(Windsor, ON, Canada)
The year 2022 marks the centennial of the crowning academic achievement of the humble son of an Indian (Muslim) immigrant to Mauritius. In fact, in 1922, Hassenjee Joomye, son of Indian trader Abdool Raman Joomye, stunned the establishment of the day when he won the English Scholarship (Science Side), established in 1857 by the British Colonial Government. The scholarship was awarded to the top two students of the Royal College – one for the Science Side and one for the Classical Side – to pursue higher studies in England. The winners were hailed as the ‘Laureates’ – and that was how the honourees have been acclaimed ever since. It was – and still is – a huge honour for the recipient(s) and, sure, a sense of immense pride and joy for their families and friends and even their communities. Hence the glory and prestige of the Scholarship not only to the students but also to their families and their institutions.
Education in colonial Mauritius was for long the preserve of the privileged class – in other words, of the children of the white colons and coloured elites. Few of the Indian immigrants could actually afford to send their children to college then. Secondary education was not free either. When Hassenjee Joomye completed his elementary education, his father Raman Joomye, who owned a grocery store in the Meiman Bazaar, in Queen Street, Port Louis, did not have any plan to send his son Hassenjee to College. In fact, his plan was to get the boy to do chores and help out in his shop. His hesitancy to give secondary education to his boy was understandable. If Raman Joomye was to enroll his son in college, it meant that the boy would have to make, every school day, a long train ride to Curepipe (Royal College) and back.
Raman Joomye thought that the daily journey would be too demanding on his young son. But young Hassenjee was a smart and intelligent boy and his dad was made to realize that it would be a terrible thing to let such brilliance go to waste. But Raman Joomye had already made up his mind. His boy, Hassenjee, was NOT going to college.
Fortunately, for Hassenjee, family friends like Goolam Mohamed Dawjee Atchia, who was, in his own right, a respected community leader at the time and a (Nominated) Member of the Council of Government and the first Indo-Mauritian Mayor of Port Louis, and, also a strong proponent of education in the community, intervened after Raman Joomye as also did, among others, the then respected Imam of the Jummah Mosque, Maulana Abdullah Rashid Nawab and also Dr. Hassen Sakir, a member of the Council of Government. They all urged Raman Joomye to enroll his boy in college. These gentlemen were, at the time, influential personalities in the Muslim community.
Fortunately, Abdool Raman Joomye listened and finally enrolled his son at the Royal College for his secondary education. Needless to add that admission to the college then was restricted and limited. But Hassenjee Joomye was a brilliant student and his admission to the institution could not be declined. Dad Raman Joomye was made to realize what a good education would mean for young Hassenjee. Education was the gateway to progress, to a better life – whether cultural, social or economic. If Hassenjee was successful, it would be a boost for his generation.
Perhaps there had been a mistake!
The goadings of these selfless ‘luminaries’ of the community, finally, prevailed upon Raman Joomye and his son entered the Royal College of Curepipe. Hassenjee Joomye would perform brilliantly at the college and, in 1922, competed for the Bourse d’Angleterre or Higher School Certificate Examinations with confidence and, in the process, made history.
Indeed, when the results of the exams finally came out, some officers at the Education Department were initially shocked and surprised to find that on the Science–Side, an Indian boy by the name of Hassenjee Joomye had ranked first and, thus, was the laureate. In other words, he would be the recipient of the coveted English Scholarship (Bourse d’Angleterre) for the year and hailed as the Laureate – something that had been, until then, unheard of. How could it be that an Indian boy had topped the list of the successful HSC candidates? Perhaps there had been a mistake! The University of Cambridge might have erred, it was thought!
And that was the thinking at the Education Department too. So much so, the public announcement of the results was delayed. There followed an exchange of telegrams about the issue between Mauritius and London to double-check the results. Well, there was no mistake or error! Hassenjee Joomye was the laureate – winner of the Scholarship fair and square. There was no arguing the fact that the Indian trader’s son from Port Louis, was the BIG winner of the prized English Scholarship for 1922. Hassenjee Joomye became the first Indo-Mauritian Laureate (Science Side) and, as such, had made history.
And, sure, the celebrations began. Hassenjee Joomye suddenly became a hero and the object of great joy and pride on the part of the Indian community. He was feted by the community till he set sail for England to pursue higher studies in medicine.
Today, in 2022 – a century later – education in Mauritius has, indeed, come a long, long way. Instead of two scholarships, the Government of Mauritius has raised the number by dozens and has also made secondary education free. But that did not happen overnight. It took years of struggle and hard work to liberalize and modernize education in Mauritius and make it accessible to every Mauritian boy and girl. Mauritius is, understandably, proud of its education system and the high rate of literacy in the country. The glory and honour associated to being proclaimed “laureate” has remained undiminished till to-day.
When (Dr.) Hassenjee Joomye returned home as a qualified physician, he knew what it meant to him and his community and, he would work hard both as a medical practitioner and also as a social activist in promoting the social and cultural well-being of his fellow Indians. Indeed, Dr. Joomye knew the value of education and worked hard to promote and make his fellow Indians realize its importance. Besides, that would become the prime motive in his life. He would be upfront with the community leaders of the day, joining them in the cause of education and the well-being of his fellow Muslims as well as of the working class alongside the emerging progressive leaders of the day. Education would always be top of his agenda and he would strive hard to establish an Islamic school, where young Muslim would be taught the regular academic subjects as well as religion and Islamic culture. That cherished dream of his would become a reality in 1949.
Islamic Cultural College (Residential)
In fact, in May 1949, his dream project became a reality with the inauguration of the Islamic Cultural College (Residential) in Curepipe. It would be a school like no other in Mauritius. It was the first (Boarding /Residential) College’ for boys in Mauritius. It began as a denominational school and I was privileged to be a part of the first batch of its historic student-body. I then lived at Goodlands. We, the students, would arrive at the College on Monday and go home for the week-end on Friday.
Things were going on smoothly for the new institution. Then something terrible happened in September that same year. One early morning at the morning (fajr) prayer, we were advised that Dr. Hassenjee Joomye – the beloved doctor and founder of our college – had suddenly died of a heart-attack. He was then only forty-six years of age. Subsequently, the dreams and prospects he had in mind for the College would undergo changes.
We, the students, could feel the impact of his demise on the management of the College in the days that followed. The College would, within a few years, cease to be a denominational institution. It became a day school like every other school in Mauritius and was open to all Mauritian students – irrespective of their ethnic or religious or cultural background.
In 1954, the College was moved to Port Louis in the Plaine Verte area, where it is still located. Sure, it has come over a long way since then making remarkable contributions to the education of generations of young Mauritians in the country. Also, during these past years, the Islamic Cultural College has expanded. It has added a Girls’ Section at Belle Rose, Quatre Bornes, and also a new annex building at Vallée des Prêtres, Port Louis, to house the Form VI or the HSC Class.
To-day the Islamic Cultural College ranks among the prestigious institutions in Mauritius and has been going strong for the past seventy plus years and, definitely, remains the shining legacy of its founder, Dr. Hassenjee Joomye, who, in 1922, himself made history in education by becoming the first laureate of Indo-Mauritian descent. May the Good Lord bless and rest his soul in peace. Amen!
(*) To commemorate the landmark centennial (1922-2022) event, well known historian and author, ASSAD BHUGLAH is launching, in the coming weeks, a biography of DR. HASSENJEE JOOOMYE (1903-1949), who was known for his philanthropy and great love for both secular and religious education.