[APPRECIATIONS - (03-04-2017)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (03-04-2017)]

Dr. Mohamed Sahabadeen

Universal man

“In my life, I die And in my death, I live” (Al-Hallaj)

Mohandiaramlagegedera Isakku Lebde Abdulmajeed Mohamed Sahabdeen, so named, also gives a clue to the nature of the man.

Dr. Sahabdeen was a true son of Sri Lanka and his community. From an early age, his love of Sri Lanka and it’s universalism was expressed by his absolute conviction about the validity of all the great faiths, no better exemplified than in Sri Lanka where viharas, temples, churches, and mosques co-exist within a few yards of one another. His greatest love in Sri Lanka was Adam’s Peak, which to him, exemplified this unity; with all the pilgrims climbing it from Buddhists, to see the footprint of the Buddha; Hindus, to see the footprint of Vishnu; and both, Christians and Muslims, climbing from different directions, but all seamlessly to see the footprint of Adam. Nothing more to him exemplified the transcendent unity of all religion.

He was born as the eldest of 10 children, in Gampola, to the late Abdul Majeed and Shaharuwan Beebi. He had the greatest of respect and love for his mother whom he describes in his book “As a Truly Remarkable Woman. "Though plagued by illness, and for a time, bedridden, she was yet the mainstay and motivating strength in our lives,” he said, “She had a strong and vivid character...a woman of great insight and natural wisdom.”

His schooling was at St Andrew’s, Gampola, and he went on to study at Kingswood College, Kandy. He was subsequently admitted to the University of Colombo in 1946 with two scholarships. He was a visiting lecturer and head of the Department of Western Philosophy at Vidyodaya University and did extensive research in philosophy and comparative religion, leading to his Doctorate in 1985. His thesis was published in 1986 as the “Sufi Doctrine in Tamil Literature,” which was soon followed by two other books—"The Circle of Life" and "Beyond the Horizon." He dedicated his last book to two women: his late mother Shaharuwan and his wife of 57 years, Halida, whom he describes in his book as his “life-long companion”.

After his degree in 1950, he went on to be appointed to the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service in 1953. He was placed second in the Order of Merit in this all-island entry. He was Director of Social Services until his early retirement in 1973. But this did not stop him, given his extraordinary experience, by serving on a wide variety of commissions and directorships, which culminated in him being awarded the highest honour that the country could honour anyone—the title of Deshamanya, in 1992.

Following his retirement from the civil service, he served as a member of several Presidential Commissions, including the Public Service commission, the Presidential Commission of Finance and Banking, the Presidential Delimitation Commission, the Presidential Taxation Commission, the Presidential Industrialization Commission, and the Presidential Commission Kokkadicholai Inquiry. Other offices held by him include Muslim Law (Amendments) Committee Chairman, Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund President, India-Sri Lanka Friendship Society Vice Patron in 1998, Press Council member in 1998.

He also undertook several entrepreneurial endeavours which were of great benefit to his family and wider community. His visionary thinking enabled the establishment of a long term foundation and structure to an entire community.

He was also seen as a great mediator, both in his public life and private life. Many whom I met at his funeral commented on his patience, empathy, and capacity to listen to the woes and troubles of individuals and advise with great wisdom on how to overcome the trials of life.

He had time for every being, human or otherwise. As my wife Samiya, Dr. Sahabdeen’s daughter, recalls, as a child, Dr Sahabdeen insisted she did not open a tap by a sink, just in order to give a little ant time to cross from one end of the sink to another, without being drowned by the gush of water. He had said to her “there is life in all beings, big or small”.

Sahabdeen was a patron of the arts and a lover of nature. He wrote several books on the subject of the Sufi doctrine in Tamil literature and also set up the Deshamanya Mohamed Sahabdeen Institute for Higher Education in Sri Lanka, which was subsequently recognised for the purpose of giving external Degrees by the University of Peradeniya. An arm of this institute is also Pahamune House, which helps children from disadvantaged families.

He also set up a grant for international awards, the Mohamed Sahabdeen Awards for International Understandings in Science, Literature, and Arts, which was recognised by an Act of Parliament. The awards were given to recognize excellence and honour scholars and scientists in the world, and conferred on men and women of intellectual eminence in the Asian region and others who have made original and outstanding contributions to human development on stated fields. Recipients of the award include Dr. C.G.Weeramantry – Former Judge of International Court of Justice, Professor Muhammed Yunus – Nobel Laureate, Dr. Arthur C. Clarke – Futurist, Inventor of the Communications Satellite, Prof. Nalin Chandra Wickremasinghe – Eminent Astrophysicist, Mathematician, and Writer, Dr . Martin Ling – Writer and Scholar in Comparative Religion, Emeritus Prof.Jayant Vishnu Narlikar – Eminent Scientist Researcher and Writer.

His literary works ended with the publication of "Beyond the Horizon," which was a valediction of his philosophy of life, and was edited by Faith Ratnayake. This was exemplified by the recitation of a couplet that is attributed to his grandfather, a great Sufi poet, and this couplet he taught to his children and grandchildren.

“There is no beginning and there is no end,

There is only eternal light”

I had the honour of conducting the burial prayer for my father-in-law and also of burying him. I was accompanied by my brother-in-law, Rizvan and both of my sons, and I asked them to observe matters closely, so that they may report it to their mother, sister, and grandmother, but also that they may bury me in the same fashion. The Imam who gave the Kothuba sermon, which preceded the burial, said that the Quran and Hadith indicated that there were three meritorious deeds of a person that continued to help the soul in its quest for salvation in the life hereafter. They are firstly, his charity; secondly, his service in dissemination of knowledge; and thirdly, true religious guidance given by him to his children to lead a righteous life and offer prayers.

The Imam said that he bore witness that Marhoom Dr. Sahabdeen had carried out all the three meritorious deeds during his lifetime and in proof, he referred to his charitable deeds carried out by his Trust Foundation the dissemination of knowledge by setting up educational institutions and granting scholarships to the needy and helping in the translation of the Holy Quran and the text of Professor Martin Lings on Prophet Muhammed into Tamil. The fact that his son, Rizvan, and his sons, and myself (to me, he was the second father after demise of my parents), and my sons, participated in the Janaza prayers were testimony to the completion of his deeds of merit said the Imam.

Dr. Sahabdeen took very seriously the words of Confucius (550-478BC), who said, "By three methods, we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection which is noblest; second by imitation which is the easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter."

Dr. Sahabdeen believed in the principle that Human Development is vital to promote social harmony, and that Human Development entails the Development of the whole human personality, through economic, social, intellectual, and spiritual development of man. When he left the Civil Service, he began his work as an entrepreneur building very gradually, brick by brick, one of the most successful companies (Majeed Sons and Sifani Limited) in Sri Lanka. This in turn allowed him to continue with his educational activities including the building of a girls’ hospital in Madina National School, Siyambalagaskotuwa, a library and a prayer hall in Madina Mahavidyalaya, the Deshamanya Mohamed Sahabdeen Institute, which eventually gave University external Degrees to the students, the Pahamune House Rehabilitation Centre with its UK volunteer teachers for tsunami affected children, including its Information Technology Centre. This also enabled him to set up his awards for International Understanding, Science, Literature, and Arts.

More than anything, he enjoyed reflecting on the nature of human existence and concluded that no philosophy completely answered the enigma of existence. He felt that humankind, through understanding, intellect, and intuition, could transcend their roots and was capable of ascending towards something divine.

He wrote, "In Sufi metaphysics, the absolute being is conveyed, radiating it’s pure thought, pure light, self-conscious will, which different aspects do not exclude, but complement each other." God as the giver of light is also the giver of inner illumination and summarised the sense of the Sufi doctrine as “Verily-we are God’s, and unto Him we shall return.”

He quoted Dr Ling’s “If a work of the highest inspiration may be likened to a spark that is struck from a flint, the flint being man and the striker, God, then a revelation as a spark by God from Himself.” He wrote that “The circle is a symbol of infinity because there is no beginning or end in its circumference.”

Further, every point in the sepulchre is equal or equally distant from its centre, thus, representing the eternal proof that every creature is equally near and equally distant from its transcendental ground.” He wrote, “All great religions have as an inner core, concern with the absolute, which is esoteric in nature, outward form symbolising the absolute, it’s rituals and ceremonies, for attaining salvation. This explains why historically, identical ultimate reality has been perceived in different forms.” He often quoted William Blake

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.”

He concluded that “When the drop enters the sea, it becomes extinct as a drop, only to become an integral part of the ocean, but when that happens to the drop, one cannot say “I am the ocean”, nor can the ocean say “The drop is not part of me.” Such a state is summed up in the Al-Quran as “All on Earth shall pass away: there abideth but the Face of thy Lord, resplendent with Majesty & Bounty”

"Verily-we are God’s, and unto Him we shall return." (Al-Quran, Chapter 2, verse 156).

He leaves behind his wife, Halida; son, Rizvan, daughter-in-law, Fahima; daughter, Samiya; son-in-law, Dr. Hilali Noordeen; and five grandchildren.

Professor Hilali Noordeen 


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