M. H. M. Ashraff

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M. H. M. Ashraff

மு. ஹு. மு. அஷ்ரப்
එම්. එච්. එම්. අෂ්රෆ්
M. H. M. Ashraff.jpg
Minister of Shipping, Ports and Rehabilitation
In office
PresidentChandrika Kumaratunga
Prime MinisterSirimavo Bandaranaike
Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
for Ampara District
In office
Personal details
Born(1948-10-23)23 October 1948
Sammanthurai, Ceylon
Died16 September 2000(2000-09-16) (aged 51)
Aranayake, Sri Lanka
Political partySri Lanka Muslim Congress
Spouse(s)Ferial Ashraff
Alma materCeylon Law College
University of Colombo
EthnicitySri Lankan Moor

Mohammed Hussain Mohammed Ashraff (Tamil: முகம்மது ஹுசைன் முகம்மது அஷ்ரப்; 23 October 1948 – 16 September 2000 ) was a Sri Lankan lawyer, politician, government minister and founder/leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

Early life and family[edit]

Ashraff was born on 23 October 1948 in Sammanthurai in south-eastern Ceylon.[1][2] He was the son of Mohammed Meera Lebbe Hussain, a village headman, and Matheena Ummah.[3] Ashraff grew up in Kalmunai where his maternal family, the Kariappers, were very influential.[4][5] He was educated at Wesley College, Kalmunai.[5][6] After school he joined Ceylon Law College, passing his examination with first class honours.[2][4][7]

Ashraff married Ferial.[8][9] They had one son, Aman.[10]



After qualifying Ashraff started practising criminal law in the Eastern Province in 1974.[2][11] He joined the Attorney-General's Department as a state counsel in 1975 after a short while returned to practising law.[2][3] He received a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree (1995) in law from the University of Colombo later and was appointed President's Counsel in 1997.[4][5][7]


Ashraff wrote short stories, poems and newspaper/magazine articles in Tamil and English.[5] He had a book of poems called Naan Enum Nee published.[12] He worked as a part-time journalist on the Dinapathi daily newspaper whilst studying at Ceylon Law College.[13] Later he published a left-wing magazine called Samathuvam (Equality).[13] He wrote a Tamil book on the constitutional law.[2][5]


Ashraff was an admirer of Tamil political leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and spoke at Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) meetings.[4] Following the Puttalam massacre on 2 February 1976 in which 6/7 Muslim civilians were killed by the police, Muslim MPs remained silent and it was left to Chelvanayakam to raise the matter.[14] Ashraff was appreciative of this.[14] Ashraff attended the Vaddukoddai Conference in May 1976 at which the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) unanimously passed the historic Vaddukoddai Resolution calling for the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam.[4]

Ashraff and others formed the Muslim United Liberation Front (MULF) political party in 1977 to represent Sri Lanka's Muslim population.[4][11] Ashraff was MULF's legal advisor and theoretician.[2] MULF formed an alliance with the TULF to contest the 1977 parliamentary election under the TULF ticket.[2][4] At an election rally Ashraff famously announced that even if big brother Amirthalingam (leader of TULF) abandoned the Eelam goal, little brother Ashraff would continue to fight for it.[4] The TULF won 18 seats at the election but the MULF candidates performed badly, not winning any seats.[4] Ashraff left MULF in 1980 after it merged with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.[4][11] The TULF refused to allow Muslim candidates to contest on the TULF ticket during the May 1981 District Development Council elections which resulted in Ashraff ending his relationship with the TULF.[14]

On 21 September 1981 Ashraff and other leading Muslim politicians established the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at Kattankudy.[4][13] The SLMC was initially a cultural organisation.[4][13] The Black July anti-Tamil riots of 1983 and the ensuing civil war between Tamil militants and the Sri Lankan government caused apprehension amongst the Muslim population.[4] The government's decision to resume diplomatic ties with Israel also caused problems.[4] In 1985 violence, stoked by the Sri Lankan government, erupted between Tamils and Muslims living in the Kalmunai-Karaitivu area, causing Ashraff to re-locate to Colombo.[4] Controversially Ashraff compared his situation to Muhammad's Hegira from Mecca to Medina, ignoring the fact that he had left his supporters behind in Kalmunai whereas Muhammad took his followers to Medina.[14]

In Colombo Ashraff worked at Faisz Musthapha's chambers.[14] It was there that he came across Rauff Hakeem.[14] Exploiting the political situation in Sri Lanka, Ashraff transformed SLMC into a political party in November 1986, taking over its leadership after ousting Ahamed Lebbe.[4][14] Ashraff wasn't entirely happy with the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord but nevertheless supported it.[4] The SLMC contested the 1988 provincial council elections, winning 29 seats including 17 on the North Eastern Provincial Council, becoming its main opposition party.[14] The SLMC supported United National Party candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa at the 1988 presidential election.[4] Ashraff played a key role in the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka which reduced the cut-off mark to enter Parliament from 12.5% to 5%, helping smaller parties such as the SLMC.[2]

Ashraff contested the 1989 parliamentary election as one of the SLMC's candidates in Ampara District. He was elected and entered Parliament.[15] He was re-elected at the 1994 parliamentary election.[16] Prior to the election the SLMC had entered into an electoral pact with main opposition People's Alliance (PA).[4] Following the PA's victory the SLMC joined the new government.[4] Ashraff was sworn in as Minister of Shipping, Ports and Rehabilitation on 19 August 1994.[13][17] Two other SLMC MPs became deputy ministers whilst Hakeem became Deputy Chairman of Committees.[4][5] Ashraff lost the shipping portfolio later.[4] Ashraff's ministerial career was not without controversies - he was accused of creating jobs for Muslims at state-owned institutions under his control and giving priority to Muslim areas when it came to rehabilitation projects.[4] Ashraff often got into disputes with fellow Muslim minister A. H. M. Fowzie which resulted in Ashraff threatening to resign.[4] Ashraff, who was supreme "Thalaiver" (leader) of the SLMC, dealt harshly with dissension in the party.[4] At the time of his death three SLMC MPs had been suspended from the party by Ashraff.[4]

By 2000 relations between the SLMC and PA had become strained.[18] Earlier, in 1999, Ashraff had founded the National Unity Alliance (NUA) with the aim of creating a "united Sri Lanka by 2012".[19][20] Ashraff resigned from the government on 22 August 2000, stating that he was severing all ties with the PA and that the SLMC would contest the 2000 parliamentary election on its own, and left for pilgrimage to Mecca but President Chandrika Kumaratunga refused to accept his resignation.[4][18][21] On returning to Sri Lanka Ashraff settled his differences with the government and resumed his cabinet position.[21] However, just before Ashraff died he had sent faxes to the media stating that the SLMC and NUA had severed all ties with the PA.[22][23]


On the morning of 16 September 2000, at around 9.30am, Ashraff boarded a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Mi-17 helicopter at the Police Grounds at Bambalapitiya.[21][24] The flight to Ampara District was to have taken him over Kandy, Randenigala, Maha Oya and Iginiyagala.[24] Besides Ashraff there were 14 others on board - nine party officials, three bodyguards and two crew members.[21] About 40/45 minutes after take-off the helicopter lost radio contact with air traffic controllers.[24] Another SLAF helicopter was sent to search for the missing helicopter in the Hasalaka-Randenigala area.[24] The wreckage of Ashraff's helicopter was found in flames on Bible Rock near Aranayake in Kegalle District.[21][24] By the time the SLAF rescue team landed and reached the site the police, assisted by locals, had removed most of the bodies.[21][24] Ashraff's funeral was held on the same day, at around midnight, at Colombo's Jawatta Muslim burial ground.[25]

The weather at the time of the crash was good.[21][24] The authorities initially claimed that engine failure had caused the crash.[23] The government immediately ordered an inquiry into the crash and in January 2001 President Kumaratunga appointed a Presidential Commission to inquire into the crash.[18][26] However, neither found any conclusive evidence for the crash's cause.[7]

Electoral history[edit]

Electoral history of M. H. M. Ashraff
Election Constituency Party Votes Result
1989 parliamentary[15] Ampara District SLMC 56,464 Elected
1994 parliamentary[16] Ampara District SLMC 69,076 Elected


  1. ^ "Directory of Past Members: Mohamed Hussein Mohamed Ashraff". Parliament of Sri Lanka.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h de Silva, W. P. P.; Ferdinando, T. C. L. 9th Parliament of Sri Lanka (PDF). Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited. pp. 271–272. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b Samad, Ashraff A. (14 September 2003). "Third Death Anniversary : SLMC, NUA Leader M.H.M. Ashraff". Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka). Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (30 September 2000). "Obituary: A pioneering leader - M.H.M. Ashraff, 1948-2000". Frontline. 17 (20).
  5. ^ a b c d e f Samad, Ashraff A. (16 September 2012). "Remembering a Minister, poet and inspiring Muslim leader". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka).
  6. ^ Samad, Ashraff A. (14 September 2012). "M.H.M. Ashraff's 12th death anniversary: Founder of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress". Daily News (Sri Lanka).
  7. ^ a b c "SLMC, NUA remember late leader Ashraff". TamilNet. 16 September 2003.
  8. ^ Careem, Zanita (4 February 2001). "First Muslim woman in Cabinet". The Island (Sri Lanka).
  9. ^ Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (4 May 2003). "Muslim Congress to be unified soon". The Sunday Leader.
  10. ^ Abul Kalam, M. M. (24 December 2000). "Remembering a great leader late M. H. M. Ashraff, P.C." The Island (Sri Lanka).
  11. ^ a b c Peebles, Patrick (2015). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-4422-5584-5.
  12. ^ "Ashraff 'talks' with Lord Buddha". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 28 November 1999.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Senior Sri Lankan Minister killed in helicopter crash". TamilNet. 16 September 2000.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Jeyaraj, D. B. S. (20 September 2015). "Remembering MHM Ashraff the Legendary Leader of the Muslim Congress on his 15th Death Anniversary". dbsjeyaraj.com.
  15. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1989" (PDF). Department of Elections, Sri Lanka. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2009.
  16. ^ a b "Result of Parliamentary General Election 1994" (PDF). Department of Elections, Sri Lanka. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2010.
  17. ^ "The New Cabinet" (PDF). Tamil Times. XIII (8): 4. 15 August 1994. ISSN 0266-4488.
  18. ^ a b c "Helicopter crash probe launched". BBC News. 17 September 2000.
  19. ^ Peiris, Roshan (19 September 1999). "Ashraff's mission 2012: unity in diversity". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka).
  20. ^ Salman, M. H. M. (27 January 2015). "Democracy without Opposition and the NUA". The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka).
  21. ^ a b c d e f g "Minister Ashraff among 14 killed in helicopter crash" (PDF). Tamil Times. XIX (9): 4. 15 September 2000. ISSN 0266-4488.
  22. ^ "Final act". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 17 September 2000.
  23. ^ a b "Key minister killed in Sri Lanka crash". BBC News. 16 September 2000.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g "Ashraff dies in mystery crash". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 17 September 2000.
  25. ^ "Midnight funeral for Ashraff". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 17 September 2000.
  26. ^ "Sri Lanka: Significant Political News Items in 2001". International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Archived from the original on 10 June 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2010.