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Philanthropist Alhaj N. D. H. Abdul Caffoor –
Piety and Honesty His forte

"Though he is perhaps best remembered for the contribution to the cause of Muslim education and religion, his generosity was not limited to the Muslim community alone. I regard him as one of the outstanding Ceylonese gentlemen of his age and appreciate this opportunity of paying this tribute to him".

- S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.

"The great interest that he took in social service and education will always remain a great inspiration to us. Let the work that he has done and the life that he has led be an example to us all"

- Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

These were eulogies ungrudgingly paid to the late Alhaj N. D. H. Abdul Caffoor by the then Prime Minister and the Governor General - two of the outstanding leaders this country has produced, to the Souvenir brought out by the Muslim League Senate in 1957.

November 1st, 2009 marks the 61st death anniversary of Abdul Caffoor, one of the greatest benefactors and philanthropists this country has ever known.

‘NDH’ as he was popularly known, was a pioneer in gem trade in this country who ventured out across the oceans and made the name Ceylon (Serendib and Sailan) well known and popular in the Western World. Though he was not fortunate to enter the portals of a University, he was universally recognized as the greatest expert on gems in countries far and wide.

He held a Gem Exhibition in Philadelphia as far back as 1926, and was awarded the Grand Prize for the biggest collection of gems ever displayed in the USA . Inspired by this pioneering effort and success, he without any hassle proceeded further to dazzle the Westerners by producing before them the light of gems that were born in the bosom of this good earth - this resplendent isle.

His remarkable knowledge on precious stones were looked on with breathtaking amazement by lovers of gems in St. Louis (USA) in 1903 and two decades hence in Wembly(UK) in 1924, where the British Empire Exhibition was held.

Alhaj N. D. H. Abdul Caffoor became a ‘world figure’ in gems and gemology. Had he lived further down the ages, he would have (certainly) be short listed for a Nobel Prize Award in this field!.

Although his gem exhibitions were breathtaking, his climb to fame was heart breaking.

A lean and frail looking, fourteen-years-old Caffoor - the - lad wandered hither and thither with only a 25-cent silver coin given by his grandmother surfacing an unknown territory - that is FORT today - as the versatile journalist of yesteryear, S. H. Yoonoos, puts it "the same way Dick Whittington went to London..."

In front of an Old Dutch building in Fort, he chanced to meet a Muslim Jeweller, who was quick to realize Caffoor’s business acumen, and ungrudgingly gave him call assistance to build up his own capital. Caffoor seized the opportunity to blossom out to be a master business - man within a short of period of 06 years and built up a gem of a business in the establishment of the world famous GEM MEUSEUM, just in front of the Colombo old Jetty, opening the path to the ‘whites’, who disembarking from ship straight walked into this edifice to view the splendour of Ceylon - GEMS.

‘NDH’ true to his religious belief and practice like the GEMS ray serene, out shoned every other in exhibiting a rare sense of honesty and piety.

Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel, another leader known for his sincerity and honesty, one day told us this story: He (Caffoor) once went to purchase a cat’s eye stone from the father of Sir Francis Molamure - Former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Senior Molamure fixed the prize at Rs. 45,000. Caffoor was not pretentious, but revealing: with a smile on his face he paid Rs. 65,000.

This story of honesty and gentleman business dealing spread like wild fire in the Sabaragamuwa terrain, and gem pits owners flocked in a stream to Gem Museum in Fort to receive Caffoor’s true value to their items.

When Sir Herbert Stanley, then Governor opening the Gem Museum, paid a tribute to N.D.H. Abdul Caffoor for his presentation for permanent exhibition at the Imperial Institute, in South Kensington of a valuable exhibit of Ceylon Stones. He was then the inheritor of the largest and the finest Catseye in the world!

NDH Hajiar was also loved by his countrymen for his manifold and magnificent charity. The Deaf and Dumb school at Ratmalana, the Child Protection Society at Pamunuwa Road, Maharagama, and various other charitable and social institutions speak volumes for his generosity and philanthropy.

It was reviving memories of Abdul Caffoor, when recently we witnessed the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka wielding a bat at the Boys’ Home Ground in Maharagama, signalling the start of a cricket match at the Boys’ Home. Many were the occasions, I recall playing cricket at this ground for Azhar Sports Club – founded by Dr. M.Harisdeen, now a British subject.

Alhaj Abdul Caffor was one of the major benefactors of Zahira College Colombo. It was his munificent that helped Dr. T. B. Jayah, Pricipal of the College, national freedom fighter and great educationist to make Zahira the citadel of Muslim education in the country. Abdul Caffoor Hall with a blend of Sarasanic and Godovian architecture stand as an everlasting monument to the memory of Alhaj N. D. H. Abdul Caffoor.

The establishment of the Gaffooriya Arabic College in Maharagama in the early 1930s by NDH Hajiar opened the flood – gates for well qualified Ulemas (Islamic Theologians) to take the centre stage in reviving Islamic education, thought and activity among the Muslims not only in Sri Lanka but even in India and other South East countries. When young, I remember with nostalgia students of this great seat of Arabic studies congregating at the residence of my uncle, the late Alhaj A.L.J. Deen (well known as Deen Baas Maama in the construction trade and the founder of Masjidul Azhariyyah in Temple Road, Maharagama) for the regular recitals of Burdah, Mowlid, Rathib and other religious observances, partaking sumptuous meals thereafter.

A great man of philanthropy and magnanimity, NDH Hajiar in life did everything for ‘Lillah.’ - in the path of Allah. He shunned publicity and public honours. Once when it was suggested that the government be urged to confer on him a knighthood, he simply shrugged it off saying that all praise and honour belonged to Allah – "I am only giving to others what the Creator bestowed on me, and I am only a guardian of His wealth and property..." He always believed in the maxim:" the hand that gives, gathers ..."

Whatever the merits and rewards gathered by the late Alhaj N.D.H. Abdul Caffoor – the King of Gems in the Island of Serendib – let him richly harvest in abundance the Awards from his Creator in the Hereafter – Aameen!

(The writer was Secretary to the Muslim League Senate, Former Minister and Presently Presidential Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs and Media Ombudsman)

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