It is usual for the Speaker of the House to have a copy of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice by his side for ready reference. But Speaker Deshamanya Al-Haj Bakeer Markar kept a copy of the sacred Dhammapada to guide him in his solemn duties. He was always ready to be guided and inspired by the sacred teachings of our spiritual leaders, regardless of the religion.
On occasion, he would quote from the Dhammapada. He passed on his affection for and deference to the Dhammapada to his son, the former Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar.
It is apt therefore to begin this tribute with a quotation from the Dhammapada: in the Puppha Vagga (Flower Canto), the Supreme Buddha declares:
“The sweet smell of a flower never wafts up-wind, nor does the fragrance of sandalwood. But the aroma of virtue of a good man spreads up-wind, down-wind, in every direction and everywhere." These words well describe the virtues of Deshamanya Al-Haj Bakeer Markar.
As Speaker, he oversaw the transition of the Parliament from its old premises, facing the sea in Colombo, to its present home, in Kotte. It was a monumental challenge. He carried out the move with masterly efficiency – calm and dignified even in the most trying of circumstances.
M. A. Bakeer Markar was born to a family that traces its ancestry back to Sheik Jamaludeen-Al-Maghdoomi, the pioneering Arab leader who settled down in the coastal city of Beruwela.
Al-Haj M. A. Bakeer Markar had a deep sense of tradition, but he was never narrow-thinking or parochial. He believed that all communities should live in harmonious co-existence. National unity was at the heart of everything he said and did.
In 1950, the Urban Council of Beruwela became the first local government body to pass a resolution to the effect that Sinhala should be the state language. Al-Haj M. A. Bakeer Markar was chairman of the council at the time. He had a book in Tamil, titled “Yane Sinhalam” (“Why we should learn Sinhala”) printed with his own money and distributed among minority communities.
He worked hard to improve conditions for the Muslim community, especially through education. He was a champion of the socially discarded.
His father, Hakeem Alia Marikar Mohamed Marikar, was a successful businessman who practised Ayurvedic medicine. The name Hakeem means “physician”, suggesting ancestors who practised medicine.
Young Bakeer Markar received his early education at Zahira College, where he also acquired a taste for active politics. The presiding genius at Zahira then was the legendary Dr. T. B. Jayah, the school principal. Dr. Jayah was a highly respected educationist, and he was also a political activist, driven by a zeal for social reform. The young Bakeer Markar came under Dr. T. B. Jayah’s spell.
At Zahira, the young Bakeer Markar showed outstanding leadership qualities. He was made editor of the school magazine, speaker for the Majlis, and president of the Tamil Literary Association. He was also a skilful orator. To top it all, he was proficient in all three languages – Sinhala, Tamil and English.
The pursuit of law studies was a natural choice for a young man with all these qualities.
At the Law College, he was Speaker of the Muslim League Senate and the President of the All-Ceylon Muslim Students’ Movement.
Young Bakeer Markar entered the rough-and-tumble world of practical politics in 1947. He was the obvious choice to handle the election campaign of Dr. T. B. Jayah.
In 1950, he was elected to the Beruwela Urban Council, and became council chairman in his first year. His political career progressed steadily from then on.
He dreamed of a united Sri Lanka. The climax of his political career came with his appointment as Governor of the Southern Province. Whatever the troubles, he was ready to restore harmony.
His devotion to his own faith and his respect for the religions of others are legendary.
In the restoration of the Majid-Al-Abrar mosque, he ensured that the original architecture remained.
Al-Haj Bakeer Markar was a politician, a statesman and, above all, a gentleman.