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The ninth death anniversary of M. H. M. Ashraff falls today:

Kingmaker of the East

Nine years sounds quite a long period, but not when it comes to Ashraff. It seems only yesterday that he took off without bidding us farewell. Aman his only son, a young man with his adorable Zahara, by his side brings but Ashraff to life. The humility, genuine warmth, and secrecy in generosity in abundance, is truly Ashraff in Aman.

M. H. M. Ashraff

However it is, but sad even after this long period, certain aspects and attitudes of Ashraff, which when singled out, is alien to the great leader, but being further distorted to suit certain hidden agendas of some. Those were traits of Ashraff during an era almost a decade ago to suit but a particular situation or region.

It was his intellect and gentility combined with a long term vision for his people; which made him a charismatic leader of the Eastern Province in particular, and the muslim community of Sri Lanka in general. He vehemently believed that unity amongst the Muslims in Sri Lanka is the stepping stone of a long walk ahead, towards the identity with dignity of the minority Muslims of the country.

The tree of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which registered as a political party in 1986 should be wide and full to shelter all his people; he believed. He took meticulous care in designing it. Detailed scrutiny was done of many a picture of trees before the final Congress Symbol satisfied the founder of the party, Ashraff. So fervent was he on his cause to unite his people under the shade of one tree, before taking the long walk ahead. United we march and thus we achieve heights, was the secret motto. And he indeed achieved it as all know.

Ashraff, who by then had had already won Ferial’s heart over, continued to admire the versatility and comfort levels maintained by his beloved with other communities. He was envious of the ease she had with Sinhala.

It troubled him that though highly intellectual and academically placed as well-being enterprising that the Muslim Easterner lacked this ease, which hindered bridging the cultural gap in the nation. He wanted that East for his Eastern Muslim brethren. This was a very common topic amongst the small group, from his standards but quite a number to feet at late night, that used to meet up at ‘Hira’ in Kalmunai in the early 80s.

It cannot be achieved in a day, he knew. But he took it upon himself to bring about the change, for the rightful recognition and identity of his people. A challenge that had had many a hurdle. Burning of the midnight oils, many a day by this single man was the secret behind the success of the Muslim Congress.

He had to inculcate in his people that one’s fort should be strong before venturing to distant land. As such the unity amongst ones won community was a must. It sounded racial; dictatorial. But, it was simple strategy for the long walk ahead. He came out jubilantly with winning nine seats in the Parliamentary Elections in 1994 and was the kingmaker.

His people finally had a voice. Exhilated though he was, he knew his responsibility by his people. They cannot be regionalized forever. The time had come for the united community under the shelter of the tree to venture into national levels. He was there to lead. He was there to guide. And of course, he was there to keep check. His people need no longer have qualms about interacting with the neighbouring Sinhalese, or the Colombo elite. They were united and it was strength. There was no looking back.

Thus emerged NUA, the National Unity Alliance. He proudly took his clan along and the mingling of cultures and communities. What followed was smooth and sleek. The symbol Dove of NUA spoke it all.

His people rightfully gained wings to fly free finally. The SLMC, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, is it needed now, the founder contemplated. Do we need regional politics further? Not really so. The true father was there to lead with wings won over. So let it be only NUA in future. Revere the Tree that gave you shelter all these days but, now spread your wings and fly high, Ashraff said. So in the year 2000, NUA contests nationwide and jubilantly wins 11 seats.

This is a long story cut short of a vision achieved. But sadly Ashraff leaves before he could truly convince some of the non Muslim brethren, who still eyed him with unease. He departs before the Nation truly recognized the nationalist in him. The Sinhala tutor, who used to come over to the official residence of the then Minister Ashraff at all odd times, would bear witness of the fervour with which he wanted to master the Sinhala language.

But Ferial remains. Ferial who hears Ashraff’s soul cry; who knew the Ashraff who put his people before every thing else. She cannot leave without making Ashraff’s dream a total reality. She owes him; a man who wanted the best for his people and the nation as a whole. Ferial knows Ashraff recognized and respected the strength in her.

She doesn’t need a banner or a poster with him in the back drop to remind her commitment. It’s innate and thus Ferial Ashraff plays the role she got to, with humility and commitment.

She knows where she is heading. It would be the ultimate dream of Ashraff for his people but done her style, and pace. May Allah Almighty grant her strength and courage in her humility to guide those who want unity to be strength.

May Allah Almighty grant brother Ashraff. ‘jennathul firdhouze’ and accept our ‘duas’ during this Holy Month of ‘Ramadhan’ to continue, a united community with an identity within an undivided Sri Lanka.

 

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