Ayesha Rauf, A Pioneer of Muslim Women’s Emancipation in Sri Lanka

Ayesha Rauf, A Pioneer of Muslim Women’s Emancipation in Sri Lanka

Ayesha Rauf was a pioneering educator and the founder principal of Sri Lanka’s first English-medium school for Muslim girls, Muslim Ladies’ College.

Rauf was born in 1917 in Kerala, India. Educated in a convent school, she gained a Bachelor of Arts degree, becoming the first woman from her community to receive a university degree. She worked as a teacher and a school inspector before pursuing a postgraduate licentiate in education.

In 1943, Rauf married a Ceylonese businessman and moved to Colombo. Here, she began to work as an assistant teacher at the Government Girls’ College, Maradana. The school was in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, and it was hoped that Rauf’s presence would increase the attendance of female Muslim students.

A school exclusively for Muslim girls in Colombo had been an aim of community leaders since the late 19th century as Colombo was far behind other major cities — such as Galle and Kandy, when it came to Muslim girls’ education. Muslim Ladies’ College was founded in 1947 in Bambalapitiya, the first free educational Muslim institution for girls that taught in English, with Rauf as its founding principal.

During her tenure, the school was popularly known as the Ayesha Rauf School, and Rauf was known to personally visit Muslim families to urge them to send their daughters to the school. Over time, the school’s attendance, facilities and popularity all improved, partly thanks to Rauf’s efforts. She is remembered as being strong, ambitious, persevering, and at ease with people. While working at the school, Rauf also entered politics, becoming Ceylon’s first female Muslim municipal counselor (Aluthkada Ward) and a Deputy Mayor of Colombo.

She died in 1992 in Colombo at the age of 78. Her loss was heavily felt among the city’s Muslim community, and particularly its women, for whom she worked and fought all her life.

‘Ayesha Rauf, A Pioneer of Muslim Women’s Emancipation in Sri Lanka’,
- Farzana Haniffa.
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