World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Sri Lankan Moors

Article Id: WHEBN0006033791
Reproduction Date:

Title: Sri Lankan Moors  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Demographics of Sri Lanka, Islam in Sri Lanka, Indian Moors, Sri Lanka, Northern Province, Sri Lanka
Collection: Islam in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Moors, Sri Lankan Muslims, Tamils of Sri Lanka
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Sri Lankan Moors

Sri Lankan Moors (Tamil: இலங்கைச் சோனகர் colloquially referred to as Muslims) are a community in Sri Lanka, comprising 9.23% of the country's total population. They are native speakers of the Tamil language[1][2] and predominantly followers of Islam. The Tamil term for Muslims in Sri Lanka is சோனகர் (Sonagar) or சோனி (Sooni) probably derived from Sunni.[3] While some sources describe them as a subset of the Tamil people who had adopted Islam as their religion and spoke Tamil as their mother tongue, which they continue to do so,[1][3][4][5][6] other sources trace their ancestry to Arab traders (Moors) who settled in Sri Lanka some time between the 8th and 15th centuries.[7][8][9][10] Moors today use Tamil as their primary language, with influence from Arabic.[4] The population of Muslims are the highest in the Ampara and Trincomalee districts respectively.

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 Lanka


  • History 1
    • Origins theories 1.1
      • Tamil origin 1.1.1
      • Arab origin 1.1.2
  • Culture 2
    • Language 2.1
    • Customs 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5


Origins theories

Tamil origin

Throughout history, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have tried to classify the Sri Lankan Moors as belonging to the Tamil ethnic group.[9] 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.[3] This is evidenced by the fact that, the Moors's Islamic Cultural Home, Colombo were unsuccessful in digging up the genealogical history of Muslim families with Arab descent, in any great numbers. I.L.M. Abdul Azeez (of the organization) seemed to have accepted the idea, when he observed that:

It may be safely argued that, the number of original settlers was not even more than a hundred.

Another theory claims, Sri Lankan Moors are not a distinct or self-defined people and the word (Moors) did not exist in Sri Lanka before the arrival of the Portuguese colonists.[11] The Portuguese named the Muslims in India and Sri Lanka after the Muslim Moors they met in Iberia.[12] Moreover, the term 'Moor' referred to only their religion and was no reflection on their origin.[3]

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 Tamil-Sinhalese conflict.[3][5][6]

Arab origin

Another view suggests that the Arab traders, however, adopted the Tamil language only after settling in Sri Lanka.[10] This version claims that the features of Sri Lankan Moors as different from that of Tamils; they commonly have lighter skin tone and hair color. Thus, some scholars classify the Sri Lankan Moors and Tamils as two distinct ethnic groups, who speak the same language.[10] 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.[3] However, a study on genetic variation indicates, an only below average genetic relationship between Arabs and the Moors.[8]


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.[14]


Letters of the Arwi alphabet and their equivalent Tamil letter.

Tamil is stated to be the mother tongue of more than 99% of the community. Moorish Tamil bears the influence of Arabic.[4] Furthermore, the Moors like their counterparts[2][15] in Tamil Nadu, use the Arwi which is a written register of the Tamil language with the use of the Arabic alphabet.[16] The 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.[2]

Religious sermons are delivered in Tamil even in regions where Tamil is not the majority language. Islamic Tamil literature has a thousand-year heritage.[1]


The Moors practice several customs and beliefs, which they closely share with the Tamil people of other faiths. Tamil customs such as wearing the Thaali or eating Patchoru were widely prevalent among the Moors. Most of these practices feed to the view that Moors were Tamil converts to Islam from other faiths.[1][3]

Distribution of Languages and Religious groups of Sri Lanka on D.S. Division and Sector level according to 1981 Census of Population and Housing
Distribution of Moors in Sri Lanka based on 2001 and 1981 (italic) census. (Note: Large population movements have occurred since 1981, hence 2001 data for Northeastern areas (italic) do not exist

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ a b c Torsten Tschacher (2001). Islam in Tamilnadu: Varia. (Südasienwissenschaftliche Arbeitsblätter 2.) Halle: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. ISBN 3-86010-627-9. (Online versions available on the websites of the university libraries at Heidelberg and Halle: and
  3. ^ a b c d e f g
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ Ross Brann, "The Moors?", Andalusia, New York University. Quote: "Andalusi Arabic sources, as opposed to later Mudéjar and Morisco sources in Aljamiado and medieval Spanish texts, neither refer to individuals as Moors nor recognize any such group, community or culture."
  12. ^ Pieris, P.E. "Ceylon and the Hollanders 1658-1796". American Ceylon Mission Press, Tellippalai Ceylon 1918
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ 216 th year commemoration today: Remembering His Holiness Bukhary Thangal Sunday Observer – January 5, 2003. Online version accessed on 2009-08-14
  16. ^ R. Cheran, Darshan Ambalavanar, Chelva Kanaganayakam (1997) History and Imagination: Tamil Culture in the Global Context. 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-894770-36-1

Further reading

  • Victor C. de Munck. Experiencing History Small: An analysis of political, economic and social change in a Sri Lankan village. History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies. Edited by Peter Turchin, Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev, and Victor C. de Munck, pp. 154–169. Moscow: KomKniga, 2006. ISBN 5-484-01002-0
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.