• History of Muslims

Very soon after the birth of Islam in Arabia, this religion was embraced by the Persians, who along with the Arabs can be considered the earliest Muslim traders in the Indian Ocean. The location and the relative importance of many trade centers were to a large extent determined by the wind system of the Indian Ocean. It was not possible to travel from the Persian Gulf to Sumatra with the help of the single monsoon wind. Therefore ships had to break journey on the Indian or Sri Lankan Coasts.

During the period immediately preceding the seventh century A.D. Persian shipping stopped at Sri Lanka as a rule. The evidence presented by various explorers such as Cosmos, Marco Polo etc; suggest that the Persian played a dominant role during the earliest phase of Muslim trade in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka had been the chief trade entrepot of Persian. Sri Lanka was known as Sarandib, Saheelan among these Muslim Traders.

The activities of the Muslim traders of Peninsular India in the period of 1000 to 1500 A.D. are closely linked with the origin of the Muslim settlements that we see today in Sri Lanka and the countries of south-east Asia. Immigration and conversion were the main two factors that influenced the growth of Muslim communities in this region. At the time of arrival of Portuguese, the entire carrying trade of the Island with India seems to have been handled by the Moors.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Muslims in Sri Lanka were put into two broad categories, though the use of the term Mouros in Portuguese documents of the period tends to blur any distinction between them. The first group comprised those Muslims whose families had long been resident in the island and who therefore looked upon Sri Lanka as their homeland. They are referred to as Mouros naturais or Indigenous Moors.

The second group comprised principally the merchants who manned and worked the boats sailing between the two countries. This group visited the island year after year, coming in at the start of the sailing season and going at its close or during next year. During each visit they spent a number of months in the island.

In course of time, they set up business relations, acquired friends, property, and perhaps wives too and fathered children. This the group referred to in Dutch and early British documents as “Coasts Moors.” In fact two of the names used by the Sinhalese to designate Moors Hambayo and Marakkala prove that the Sinhalese associated them with the sea, for Hambayo is from Hamban (a type of boat) and Marakkala is a boatman or sailor.

Throughout the 16th & 17th centuries, the Muslim population of Sri Lanka was increasing as a result of the people of the second group electing permanent domicile in the island. According to the detailed evidence furnished in the Portuguese tombo (a document), substantial settlement of Muslims Existed on the western seaboard, particularly at Puttalam, Chilaw, Madampe, Negombo, Colombo, Kalutara, Beruwala, Maggona, Payagala, Aluthgama, Bentota, Galle, Weligama and Matara, during this period.

  • “Muslims of Sri Lanka”

By Dr. M.A.M. Shukri –

  • Culture of Muslims

The Muslims who settled in the island as far back as the 7th century AD, brought with them their religion Islam and Islamic way of life. However with time they inter-married with the local population and adopted their way of life as far as it was in keeping with Islam and Islamic traditions. Thus they established a characteristic way of life and a distinctive form of Islamic culture which is unique to Sri Lanka.

As the early settlers were traders, they adopted Tamil as their spoken language. At this period Tamil was the medium of trade and commerce. Many Arabic words were introduced and Tamil began to be written in Arabic script, given rise to what is termed “Arabic-Tamil”. Many literary works and recitals were composed in Arabic-Tamil most of which are popular even today.

Many customs have been adopted from the Tamil and Sinhala Communities and these are prevalent today. Those Muslims who migrated to the Hill country have adopted the “ge” name like the Sinhala people. Marriage customs such as “Thali” (the necklace bride groom gives to the bride), the throne similar to the “Manavarai” of the Tamils /“Poruwa” of the Sinhalese, and the “Aalathi” ceremony to ward off evil eye, are all customs adopted from these communities.

The Muslim community consist not only the descendents of the Arab traders who settled here; at a later date many Muslim settlers arrived from Indian and from Malayan region. The vaied origin of these migrants and the traditions they brought with them plus the adoption of custom prevailing in the areas where they settled in, have resulted in man differences in the way of life among the Sri Lankan Muslims.

  • “Islam in Indepenent Sri Lanka”

Ms. Marina Ismail –

  • Muslim Women

A significant change that has taken place in the 20th century among the Muslims is the attitude towards women. Muslim women have been able to leave their traditional role of housewife and mother and become educated and emancipated. At present there are many successful doctors, lawyers, academics and accountants. Some found a place in Administrative and Public services while a few are successful business entrepreneurs. Also a few have entered politics and there has been one Deputy Mayor of Colombo Mrs. Ayesha Rauff.

This would have been unthinkable in the past when girls were forced to leave school when they attained age, kept at home and given in marriage at an early age. Although Islam preaches education for females, this was not considered important for Muslim girls in this country. The only objective was to train girls to be obedient wives and good mothers. In affluent households, the girls were trained in needlework, cookery and sometimes music. Reading and reciting the Qura’n however was an essential part of a girl’s training. The change in attitude towards women’s education resulted in the interest taken in education in the1930s. in 1936 The All Ceylon Muslim Educational Conference stressed the importance of female education as a step in the progress of the community. In 1943 Sir Razik FAreed asked the Government to establish schools for Muslim girls. The time was appropriate, as by this time the community had realized the ned for an English education to gain employment while all the publicity given to the education of girls had its effect.

The present day Muslim women of Sri Lanka appear not to be satisfied merely with being a good housewife and mother. They have not only found employment and helped to add to the family income or founda satisfying career for themselves, but most of them have banded together into Associations in order to help the less privileged sections of the community.

  • “Islam in Indepenent Sri Lanka”

Ms. Marina Ismail – 

  • Muslim Education

Islamic education of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka was in better position at the time of independence in 1948. The tragic backwardness in formal education at the beginning of the 20th century was due to the suppressive measures adopted by the Portuguese and the Dutch colonial rulers and subsequently the unwillingness of the Muslims to enter the main stream of English Education due to the suspicion of proselytization they harboured against the British Rulers.

With the progress of time community leaders realized the importance of participation in the national system of education which was imperative to the progress of the community. A new think dawned with the birth of this century that found the Muslim community improving in general as well as religious education. This trend could be observed in;

  1. Ahadiyya Schools (were known as Maktabs)
  2. Arabic Colleges
  3. Qura’n Madrasas
  4. Islamic Pre Schools
  5. Muslim Schools
  6. Universities

The period 1900-48 saw great changes in the political and economical conditions in Sri Lanka. Muslim middle class was slowly emerging. It brought into being a group of Muslims who wanted an English Education; without losing any of their traditions and values therefore with the persuasion of community leaders like Siddilebbe, Wapichi Marikkar and Egyptian exile Orabi Pasha in Ceylon, Muslims began entering the main stream of education which in course of time, with the evolvement of Muslim schools, also became the vehicle of Islamic education besides general education. Siddilebbe wrote and published many text books on Arabic language and Islam to be used in these schools.

The driving force was the presence of A.R.A. Razik (later Sir Razik Fareed) and Dr. T.B. Jayah in the Education Committee of the State Council. Large number of Government schools were opened in Muslim areas; increased number of Muslims were appointed as teachers; training colleges were established for the teachers; instructions in the subjects of Arabic and Islamic were introduced, special text books for those subjects were produced.

The renaissance of Muslim education dawned with the silent revolution of 1956. Dr. W. Dahanayake, Minister of  Education of  the S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake Government and Dr. Badiudeen Mahmood, Minister of Education of the Srimavo Bandaranayake Government were the promoters of Muslim and Islamic education through the school system. 

  • “Islam in Independent Sri Lanka”

Mr. S.H.M. Jameel –

  • Muslim Population
  • Population Distribution – 2012 (Ethnicity & Religion)

Source: Official Website of Department of Census & Statistics

  • Population by Districts – 2012 (Religion) 

Source: Official Website of Department of Census & Statistics 

  • Population by DS Divisions – 2012 (Religion) 

Source: Official Website of Department of Census & Statistics