Sri Lankan Moors
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|1,869,820 (2012 census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Islam (mostly Sunni)|
|Related ethnic groups|
Sri Lankan Moors (commonly 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. 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. The Arabic language brought by the early merchants is no longer spoken, though many Arabic words and phrases are still commonly used. Until the recent past, the Moors employed Arwi as their native language, though this is also extinct as a spoken language.
Moors today use Tamil as their primary language, with influence from Arabic. Those from central and southern Sri Lanka also widely use Sinhala, an Indo-European language spoken by the ethnic Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka. There are many Muslim schools in Southern, Central and Western Sri Lanka that offer education in Sinhala along with Tamil. Some madrasahs also teach in Sinhala.
The Sri Lankan Moors lived primarily in coastal trading and agricultural communities, preserving their Islamic cultural heritage while adopting many Southern Asian customs. During the period of Portuguese colonisation, the Moors suffered widespread persecution, as was occurring in Iberia. Many fled to the Central Highlands and the East Coast, where their descendants remain.
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. 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 reality, when he observed that:
It may be safely argued that, the number of original settlers was not even more than a hundred.
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 Eelam and to flare up hostilities between the two groups in the broader Tamil-Sinhalese conflict.
Another view suggests that the Arab traders, however, adopted the Tamil language only after settling in Sri Lanka. The Tamils mistakenly concluded that the Moors were from their race. The features of Sri Lankan Moors are also very different; they commonly have lighter skin tone and hair color. 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.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2013)|
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Moors in Sri Lanka has grown from approximately 228,000 persons to approximately 1.9 million in 2012. (The population of Sri Lanka is 21,128,772 as of 2009.) In the past, Moors were found throughout Sri Lanka, mostly within urban coastal regions. However, during Portuguese rule in the 17th century, they suffered religious persecution and retreated into the Kandyan highlands and the East Coast, which were under the rule of Sinhalese kings. As a result, substantial Moorish populations still exist in these regions today.
The Sri Lankan Civil War of the late 20th century has produced large population movements in the northern region of the country, resulting in significant demographic changes. Hence the once-flourishing Muslim (mostly Moor) community has now disappeared from the Northern Province due to the Tamil Tigers' ethnic cleansing in 1991. The Moors fled toward southern and western Sri Lanka. Most of the expelled Northern population now reside in the western Puttalam region of the country. Overall, the majority of Sri Lankan Muslims still reside in Sri Lanka; however, there are small growing diaspora communities in the Arab World, Europe, North America and Australia.
|Prior to 1911 Indian Moors were included with Sri Lankan Moors.
Source:Department of Census
Data is based on
Sri Lankan Government Census.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013)|
East Coast Moors
On the east coast,Muslims reside in lands given to them by Senarat of Kandy after they were persecuted by the Portuguese. Moors are primarily farmers, fishermen, and traders, but the present generation has become more educated and is moving into professional positions. Their family lines are traced through women, as in kinship systems of the southwest Indian state of Kerala. They abide by Islamic law.
Central and West Coast Moors
Many Moors in the central and west of the island are engaged in business, industry, professions or the civil service. They are mainly concentrated in Kandy, Colombo, Kalutara, Beruwala, Puttalam and Mannar . Moors in the west coast have a patrilineal kinship system, tracing descent through their father. Along with those Moors of the Central Province, those in Colombo, Kalutara and Puttalam use their father's first name as a surname, similar to the traditional style of Arab and Middle Eastern naming patterns.
The Sri Lankan Moors possess a unique culture that differentiates them from the dominant Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups on the island.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.
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The Moors speak a modified form of the Tamil language influenced by Arabic. The dialect of the Moors are strongly influenced by Arabic and when comparing with a speech of a Tamil, one can easily identify some differences. Certain words and phrases have been modified from the original Tamil language as spoken by the Tamils. Some Moors in the 21st century still read and write in 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.
They have also been influenced by the Sinhala language, which has affected speech patterns particularly among the Moors in the central and southern region of Sri Lanka where most Moors are multilingual. Arabic is used extensively as a liturgical language. Today, more than 90 percent of Muslims in the island use Tamil as their mother tongue. Around 70 percent of Muslim children go to Tamil-language schools. (Fewer do so in the southern and western parts of country, where Sinhala is more common).
Many Arabic and Arabized words are included as loan words in the Tamil spoken by Moors. Among many examples, greetings and blessings are exchanged in Arabic instead of Tamil, such as Assalamu Alaikum instead of Vanakkam, and Jazakallah instead of Nandri. There are also words which evolved from Arabic such as Umma from Um and Subahu from Subh, as well as words evolved from Tamil such as Nana from Anna and Thangachi from Thangai. Certain words are unique to Moors, such as Datha for sister and Kusuni for kitchen. Some scholars say these evolved from other languages which the Moors used in Sri Lanka, such as Portuguese, Dutch, English and notably, Sri Lankan Creole Malay.
In recent times, the Arabic language has seen a resurgence in use amongst the Sri Lankan Moors- particularly being introduced in Muslim schools.
Sri Lankan Moors are predominantly followers of Islam, hence their cultural identity is strongly defined by their religion. Unlike the Sinhalese and Tamil people who adhere to several faiths, virtually all Moors adhere to Islam, hence in a Sri Lankan context the term Muslim is often used interchangeably as both a religious and ethnic term to describe the Moors. Most Sri Lankan Moors follow Sunni Islam through the Shafi school of thought, though there are also small populations that follow other Islamic sects such as Shia Islam.
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