By Latheef Farook –
Colorful and lately controversial Muslim politician Azwer Haji made immense contribution to Muslim community
Former Muslim Affairs Minister Al Haj A.H.M Azwer, one of the most colorful though lately controversial Muslim politician, passed away on Tuesday 29 August 2017. His janaza was buried following day after Asr prayers at Dehiwala Mosque. The mosque was packed to its capacity with mourners.
This also included former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was seen seated in the mosque compound. He called on the hospitalized Azwer more than once and was seen at the hospital on the night Azwer passed away. It was not surprising of Mahinda Rajapaksa to mourn a man, who stood by him even at a time his government harassed the Muslims. After all Azwer was one of those exceptional few amongst the Muslims, who publicly stood with the former President notwithstanding the hostility and isolation Azwer encountered in Muslim circles, which he faced with humility. The packed mourners who crowded Azwer’s funeral was typically demonstrative of the community’s standing that notwithstanding his relations with the former SLFP heavy-weight, Azwer had earned over a period of more than a half century the encomiums of the Muslims.
From his early days as a stenographer at Malibans and BOAC while working as free-lance journalist for Thinakaran in the evening, later as coordinating secretary to the then Labour Minister M.H. Mohamed before joining Air Ceylon and later becoming private secretary to the Speaker of National State Assembly Mohamed Abdul Bakeer Markar, Azwer Haji has come long way. His hard work paid and reached pinnacle of his career when he became Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs. His life story remains a source of inspiration to emulate for those in the younger generation keen on rising through the dint of sheer hard work.
As a journalist covering mainly Muslim affairs he came into close contact with Muslim leaders such as Al Haj Dr M.C.M Kaleel, then Chairman of United National Party, late Minister and Speaker Al Haj M.H.Mohamed, Speaker of National State Assembly Al Haj M A Bakeer Markar and almost all others. However, he was in touch with his grassroot friends till his death. This won the hearts of even those who disagree with him on political matters.
As Minister of Muslim Affairs, he collected the parliamentary speeches of prominent Muslim parliamentarians such as T.B. Jaya, Speaker M.H. Ismail, Dr M.C.M Kaleel, A.C.S Hameed, Sir Razik Fareed and many others and published them in book form. He also organized a special function to honor living Muslim artists, writers and others besides taking numerous measures to help facilitate Hajj pilgrims. He, as Muslim Affairs Minister, was the first to organize state patronage for Haj pilgrimage which was in individual affair in the past.
No one can challenge his unstinted commitment to the Muslim community’s causes and service throughout his life.
However, he created controversy when he crossed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government after spending almost his entire life with the United National Party. I asked him the reason and this is what he told me” as a politician I did not make money. My politics was clean politics. I am not sure whether UNP will ever come to power and even if it did, I am not sure that Ranil Wickramasinghe will make me a parliamentarian. I will be able to serve the community more effectively if I am a parliamentarian. Therefore, with no better alternative I joined the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp which was on the rise after defeating the LTTE”. This shows Azwer Haji, a man of humble beginnings, of impeccable moral character with an abiding interest to serve the community.
However, he was caught when racist elements protected by Rajapaksa government began attacking Muslims, burning mosques, madrasas, shops, business establishments and even grabbing Muslim owned prime property in Colombo. These racist attacks climaxed when innocent Muslims were attacked and their property burnt at Aluthgama, Dharga Town and Beruwala.
It was a difficult time for Azwer Haji and he told me that “when it comes to racism and hostility towards Muslims, my experience is, there is no difference between the UNP and the SLFP and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe”. Judging from the failure to prosecute and the protection enjoyed by the Bodu Bala Sena racists under the so called Yahapalana government his observation seems to be right.
Azwer was an ardent supporter of the Palestinian struggle for justice against Israeli oppression and occupation. He used to attend all meetings of the Sri Lanka Committee for Solidarity with Palestinian People. In fact, he came from the Delmon Hospital to attend a meeting on Monday 22 August 2017 to organise an oratorical contest to mark the 100 years of the treacherous Balfour Declaration which planted Israel in Palestine and turned Middle East into a killing field. From the meeting Azwer went back to hospital, where his admirable innings were soon concluded by the Almighty.
At the funeral, the community had spoken loudly enough in praise of his life time services to the community. May the Almighty Allah grant him Jennatul Firdouse!