Sri Lankan Moors
Sri Lankan 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 the Tamil language with influence of Sinhalese and Arabic words, however, some of them use Sinhalese as their native tongue. They are predominantly followers of Islam.
20th century Sri Lankan Moors
(9.2% of the Sri Lankan population) (2012)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Islam (mostly Sunni)|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Moors trace their ancestry to Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka in waves beginning from the 8th century. The population of Moors are the highest in the Ampara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts.
The Portuguese named the Muslims in India and Sri Lanka after the Muslim 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 Arabs.
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 Moors and 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 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 trade.
The 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 time. The 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.
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 alphabet. 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.
The Moors practice several customs and beliefs, which they closely share with the Arab, 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 Arab heritage.
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 shawarma and Arab bread.
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
The Sri Lankan Civil War was a 26-year conflict fought on the island of Sri Lanka between government and separatist militant organisation Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers). In this civil war Sri Lankan Muslim were targeted by LTTE and a few hundred Muslims died, whilst hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes and their properties were destroyed. LTTE tried to make northern Sri Lanka into a Tamil country called Tamil Eelam.
Since 1888 under the initiative of Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the Sri Lankan Tamils launched a campaign to classify the Sri Lankan Moors as 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 Tamil-Sinhalese conflict.
The expulsion of the Muslims from the Northern province was an act of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Tamil militant Liberation Tigers of 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 pograms and forcibly expelled the 95,000[dubious ] strong Muslim population from the Northern Province and confiscated their properties and destroyed the Mosques.
The pogram 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 pogram 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 enrolled. 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 Muslims in 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.
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