The Muslim community of Sri Lanka has lost one of its most illustrious intellectuals. S. M. Kamaldeen, fondly known as Kamal to his friends, passed away recently. He was 88 years. He lived a full and fruitful life in the service of knowledge and humanity.
Kamal was a former librarian of the Colombo Public Library, and served as director of the Sri Lanka Libraries Board, in addition to holding other responsible positions in the field of librarianship. Kamal devoted his life to books and the dissemination of knowledge among students and all those who sought his help in finding information.
I first came to know Mr. Kamladeen when I was a regular visitor at the Colombo Public Library in the early 1960s, when I was a student preparing for my university entrance examination. I would diffidently approach him and he would happily help me find the information I required. He was always accessible to anyone who needed guidance.
Many scholars have benefited from Mr. Kamaldeen’s vast knowledge of history, politics and literature. It was he who drew my attention to the existence of the first Malay and Muslim newspaper, “Alamat Langkapuri”, which was published by lithograph in 1869, in Colombo, by the great Sri Lankan Malay literary savant, Baba Ounus Saldin.
Kamal offered to give me a facsimile of this newspaper to use in my PhD research work at Monash University, when I left for Australia in 1974. That single finding changed my perspective on the history of the Sri Lanka Malays. Following Mr. Kamaldeen’s lead, I discovered many other hitherto unknown Malay manuscripts in Sri Lanka. I am sure there are many scholars who owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Kamaldeen.
Kamal’s life was not confined to books. He was an active member of the community. He was a true leader and a dedicated social worker. His contributions to the Young Men’s Muslim Association are widely known. He was also president of the All-Ceylon YMMA Conference, back in 1960. Inspired by the ideals of A. M. A. Azeez, founder of the Sri Lanka YMMA movement, Kamal enriched the intellectual life of our Muslim youth. He helped to build up the library at the Dematagoda YMMA. Fearless and unbending, he stood up for principles, regardless of political influences. His unbiased report on the 1981 burning of the magnificent Jaffna library was further testimony to his integrity.
He is survived by his wife, Haleema Hanem Marikar, retired Director of Education, Kegalle. His son lives in the United States.
I am sure there are many who will miss this wonderful intellectual, whose memory will be perpetuated in the works of writers and scholars in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Professor B. A. Hussainmiya