Sri Lankan Moors
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013)|
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, 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. The Tamil term for Muslims in Sri Lanka is சோனகர் (Soonagar) 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.
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 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 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.
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.
|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.
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.
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 and Sufi Islam.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
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- 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."
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