Moors (Tamil: இலங்கைச் சோனகர்,
translit. Ilaṅkaic Cōṉakar; Sinhalese: ලංකා
යෝනක, translit. Lanka Yonaka formerly Ceylon Moors;
colloquially referred to as
Muslims or Moors) are an ethnic minority
group in Sri Lanka, comprising 9.3%[better source needed]
of the country's total population. They are mainly native speakers of
Tamil language with influence of Sinhalese and
however, some of them use Sinhalese as their native tongue.
They are predominantly followers of Islam.
Moors trace their ancestry to
Arab traders who settled in Sri
Lanka in waves beginning from the 8th century. The
Moors are the highest in the Ampara, Trincomalee and
2.1 Origins theories
2.2 Medieval era
Muslims and Sri Lankan Civil War
5 See also
7 Further reading
Kechimalai Mosque, Beruwala. One of the oldest mosques in Sri Lanka.
It is believed to be the site where the first
Arabs landed in Sri
The Portuguese named the
Sri Lanka after the
Moors they met in Iberia. The word
Moors did not exist in
Sri Lanka before the arrival of the Portuguese colonists. The term
'Moor' was chosen because of the Islamic faith of these people, and
was not a reflection of their origin.
The Tamil term for
Moors is "Sonakar", which is thought to be derived
from the word sunni. The Tamil term Sonakar along with the
Sinhalese term Yonaka, has been thought to have been derived from the
term Yona, a term originally applied to Greeks, but sometimes also
Scholars holds the view that the Sri Lankan
Moors are descendant of
the Marakkar, Mappilas, Memons and Pathans of South India.
Another view suggests that the
Arab traders, however, adopted the
Tamil language only after settling in Sri Lanka. This version
claims that the features of Sri Lankan
Moors as different from that of
Tamils. The cultural practices of the
Moors also vary significantly
from the other communities on the island. Thus, most scholars classify
the Sri Lankan
Tamils as two distinct ethnic groups, who
speak the same language. This view is dominantly held by the
Sinhalese favoring section of the
Moors as well as the Sri Lankan
government which lists the
Moors as a separate ethnic community.
Although caste system is not observed by the
Moors such as the other
ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, their kudi system (matriclan system) is an
extension of the Tamil tradition.
Prior to 1911, Indian
Moors were included with Sri Lankan Moors.
Source:Department of Census
Data is based on
Sri Lankan Government
Sri Lankan Government Census.
The Sri Lankan
Moors along with
Mukkuvar dominated once in medieval
era the pearl trade in Sri Lanka. Alliances and intermarriages
between both communities were observed in this period. They held
close contact with other
Muslims of Southern
India through coastal
Moors had their own court of justice for settling their disputes.
Upon the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century,
larger population of
Moors were expelled from cities such as the
capital city Colombo, which had been a
Moors dominated city at that
Moors were thus migrating towards east and were settled
there through the invitation of the Kingdom of Kandy. Robert Knox,
a British sea captain of 17th century, noted that the Kings of Kandy
Kingdom built mosques for the Moors.
The Sri Lankan
Moors have been strongly shaped by Islamic culture,
with many customs and practices according to Islamic law. While
preserving many of their ancestral customs, the
Moors have also
adopted several South Asian practices.
Main article: Tamil language
Letters of the
Arwi alphabet and their equivalent Tamil letter.
Tamil is the mother tongue of the community. Moorish Tamil bears the
influence of Arabic. Furthermore, the
Moors like their
counterparts in Tamil Nadu, use the
Arwi which is a written
register of the
Tamil language with the use of the Arabic
Arwi alphabet is unique to the
Muslims of Tamil Nadu
and Sri Lanka, hinting at erstwhile close relations between the Tamil
Muslims across the two territories.
Religious sermons are delivered in Tamil even in regions where Tamil
is not the majority language. Islamic
Tamil literature has a
Moors practice several customs and beliefs, which they closely
share with the Arab,
Sri Lankan Tamils
Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese People. Tamil and
Sinhala customs such as wearing the
Thaali or eating Kiribath were
widely prevalent among the Moors.
Arab customs such as congregational
eating using a large shared plate called the 'sahn' and wearing of the
North African fez during marriage ceremonies feed to the view that
Moors are of mixed Sinhalese, Tamil and
There have been a growing trend amongst
Moors to rediscover their Arab
heritage and reinstating the
Arab customs that are the norm amongst
Arabs in Middle East and North Africa. These include replacing the
sari and other traditional clothing associated with Sinhalese and
Tamil culture in favour of the abaya and hijab by the women as well as
increased interest in learning
Arabic and appetite for
Arab food by
opening restaurants and takeaways that serve
Arab food such as
The late 19th century saw the phase of islamization of Sri Lankan
Moors, primarily under the influence of M. C. Siddi Lebbe. He was a
leading figure in the Islamic revival movement, and strenghtned the
Muslim identity of the Sri Lankan Moors. He was responsible for
the ideological framework for the
Muslim ethnicity in Sri Lanka.
Muslims and Sri Lankan Civil War
Main article: Expulsion of
Muslims from the Northern province by LTTE
Sri Lankan Civil War
Sri Lankan Civil War was a 26-year conflict fought on the island
Sri Lanka between government and separatist militant organisation
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil
Tigers). In this civil war Sri Lankan
Muslim were targeted by
a few hundred
Muslims died, whilst hundreds of thousands were expelled
from their homes and their properties were destroyed.
LTTE tried to
Sri Lanka into a Tamil country called Tamil Eelam.
Since 1888 under the initiative of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the Sri
Tamils launched a campaign to classify the Sri Lankan
Tamils, primarily to bolster their population numbers for the
impending transition to democratic rule in Sri Lanka. Their view
holds that the Sri Lankan
Moors were simply Tamil converts to Islam.
The claim that the
Moors were the progeny of the original Arab
settlers, might hold good for a few families but not for the entire
bulk of the community.
The concept of
Arab descent was thus, invented just to keep the
community away from the
Tamils and this 'separate identity' intended
to check the latter's demand for the separate state
Tamil Eelam and to
flare up hostilities between the two groups in the broader
The expulsion of the
Muslims from the Northern province was an act of
ethnic cleansing carried out by the
Tamil militant Liberation
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization in October 1990. In order to
achieve their goal of creating a mono ethnic Tamil state in
the North Sri Lanka, the
LTTE carried out pogroms and forcibly
expelled the 95,000[dubious – discuss] strong
Muslim population from
the Northern Province and confiscated their properties and destroyed
The pogrom and expulsion by
LTTE still carries bitter memories amongst
the Sri Lanka's Muslims. In 2002, the
LTTE militant leader Vellupillai
Prabhakaran formally apologized for the pogrom and expulsion of the
Muslims from the North. There has been a stream of Muslims
travelling to and from Jaffna since the ceasefire. Some families have
returned and the re-opened the
Osmania College now has 60 students
Osmania College was once a prominent educational institution
for the city's
Muslim community. According to a Jaffna Muslim
source, there is a floating population of about 2,000
Jaffna. Around 1,500 are Jaffna Muslims, while the rest are Muslim
traders from other areas. About 10
Muslim shops are functioning and
the numbers are slowly growing.
Islam in Sri Lanka
List of Sri Lankan Moors
Sri Lankan Malays
List of Sri Lankan Malays
Memons in Sri Lanka
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Ethnic groups in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan diaspora