It was morning of Tuesday, January 12, 1960. History is being made inside the resplendent Satinwood Chamber of the majestic snowy building at Cinnamon Gardens called the Town Hall, resembling the Capital Building of Washington. The First Muslim Mayor of the City of Colombo is being elected.
The oldest Local administration in Asia prided itself by conferring this honour on M.H. Mohamed, a veteran Councilor.
This celebrated status opened the vistas for Mohamed to further enhance his prestige and position in the foreign clime as well A year later Dr. Inamullah Khan, the dynamic Secretary General of the World Muslim Congress (MOTAMAR) arrives in the country on a mission to nominate a prominent Muslim of Ceylon to represent the Rabitatul A’lamul-Islami (RABITA), which was in the process of being formed in the Holy City of Mecca al-Mukarrama under the guidance of that great Mujahid His Majesty King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
He was received at the Ratmalana Airport by M.D. Kitchilan (Later Senator), Administrative Secretary of the All-Ceylon Muslim League and a host of other leaders like M. Faleel A. Caffoor (Later MP), M.H. Amit (Later MP), AM Nazeer (Later Deputy Mayor), A.C.A. Wadood (Religious Secretary of the League) and my humble self.
The Muslim League accorded a reception to him the following day at its Headquarters in Fort, Colombo, chaired by Dr. M.C.M Kaleel, President.
It was at this meeting that the Motamar SG announced the purpose of his visit.
A list of names was prepared and duly handed over to him to take to Saudi. Dr. Inamullah Khan thereafter called on the First Muslim Mayor of Colombo at his office in Town Hall. The Pakistan leader was so impressed by the dynamism, charisma and the organisational skill displayed by Mayor Mohamed, and without the twinkling of an eye, his name was proposed. M.H. Mohamed thus became a Founder Member of the Constituent Council of RABITA.
He took his seat in the hall of fame along with some of the most celebrated Islamic scholars of the world. To name a few: his Eminence Seyyed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufthis of Palestine and President of Motamar (Which was the first world peoples body inaugurated in the holy City of Mecca), Dr. Said Ramadan, Director General of Geneva Islamic Centre, Sheikh Abulhassen Al-Nadvi, Rector of Nadwathul Ulema of Lucknow, Moulana Abul A’la Maudoodi, President, Jamat-e-Islami, Pakistan, Senator Ahamed Damacao Allento, Philippines, Omar Al-Saggaf, Singapore, Dr. Omar Nasif, Chancellor of King Abdul Aziz University (Later Secretary General, RABITA, His Eminence Sheikh Ban Baaz, Grand Mufthi of Saudi Arabia and Rector of Jamiah Medina, Abubucker Thawafa Balewa, Ex-President of Nigeria, Ahamed Bello, Sudan, Seyed Ahmed Turabi, Sudan, Suroor al-Sabban, Sheik Ali Al-Harkan, Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Salih al-Gazzaz (The last being the successive Secretary General of RABITA, and Dr. Inamulla Khan himself of Pakistan.
This significant achievement of Mohamed is ample proof to show that he basked in the glory international fame!
He was instrumental in starting many a movement to serve his mother land, his community and the international brotherhood. A milestone of his career was the inauguration of the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre in Colombo under the aegis of the RABITA to co-ordinate all Islamic activities under one roof.
It should be remembered here with gratitude the generosity of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who then as Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government and Housing, donated the piece of land at his newly filled Town within Town Maligawatte Scheme. The ready assistance rendered by Sirisena Cooray (Ex-Mayor and Ex-Minister). Jehan Cassim (Chairman, Common Amenities Board, Senator S.Z.M. Mashoor Moulana and myself were acting as the go-betweens in selecting the present site.
To add a personal note, it was at the inauguration ceremony of this Islamic Centre on 18.09.1982 that I was made to create a record. That was made possible, when President J.R. Jayewardene rose to add the gathering he bade me to interpret his speech simultaneously into Sinhala and Tamil.
It was totally a new experience; as nervous as I was I did my best, and at the end felt relieved when Prime Minister Premadasa patted on my back and said aloud. Well done Azwer.
It was around 1993 Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Ammar, Secretary General of WAMY, Riyadh visited the Islamic Centre with a view to establishing the Asian Council of Darul Iftha- Da’wa and Guidance. M.H. Mohamed, the Director General, was used his entire persuasive prowess to convince the Saudi delegation that Sri Lanka was the best place for an endeavour. After a bird’s-eye view of the entire situation the delegation selected Sri Lanka as “this country represented a unique position in world community, where four great religions existed side by side in an atmosphere of harmony and friendship apparently not witnessed elsewhere in the region.”
The first impact in our country of the presence of Darul Iftha was felt with the visit of Sheikh Mohammed Ismail Bin Atheeq. He came with the first donations from this Riyadh based Islamic organisation with the visit for distribution among Mosques, Madrasas and other Islamic institutions.
As member of RABITA Mr. Mohamed took the initiative of this distribution at a meeting convened at his residence Hafeera with the presence of the Darul Iftha Chief (Picture attached).
It is in the fitness of things that Dr. Al-Ammar is now making a visit to our country as Minister of Islamic Religious Affairs of Saudi Arabia together with his delegation to set up the Asian Islamic Council with the participation of over fifty scholars and Islamic leaders representing countries from Asia, Africa, and Europe. The dominant feature underlining this World moot is very significant at this juncture in our history to promote inter-racial amity and harmony.
The synthesis of Buddhist and Islamic idealism is sine qua non at this moment in history to build up unity among followers of these two religions based on the spread of Buddhist and Islamic dhamma of ahimsa and peace respectively.
In fact Mohamed Haniffa Mohamed (As he was fondly called by the Islamic world) was a great visionary. He proved that he was totally committed to promote inter-racial amity and brotherhood when he, before other would think of it, to form a Forum for National Amity and Understanding under the roof of the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, thus achieving the principle purpose of RABITA’s global mission in promoting international peace and harmony!
He showed remarkable statesmanship, when he roamed home, among others, erudite Buddhist scholars like Ven. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Nayake Thera (Vice-Chancellor of Sabaragumwa University) and Ven. Banagala Upatiss Nayaka Thera (Chief Sanganayake Thera of Japan and Chief of Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka) to occupy prominent positions in this Forum.
The importance of this Inter-faith Conference will be further enhanced, as reported, with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and other prominent leaders of all faiths in our country. In the political arena too, it was a meteoric rise for MH. Firstly, honour was bestowed upon his family when his grandfather M.C. Abdul Raheman was appointed as the First Muslim member of the Legislative Council by Governor Sir Arthus Elibank Havelock in 1889.
Earlier, he achieved the singular honour of becoming the first-ever Muslim member of the Colombo Municipal Council. He rose to international fame by becoming the First Member of the Constituent Council of RABITA.
71 long years after, lady luck smiled on his grandson, when M.H. Mohamed was elected as the First Muslim Mayor of the City Colombo.
Yet again the Mohamed family achieved another milestone, when his eldest son Hussain Mohamed became the Mayor of Colombo – the First time a father and son occupying this prestigious position. (Presently, he has undertaken the tremendous responsibility of piloting the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre so well established by his dear father)
M.H. Mohamed could claim credit to obtaining places for the Sri Lankan students at Jamiah Medina, the granting of Saudi Scholarship Fund, and obtaining other benefits from the Islamic Development Bank of the Kingdom.
May the laudable mission undertaken by this celebrated leader during his life time bear fruit bringing benefits and solace to the people here and abroad- Ameen!
The writer is a Former Member of Parliament /Minister, Former Secretary, Sri Lanka Council of RABITA & Motamar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org