Sri Lankan Moors
20th century Sri Lankan Moors
|1,869,820 (2012 census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Islam (mostly Sunni)|
|Related ethnic groups|
Sri Lankan Moors (Tamil: இலங்கைச் சோனகர் colloquially referred to as Muslims) are the third largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, comprising 9.23% of the country's total population. They are native speakers of the Tamil language and predominantly followers of Islam. The Tamil term for Muslims in Sri Lanka is சோனகர் (Sonakar), சோனர் (Sonar) or சோனி (Sooni) probably derived from Sunni. 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, other sources trace their ancestry to Arab traders (Moors) who settled in Sri Lanka some time between the 8th and 15th centuries. Moors today use Tamil as their primary language, with influence from Arabic. The population of Muslims are the highest in the Ampara and Trincomalee districts respectively.
Throughout history, the Tamils of Sri Lanka have tried to classify the Sri Lankan Moors as belonging to the Tamil ethnic group. 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 significant families but not for the entire bulk of the community. 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. The Portuguese named the Muslims in India and Sri Lanka after the Muslim Moors they met in Iberia. Moreover, the term 'Moor' referred to only their religion and was no reflection on their origin. Portuguese colonists persecuted, defeated and destroyed the Sri Lankan Moor settlements, warehouses and trading networks in several wars. Many defeated Moor refugees escaped to the interior in central Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese ruler King Senarat of Kandy gave refuge to some of the Muslims in the central highlands and Eastern Province, Sri Lanka. The population of Sri Lankan Moors significantly declined during the Portuguese colonial rule.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE also 'Tamil Tigers') challenged the Moor identity in order to include them in their civil war against the Sri Lankan government. According to the LTTE propaganda the concept of Arab people descent was "invented" just to keep the Moor 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 popular view suggests that the Arab traders 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; 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. 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. However, a study on genetic variation indicates, an only below average genetic relationship between Arabs and the Moors.
|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 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 stated to be the mother tongue of more than 90% 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 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.
- Sri Lankan Tamils
- Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka
- Tamil Muslim
- Islam in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Malays
- List of Sri Lankan Moors
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
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