By Latheef Farook –
Around mid-1970s respected Sri Lankan Islamic scholar Dr M.A.M.Shukry spoke on the significance of Ramadan at an Ifthar party organized by the Muslim Majlis of Law College. He dealt with every aspect of Ramadan, from modern point of view, citing verses from Holy Quran in Arabic providing English translation.
It was a very enlightening speech. After the party the newly arrived Libyan Ambassador to Sri Lanka Abdus Salam Miladi took me to a side and asked me who is this Dr Shukry and what his background .
I briefed him and asked him why. He said I am an Arab, Arabic language is my mother tongue and I did Arabic language for my degree, but ashamed to say that I can’t speak the classic Arabic which he spoke. This young scholar is not only an asset to Muslims in Sri Lanka but worldwide.
This in a nutshell sums up the intellectual caliber of Dr Shukry early in life.
Those days Muslims used to invite speakers from Tamilnadu for Holy Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrations. However with the emergence of Dr Shukry, late M.B.M Maher and others this trend disappeared.
Dr Shukry was one of the finest and popular debaters in the Peradeniya University together with Dr Ameer Ali who, even today, does a yeomen service writing on burning Muslim and national issues of Sri Lanka from Australia.
His batch mate and former banker Muhammad Jaleel told me that in view of Dr Shukry’s popularity he invited him to Jaffna in 1962 for a Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) birthday meeting which was held at the Five Junction at main Manippai Road .Even today people talk about this lecture during which Dr Shukry compared Islam and communism shedding light on subjects which were not even thought about by others.
He was the only student who did Arabic honors under Professor Dr S.A.Imam. Thus whenever the two were seen in functions his colleagues used to say there the Arabic faculty is there.
A fine product of Colombo Zahira College under eminent educationist A.M.A Azeez, Dr Shukry, after graduating with first class honors, went to Edinburg University in Britain where he obtained his PhD.
On his return he lectured at Peradeniya and Kelaniya universities before joining the non-fee levying Jamiah Naleemia in Beruwala, brainchild of late A.M.Azeez, where he made significant contribution to produce much needed Muslim graduates with Islamic background suited to serve the needs of the country in many fields.He remained there till he left us on 19 May 2020, regarded as one of the holiest days during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
In 1984 Dr Shukri organized a five day seminar bringing eminent scholars together. He compiled the research papers into a very valuable book – Muslims of Sri Lanka – which remains the best testimony to Muslim contribution to the country over a thousand years.
I met him for the first time in 1967 when I interviewed him for the now defunct Independent Newspapers. Since then our friendship continued. His simplicity, sincerity, intellectual eminence and his scholarly approach to various issues while keeping away from controversies always attracted me.
We met frequently. Even when I worked and lived in the Gulf for about quarter century our ties continued. On my return to the island in 2003 we used to meet fortnightly at my house to exchange views when I found he opened his heart and mind and expressed his views freely even on controversial issues affecting the country and community.
During the past year or so during these meetings, I started pressing him to write his biography as he was a unique person both as a source of information and inspiration to the next generation. Finally he stared work on it and was in close touch with educationist and administrator Muhammad Nahya who told me that Dr Shukry was keen on writing first in Tamil language followed by English.
Our last meeting was on 10 March 2020 when he briefed me about the progress in writing his biography. It was strange that he suggested we take a photo of us together. Five days later on March 15 he fell ill .While he was working on his biography Allah, the Almighty Creator, decided to take him. Thus Dr Shukry left us at 6.55 in the morning on Tuesday March 19, 2020 with all the affection and goodwill earned engulfing the community in shock and sorrow.
As former parliamentarian Zuhair, P.C. rightly said “the passing away of Dr M A M Shukri(79) has removed from our midst, an eminent educationist and a scholar of repute. In the Muslim community, he is considered not only as an intellectual giant but also a catalyst of progressive change within the community. Belonging to the category of intellectual scholars of the standing of the late Dr A M A Azeez, Dr Shukri’s demise comes as an irreplaceable loss to the country and the Muslim community in particular. Dr Shukri will be best remembered as the guiding light of the Muslims of Sri Lanka throughout a period of over 40 years. His speeches, writings, research and books will guide this community for decades to come. His 1986 publication reflecting on the history of the Muslims of Sri Lanka and their patriotic role will remain a monumental bridge between the communities of this country, a bridge that this country is in urgent need of.
Expressing my views on him to a documentary few years ago I described him as “the jewel in the crown of Muslim intellectuals”.
Muhammad Nahya who rang me on Tuesday morning to break the news about his death said” No doubt, he will be in paradise. This is the general feeling of all.