“Say to my brethren when they saw me dead,
And wept for me lamenting in sadness:
Thinking ye that I was the corpse you were to bury?
I swear by God, that dead one was not I
When I had formal shape, then was it my body
Served as my garment, I wore it for a while
A bird I am now; that body was my cage
But I have flown away leaving it behind as a token”.
(The above is an adaptation of a famous poem written by Imam Ghazzali, one of Islam’s greatest Scholars, and found under his pillow, a few hours after his passing in 1111 AD.).
Three weeks before he passed away, Shibly, his wife Fathima, my wife Rezani and myself spent a relaxed Sunday evening watching the sun set over the sand mounds of the developing Port City, from one of Colombo’s highest points at Kingsbury Hotel. We spoke of many things: Shibly had been asked to suggest a replacement for himself in Sri Lanka’s Constitutional Council, a position he had held for 3 years and for which we tossed names randomly, deliberating on their credibility and ability to serve. We discussed the pros and cons of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces Act (MMDA), in which he had played a pivotal role and to which he reasoned out the steps that had to be introduced slowly, in measured strides, allowing time for all stakeholders to understand and appreciate the changes. The next day he was to see an ophthalmologist regarding an issue with one of his eyes and sight. The issues of the eye and concerns connected to his heart were what lead to the next 3 weeks of him being hospitalised and ultimately to his passing away, which no one quite expected to be so soon.
The outpouring of grief by the many relatives, friends, professional colleagues, school friends, corporate colleagues, politicians, government and civil society underscored that Shibly’s value transcended way beyond family and relatives to have been a vital source of life-changing moments in many people’s lives, the community and society at large. To us, he was a family man. He loved his family profoundly. He was a devoted husband, father, uncle, brother and admittedly, my late mother’s favourite.
The eldest son of Senior Advocate late M.H.A. Aziz from Galle and Jiffriya Idroos of Matara, Shibly, had his primary education at St Thomas’ Prep School in Kollupitiya and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo at which he excelled in his studies. He is remembered for carrying away seven prestigious prizes at the College Prize Giving in 1962 - the Shakespeare, E W Pereira & 5 other coveted prizes. He completed his LLB degree passing out with Honours from the University of Peradeniya.
After a short spell at the unofficial Bar, he joined the Attorney General’s Dept as a Crown Counsel in 1968 and gradually rose up its ranks to be Senior State Counsel, DSG, Solicitor General and finally the Country’s Attorney General in 1994. He was the youngest member of the Bar to be conferred the title President’s Counsel. He resigned from his position as Attorney General prematurely, on principle, not wanting to be unduly ‘politicized’ and compromise his ethics and values. Integrity was everything to him.
Shibly married Fathima, the accomplished daughter of Late Dr. A R.M. Waffarn and Mrs. Sithy Waffarn. He enjoyed holidays with their two sons, Afdhel, an Internationally acclaimed Marketing Consultant who lives in California and Dr. Aadhil, a Consultant Physician, living in Melbourne, and their families.
He was the eldest of my siblings followed by my sister Minha, brother Imthiaz, myself and our youngest sister Ryhan (Babsy).
Shibly achieved much in his life, none of which he clamoured for, but which came his way. He accepted them with the humility and dedication that was characteristic of him. As President’s Counsel, Attorney General of Sri Lanka, President of the Bar Association - the only lawyer to Head both the official and unofficial Bar, member of the Constitutional Council, President of the Ahadiya Schools Federation, Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority and so many other positions he held in the community and society at large, sat lightly on his shoulders.
Last year, Fathima and he were part of my ‘family’ delegation to Lahore and Islamabad, Pakistan to be a part of my being conferred the highest civilian award, Tamgha e Khidmat by the Government of Pakistan for promoting friendship, trade, investments and community oriented projects between the two countries. We were given a convoy of luxury vehicles, but Shibly chose to travel in the van that my sons used and what fun they had!
That was Shibly – the essence of humble, simplicity, peaceful and unassuming, God fearing. As Attorney General, living in the Government allocated house on Paget Road, the police guards who had never seen him on one instance, stopped him at the gate to ask who he was when he drove in. In his characteristic manner he answered saying “I have come to see AG Mahattaya”.
The life he led was a model for all of us to emulate. Arrogance, false pride, greed, egoism and petty mindedness were traits he abhorred. Positions didn’t bother him nor did recognition or fame.
Thousands paid their last respects to his remains, at his residence and at the funeral at the Jawatta Muslim Burial grounds. I have never seen such a massive crowd at a Janaza at Jawatta. Almost every person who condoled with me had something to say about how Shibly had touched their lives in one way or another - lending a helping hand, mentoring, intervening and assisting in family and financial disputes, giving a letter of recommendation, free legal advice and consultations and so forth.
I pray that my brother Shibly will be blessed with the highest place in Jannathul Firdause. Inna lillahi we Inna ilaihi rajioon - From Allah (God) do we come and to Him is our return.
To the righteous soul will be said:
“O thou soul in complete rest and satisfaction!
Come back thou to thy Lord-well pleased thyself, an well pleasing unto Him!
Enter then thou among my Devotees
Yea, enter thou my Heaven”.
Sura Fajr verses 27-30