woman from the Dutch Burgher community, no longer
identified as Muslims but as Christians.
Kamil Asad, The Muslims of Sri Lanka under the British Rule, 92.
Asad sights an instant where the issue of universal franchise was
discussed and opposition registered at a meeting protesting the Donou
ghmore commission’s failure to recognize the need for separate
representation for Moors and Malays. Asad does not indicate the
grounds upon which the opposition to universal franchise was stated.
Jayawardena and de Alwis, Casting Pearls The Women’s Franchise
Movement in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association, 2001,
Ibid., 61.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike was prime minister in the 1960s, 1970s and
1990s, and Chandrika BAndaranaike Kumaratunga was President in
1994 and 2000.
Kumari Jayawardena, “Widow’s Might in Sri Lanka,” Frontline, 18
June 1993.
Such a statement should only be made of course after careful analysis
of many of the retrograde policies of prominent women world leaders
like Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. Systematic exclusion of
women from politics must be challenged, and women’s participation
must be encouraged in order that women’s perspective across class and
ethnicity is also voiced. However, one cannot make the claim that women
make more progressive politicians than men.
Interview with Neloufer Buhari, June 1994.
The Ceylon Observer, 16 January 1952.
Kumari Jayawardena, Dr Mary Rutnam: A Canadian Pioneer for
Women’s Rights in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association,
1993, 34-35.
Kumari Jayawardena, Ethnic and Class Conflict in Sri Lanka.
Colombo: Sanjeeva Books, 1985, 47-48.
Ibid., 55-58.
Ibid., 47-48.
Aziz Felicitation Volume, 1986, 88-89.
Interview with Neloufer Buhari, June 1994.
G.P.S.H. De Silva., A Statistical Survey of Elections to the Legislature
of Sri Lanka 1911-1977, 146-47.
Sunday Observer, 10 January 1988. M.H.M. Munas, M.S.M. Rauf’s
brother-in-law and Ayesha Rauf’s rival, hailed from a family of
politicians. Munas’ brother is the former speaker of parliament, M.H.
Mohamed. His uncle N.M.M. Ishak was a one-time municipal councilor.
The Island, 27 July 1990.
Quoted in Hulugalle, 38.
My discussions with Eastern Province Muslims on the issue have
always elicited similar feelings of dissatisfaction. These areas are also
strong SLMC bases.
Taken from Anberiya, Hanifa “A Tribute to Deshabandu Ayesha
Rauf,” Daily News, 25 April 1992.
Interview with Mrs Sadiq.
Rauf’s daughter Neloufer was born in the early 1940s, very soon after
the Raufs’ arrival in Sri Lanka. Ismeth, the son, was born almost ten
years later. M.S.M. Rauf died of a heart attack in January 1964 at the age
of 49. At the death of her husband, Ayesha Rauf went into seclusion for
four months and ten days to practice Iddha or the required mourning
period. During this time she lived in Kollupitiya with her two children.
Bibliography Bibliography Bibliography Bibliography Bibliography
Anberiya, Hanifa. “Tribute to Deshabandu Ayesha Rauf,” Daily
News, 25 April 1992.
Asad, Kamil. The Muslims of Sri Lanka under the British Rule.
New Delhi: Navrang, 1993.
Ayesha Rauf File, Lake House Library.
Chanmugam, Christine. “Tribute to the First Principal, Golden
Jubilee Celebrations, 1946-96,” souvenir to mark 50 years
of Muslim Ladies’ College.
de Silva, G.P.S.H. A Statistical Survey of Elections to the
Legislature of Sri Lanka 1911-1977.
Democratic Workers Congress. Abdul Aziz: 75
Felicitation Volume. Colombo: Democratic Workers
Congress, 1986.
Gopalakrishnan, S. Political Movements in South India 1914-1929.
Madras: New Era Publications, 1981.
Ismail, Jezima. “Deshabandu Ayesha Rauf: a Model of Women.”
(no date).
Issathunissa, M.S. Muslim Women’s Education: A General Survey.
National Conference on the Education of Muslims in Sri
Lanka, Abstracts in University of Peradeniya, 1993.
Jayawardena, Kumari. Ethnic and Class Conflict in Sri Lanka.
Colombo: Sanjeeva Books, 1985.
———Dr Mary Rutnam: A Canadian Pioneer for Women’s Rights
in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association, 1993.
———Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. London:
Zed Books, 1986, reprinted, Colombo, Social Scientists’
———From Nobodies to Somebodies. Colombo: Social
Scientists’ Association and Sanjiva Books, 2000.
Maureen. “From Purdah to Politics,” Ceylon Observer, 16 January
Peiris, Roshan. “Ayisha Rauf – The First Woman Deputy Mayor,”
Sunday Observer, 10 January 1988.
Peiris, Roshan. “Poor but Prosperous,” The Atlantic Monthly,
September 1998.
Samaraweera, Vijaya. “The Muslim Revivalist Movement 1880-
1915,” in Micheal Roberts ed. Sri Lanka: Collective
Identities Revisited, Vol 1. Colombo: Marga Institute,
Sameem, Ariffa. “Message from the Retired Vice Principal,” in
Golden Jubilee Celebrations, 1946-96.
Farzana Haniffa obtained her Ph.D in Anthropology from Columbia
University in New York in 2007 and has since then worked as a
Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department of the University of