Hameed Abdul Karim A writer and activist par excellence, he will be missed My friend and brother in Islam, Hameed Abdul Karim is no more. He died in Makkah, Saudi Arabia of a heart attack after completing his Hajj on Saturday, September 26. A death immediately after Hajj is what most Muslims dream of, yet [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Hameed Abdul Karim

A writer and activist par excellence, he will be missed

My friend and brother in Islam, Hameed Abdul Karim is no more. He died in Makkah, Saudi Arabia of a heart attack after completing his Hajj on Saturday, September 26.

A death immediately after Hajj is what most Muslims dream of, yet the loss of Hameed Abdul Karim is a great blow to Muslim civil society and a greater loss for quality journalism in Sri Lanka.

Hameed was a warrior par-excellence, not with the sword, but with his golden pen. May Allah subhanahuwata’ala grant him Jannatul Firdous
He was an extremely talented, well-read and knowledgeable journalist/social worker who did not impose his thinking on others.

He was an unassuming person who shied away from pomp and pageantry. His quiet diplomacy and record of service to humanity is exemplary.

He has been one of the most vocal Muslim activists for social justice, not just for Muslims, but also to all who are disadvantaged. His activism is a shining example and is clear evidence that the pen is mightier than the sword.

His defence of Muslims in Sri Lanka as well as the Palestinian cause globally has been monumental, yet his unwavering commitment for social justice for all was paramount.

He found time to attend any event that espoused social justice and committed to write about those issues in well-articulated articles in the local and international press.

He has been an active member of the Palestinian cause in Sri Lanka for many years and has written many articles on the struggle of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.

He is one of the very few Sri Lankan journalists who travelled to Palestine and met Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Abbas.

Hameed Abdul Karim was one of the founders of the Centre for Islamic Studies (CIS) that brought quality Islamic education in multiple languages, not just for Muslims, but for non-Muslims too, who had interests in learning Islam.

The CIS Islamic library is one of the best for Muslims in Sri Lanka. He is an unsung hero, who would truly be missed by the thousands who have been part of the Centre for Islamic Studies.

He was also an active founding member of Amal International School for boys in the 1980’s. Further, he was able to mobilise generous support from his Memon Community for a number of projects related to education and social justice.

These are little known facts of the multi-faceted life of Hameed Abdul Karim.

Hameed’s political commentary was ornamented with mature judgment. He had been a vociferous critic of the hate campaign that was targeted towards the minority communities in Sri Lanka.

He also bravely opposed corruption, nepotism and misrule by successive governments. This led to most of his writing ending up in the dustbins of the state media, yet he used social media extensively for his activism.

His postings on social media are always a good read. His Viber account says “last online on 25/9/2015”.

Hameed’s loss will be felt by friends for generations to come. He fought his battles not for recognition or wealth, but because of his genuine belief in just causes.

His parting words to me, on the eve of his departure to Jeddah for Hajj was, “come hell or high-water, I am going for my Hajj”.

He made this comment because of the concern friends had for his safety this Hajj because of the harsh weather that was being experienced in Makkah, which was claimed to be the cause for the collapse of the crane and the death of hundreds.

May Allah subhanahuwata’ala forgive all his sins and grant him Jennathul Firdous.

-Hilmy Ahamed

Dr. Sivakumar Vedavanam

He was great  company and a wonderful friend

I write this with great sadness over the unimaginable loss of a close friend. After his early education at Jaffna Hindu College, Veda joined the Faculty of Medicine from St Peter’s College Bambalapitiya.

We met during the ‘carnage’ called the rag in 1967. He wasn’t pleased with the indignities but complied. Throughout the arduous course he worked diligently and enjoyed the camaraderie and the friendships like the rest of us.

All through those years of hard study and fun his effervescent character remained his hallmark. Veda was widely and genuinely loved for it. Although he was swept along by the humour and the buffoonery at Medical College there was the serious side to him where he drew the line.

As we left the Faculty and went our separate ways in 1967 I thought I would not see him again. But the forces of destiny worked in our favour. We started work at the Central Blood Bank in Colombo in 1970, almost on the same day.

In the Blood Bank we became closer. I recall the many evenings we drifted towards the Health Department Sports Club to put the world to right and enjoy the amber nectar that flowed so freely.

That was a time when the Medical Officer in the Blood Bank had to go to all parts of our island to collect blood. On many occasions when he went on these journeys he asked me to join in for company.

We did have a jolly good time. During those trips he showed tremendous kindness to the PHI’s, attendants and labourers who were part of the team. They loved him for his classless friendship and lavish hospitality.

Those were indeed memorable years. He will be fondly remembered for the work he did for the National Blood Transfusion Service of Sri Lanka 1970-75.

He was the proud owner of a VW Beetle, a car which was in great demand in those days. Veda was a bachelor then and was ever ready for a dinner and a drink on an evening.

During my years of personal hardships he was there to comfort me and keep me focused on life and the future. I will always remain grateful to Veda for his friendship during those turbulent times.

All I could do then was to help him to pass the Sinhala examination to get to his next grade in the Health Service. I can still hear him speak Sinhala with that strong northern accent which amused us no end.

I left Sri Lanka for the bright lights of London in 1974 but Veda remained for a further year in the Blood Bank. He soon became disillusioned with the lack of progress for doctors in that institution and made plans to emigrate.

He came to the UK and qualified in Psychiatry and worked for many years as a Forensic Psychiatrist in Durham before moving to Bedford. Neither he nor I remained in haematology.

Hence our career paths diverged and sadly I never met him again. When I phoned him ten years ago he gave me the impression he was now a recluse and was not keen to keep in touch with anyone. I agreed to respect his wish with a heavy heart.

Veda married a Solicitor and had two children, a girl and a boy, both of whom are doctors in England. He had his share of ill health and had a stroke in 2001 and surgery for prostate cancer in 2007.

From both these events he recovered fully.He passed away in June 2015 of a sudden heart attack.

Veda was one of the youngest in our batch and was 71 this year. His cheeky grin and casual manner are memories for us all. He accepted life with good grace and was great company and a wonderful friend. I will always remember him as an honest and dignified person. May he find Eternal Peace.

- Dr Nihal D Amerasekera


She shared her home, her love and all she had

We laid her to rest in the Marcsri cemetery. A well earned rest for even at 81 years she was still bathing the old patients and babies, sleeping on the floor with the children and administering the Marcsri Homes.

This simple but learned lady was usually seen in a simple dress, her pair of spectacles and slippers. She was a mother to so many and fondly known as Amma, Aunty, Akka, Miss and Sr. Rita, to those she came into contact with.

She shared her home, her love and everything she had with people of different ages…. be they the bedridden and terminally ill, the young and the lively (though severely handicapped) the aged and the feeble.

God gave her immense courage, strength and the stamina to look after so many people, even though she had only one eye and had undergone so many surgical operations many, many years ago.

The large gathering of people from all walks of life, young and old, the religious hierarchy from the Cardinal to so many Bishops, the religious dignitaries of various denominations, the schools and people in Kalutara, the simple villagers and all those who had been helped by her, testified how much she was loved and how much her work was appreciated.

Special mention must be made of Bishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando ( Emeritus ) who gave Rita every possible encouragement and advice to initiate the Marcsri Homes from its inception in January 1983 and also Bishop Raymond Wickremasinghe of Galle, who till Rita’s very end was a regular visitor to the Home.
Rita was shattered by the death of her husband in 1982. Since they had no children, there was nothing to live for. With the combining of the names Marcus and Rita, Rita’s home was known as “Marcsri ” and she continued to live there.

She comforted herself by visiting patients in hospital, who had no visitors.

Hers was a small house, that the first man seeking shelter had to be kept in the tiny porch and Rita would use an armchair and the hosepipe to bathe him.

News got around that there was a lady, sharing and caring for those who were too ill and had no kith and kin. So soon there was another and another who came seeking shelter.

She built a cadjan shed in her minute garden and provided a camp cot and chair to each one and extended the cadjan shed with each new arrival. Soon there were men in the shed, babies and children with whom she slept on the floor of her small sitting room and women for whom she extended the eaves of her home to give them privacy.

She sold her jewellery and used her pension to care for these inmates. A kind donor provided her with bricks and roofing sheets to make the cadjan shed, a more permanent structure.
She gifted her house and land to the Archbishop, who helped her by purchasing the adjoining lands to make the premises bigger, to accommodate more people. The need was so great that she began her second home in Paiyagala in 1984.

A group of friends calling themselves the ” Friends of Marcsri ” levied a membership fee to help her and they in turn reached out to more friends.

Soon there were twenty two homes in many parts of the country.

A Lake House Reporter who heard of these Homes and visited them wrote a lovely article in the Ceylon Daily News of the 30th of July 1985.
“Unlike Mother Teresa she did not wear a religious habit, though once she was a member of a religious order….
“Unlike Fr. Damian she has not gone out to any leper colony, even though she tended to so many of them ….
Unlike Florence Nightingale she was no trained nurse, which is why she had taken a little mite, skin and bone, to hospital “……

And so this article went on. Reading it, the then Prime Minister woke up many Government Officials and Members of Parliament living in and around Kalutara, who did not know such a place existed.

The very next day the Prime Minister sent truck loads of beds, mattresses and things needed for this home, through his daughter. In due course the Daily News carried a series of articles about the inmates of this home.

With the new rules and regulations of the Social Services Department for the running of Homes, which came into operation in 2012, the Homes Rita administered were now confined to 12, for the old and the feeble, the bedridden and the handicapped children.

There were so many friends who helped Rita to run these homes. One paid the electricity bill, the baker supplied bread at half the price, the Doctors would visit this home, a tile shop owner regularly supplied tiles.

Just as her work was great, the needs and wants of all these Homes and inmates were and, are as great. Now we wonder and just can’t imagine how Rita did, what she did.

Here was an Institution of Twelve Homes, which began overnight, with no project report or prior planning. Facing each challenge as it came up, learning all the while.

It is unbelievable that without Government or Diocesan aid, without fanfare and publicity, Rita had so many Homes and looked after hundreds of people. She never looked for the glory of medals and distinguished names.

It was Rita’s firm belief that God would intervene whenever necessary and send someone along, to help in whichever way, it was needed.
From time to time, the world sees the presence of people of exceptional qualities

. We are privileged to have known and worked with Rita. As she now rests in peace in the heavenly home above, as a tribute to Rita, the Marcsri Homes will continue to function.

So please join us in prayer, that together, we may continue to care for the inmates of these homes, in the same way, she would have done.

-Sharma Cooray


She was truly the “best all rounder”

One year has elapsed since she left us to continue her samsaric journey. Yet, the three older sisters she left behind feel her presence in their daily life as though she is only ‘a phone call away’.

“Cheeba” as we fondly called her, was the “punchee-baba” of the family. Though she was the youngest of the sisters, she certainly led from the front.

At Visakha Vidyalaya where she schooled, she excelled academically as well as in sports. She was Games Captain at junior and senior level, and in her last year at school, was awarded the trophy for ‘The Best All Rounder’.

Later at the University, she won her ‘Colours’ in four different sports–all of which contributed to mould her leadership qualities and give her the mental strength to face the vicissitudes of later life.

Being the doctor in the family we consulted her (even though there were more qualified doctors in our midst) on all our health issues. She was family physician par excellence.

She would listen attentively to our complaint, ask every minute detail related to it, offer advice and on importantly follow up with frequent phone calls inquiring after our progress.

This was not just for us sisters, our extended families and our house-helps, but for all her relatives, friends and neighbours as well.

It was not just on medical issues but our ‘Cheeba’ was wise beyond her years. Whatever troubled us be it a function to organise, a new outfit to be put together or a family dispute to be resolved, she gave us the most appropriate advice guiding us towards a satisfactory solution.

This ability to ‘connect’ and empathise with all around her was the key to her popularity. She reached out as none of us could, remembering birthdays and anniversaries of our entire family,buying a suitable gift or wishing us with an affectionate hug after the customary salutation with bent head.

Her children and grandchildren were her life blood. Throughout her busy day as wife, mother, grandmother, doctor, sister and friend, she found time for each one of us.

We always wondered whether the twenty four hours sufficed for her as she crammed so much to each day, hardly ever resting, ministering unto the sick, helping out at the VVOGA, cooking, gardening, reading, sewing, crocheting, cross- stitching, crafting all manner of baubles, shopping and driving around.

Yet, she managed to squeeze the time to chat endlessly on the phone on any interesting topic: social, political or personal and even sometimes indulging in naughty gossip.

Our sister was vibrant so full of life that when the dreaded cancer made its insidious journey into her system, it hardly stalled her spirit. At times, with shaven head, or her arm in a plaster cast she attended to her household chores, engaging actively in social activities.

Unfettered by her illness, she hosted dinners and ‘Avurudu’ celebrations, attended ‘Visakha’ functions and even danced with her granddaughter at a family wedding a few months before she passed away.

She went ‘full steam’ to fight the tentacles of cancer, never giving up or feeling sorry for herself. She was on such a ‘fast track’ arguing mentally with her illness and battling it physically that we her elder sisters, for the first time ‘took her in hand’ and led her to contemplate the ‘Dhamma’.

Thankfully she took to this as spiritedly as she did all her other endeavours. She progressed rapidly, meditating daily, attending dhamma classes regularly and even attended a ten day meditation retreat in the midst of several surgical procedures and regular sessions of chemotherapy.

Priya gave her illness a good fight yet, inevitably she lost the final battle. Nevertheless, she lived her life to the fullest as she deemed it, never expressing regret or remorse.

Our ‘Cheeba’ was loved and cared for by her husband Chula so very patiently and admirably. Likewise, we, her children, our families and all her friends and relatives gave of their best ungrudgingly.

We, therefore, have no regrets. We miss her terribly but we feel assured that in her samsaric journey she will progress steadily in her quest for ‘Nirvana.’ For that, her sisters feel blessed.

-Rani, Rohini and Srini

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