The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Zahira goes from strength to strength


The very first Muslim School in Sri Lanka, Zahira College, Colombo was founded in 1892 as Al Madrasathul Zahira by two of the most prominent Sri Lankan Muslims of that time, namely I.L.M. Abdul Azeez and Arasi Marikar Wapchie Marikar who were both encouraged by Ahamed Orabi Pasha, a prominent Egyptian who was exiled in Sri Lanka.  Today Zahira College is the largest Muslim educational institution in Sri Lanka with more than 4500 students and 250 teachers.  The College which is situated in the heart of Colombo was built on the grounds adjoining one of the oldest mosques in Sri Lanka, the Maradana Mosque.

At the inception Zahira College which was founded during colonial times provided education solely in the English Language, whilst catering to the requirement of upbringing the children in an Islamic environment.   Over the years, Branches of Zahira College were established in Aluthgama (1942), Gampola (1942), Matale (1944), Puttlam (1944) and later on Wekanda.

Under the tutelage of two eminent Principals, Dr. T.B. Jayah (1921 – 1948) and Dr. A.M.A. Azeez (1948 -1962) the College achieved phenomenal growth, rising from 35 students in the year 1894 to approximately 1500 in 1962 by the time Dr. Azeez left Zahira.   Those were indeed the Golden Years in Zahira’s history.   In that period not only did Zahira achieve spectacular results in the academic field, Zahirians also excelled in sports having won Inter-School Champions in Rugby, Cricket, Soccer, Boxing, Wrestling, Cadeting and Rifle Shooting.  Over the years Zahira has produced a large number of eminent Old Boys who have excelled in various academic fields such as Law, Medicine, Engineering, Accountancy and Business Enterprise.

From the very inception, whilst the day to day administration of the College was left completely in the hands of the capable Principals, the management of the College was left in the hands of the Maradana Mosque Committee, until 1982 when through the efforts of the Old Boys Association under the Presidency of Prof. M.T.A. Furkhan, an eminent Old Boy, an Act of Parliament titled the ‘Zahira College, Colombo Board of Governors Act of 1982’ the management of the College was handed over to the new Board.  Since 1982 the affairs of the College have been managed by the Board with the Principals having full responsibility for day to day administration and functioning of the College.

At the time the ‘Board of Governors Act’ was introduced, the Principal of the College was the late Mr. S.L.M. Shafie Marikar who had a distinguished record of service for the fourteen years he headed the school.  In the intervening years eminent persons such as Mr. R.I.T. Alles, Mr. Javed Yusuf and Prof. M.T.A. Furkhan have held the post of Principal.   The current Principal is Mr. Mohammed Jiffry Haniffa who took over the position some eighteen months ago.

Under the stewardship of Mr. M. Fouzul Hameed who took over as Chairman of the Board of Governors in 2006, a well co-ordinated programme to improve the standards of education, sports and extra curricular activities within the Islamic environment of the College has been carefully implemented with commendable success.   Whilst concentrating on improving the teaching standards of the teachers and teaching methodology (by training), tremendous efforts have been put in to improve the infra-structure of the College by completing four important buildings, namely the new Science Block Building, the Al Makthoum Building with 14 classrooms, the Desamanya M.T.A. Furkhan Building with 28 classrooms plus IT, Library and Auditorium facilities and a state of the art Swimming Pool – all within the last four years.

Zahira College is one of the very few schools in Colombo which conducts classes in all three mediums, namely Sinhala, Tamil and English.  The demand for entry to the school has now reached levels which far exceed the number of Year One students that can be taken each year.

The present Principal Mr. Mohammed Jiffry has taken it as a challenge to improve the results further in the Year Five Scholarship, O’ Level and A’ Level examinations each year, and for that purpose he and his Deputy Principal, Mr. A.R.M. Trizvy Marikkar have introduced a series of new steps.   They are confident that now that Zahira has an infra-structure that can compare with any one of the best schools in the Island and with a teacher cadre to match, the future of the current approximately 4500 boys who are educated at Zahira will be bright.  Fortunately, unlike in the past, the parents of the Zahira College students in recent times have shown tremendous interest which should help to produce better results.  The Board of Governors is also planning to set up a modern Hostel with up to date facilities to accommodate eminently capable students from outstations.

Although Zahira College is generally considered a Muslim School, admission has always been open to children of all denominations.  Over the years, Zahira has produced a large number of non-Muslim students who have reached the highest echelons in the professional and academic world.  The Board of Governors of the College has consistently adopted an open policy for all communities, and as required by Islam respects all religions and all human beings as equals.   With more than fifty percent of the teaching staff being non-Muslims there is excellent input from all communities in the co-ordinated efforts of Zahira.

The word “Zahira” in Arabic means “Excellence”.   Zahira College is now relentlessly pursuing a policy “in search of excellence”.  (NW)

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