It is four years to the day that Marhoom Al Haj Abdul Hameed Mohamed Azwer left this world. May God grant him a special place in paradise and make his grave a place of rest and tranquillity.
Azwer’s loquacious participation in every debate in the Sri Lanka parliament, and his trilingual wit, has as yet not been matched by any other member; a record which perhaps will remain for a long time.
Most prominent in Azwer’s speeches in Parliament were his emotional presentation of the case for communal harmony, whenever an opportunity presented itself. In this piece I intend to draw from some of his speeches as recorded in Hansard.
Protesting against a video depiction of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Azwer said “Sir, at the outset, I would like to place on record our revulsion and protest not only of the Muslims but of the entire Parliament against a YouTube video that is in circulation which vilifies, defames and insults our Holy Prophet Mohamed (Sal). I am getting SMSs from the Centre of Islamic Studies urging all brothers of Islam to protest against the US Diplomatic Mission for continuing with the film that was made in the United States… When the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan were damaged, Al’ Haj Moulavi Niyas Mohamed and all of us took to the streets in Pettah and other places protesting against that. That is a distinct feature of all religionists, whatever religion one may follow”. (Hansard 05th July 2012 – C:1561-1564).
In a speech related to marine pollution and in response to Douglas Devananda MP, Azwer took the opportunity to say (although not related to the subject), “After all, a Tamil who is born in this country is a Sri Lankan. You may be a Tamil or a Sinhalese. I am a Muslim. But, when we die, Sir, our bodies are not taken to Rameswaram, to Delhi or any other place in Hindu Kush or the Himalayan border. They are buried here. When we die we are buried here. Our bodies are not taken to Riyadh, Jeddah, Kuala Lumpur or Karachi. Normally, Sir, if we are in Colombo, we will be buried in Maligawatta, Kuppiyawatta or Jawatte. These are the three Wattes in Colombo that we will seek refuge at last in this life”. (Hansard 06th March 2012 – C:642-649).
It is ironical that none of the Wattes stated by Azwer in his speech are available for COVID victims.
On a motion to grant a higher position to the Quazi Court system, Azwer said inter alia, “the atmosphere of tolerance and co-existence that prevails in Sri Lanka is symbolised by the Quazi Court System that was established in the 1930s. The Quazi Court System has helped to preserve in Sri Lanka, the religious laws and customs of the Muslims; which had been protected and applied by the Sinhalese Kings and even Dutch and British rulers, after they took control of certain parts of Sri Lanka in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.” Hansard 09th March 2012 – C:973-980).
On another occasion Azwer said, “Mr. Presiding Member, before I commence my speech, permit me to lodge our strongest protest in this House about the bomb blast at the Sacred Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya in Bihar State. Sir, His Excellency the President, while opening a mosque at Seenawatte, Dharga Town, last Sunday stated that his government had always acted to ensure religious co-existence with firm determination and a clear commitment to national unity”. (Hansard 09th July 2013 – C:160-163).
That was Azwer, who used every opportunity in the Sri Lankan Parliament to emphasise the importance of living together as a people of one nation, though professing a diversity of faiths.
It is also well known that Palestinian issues were very close to Azwer’s heart, and on the day he was admitted to hospital, three days before his demise, he insisted that he wanted to go and address a meeting supporting the Palestinian cause; and the Palestinian Ambassador Dr. Zuhair M.H.Zaid insisted with strong emotions, that he wanted to be one of the pall-bearers and carried Azwer’s coffin all the way to the burial.
If Azwer was alive today, I am certain that he would have been in the forefront against Israeli aggression of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Dr M. HARIS Z DEEN