Most of the early immigrants were soldiers, posted by the Dutch which later continued by the British for colonial administration to Sri Lanka, who decided to settle on the island. Other immigrants were convicts or members of noble houses from Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) who were exiled to Sri Lanka and who never left. The main source of a continuing Malay identity is their common Malay language. Many Sri Lankan Malays have been celebrated as courageous soldiers, politicians, sportsmen, lawyers, accountants and doctors.
Like their ancestors in Maritime Southeast Asia, Sri Lankan Malays are Muslim. Mosques were erected by the local Malays along the coasts of Sri Lanka in places like Hambantota, Beruwela, and Galle. The Jawatte mosque in Colombo and Masjidul Jamiya, the military mosque in Slave Island, are acclaimed mosques renowned for their architecture and long history. The first two storey mosque in Sri Lanka was built by HH Mohammed Balankaya, an exiled Malay noble of the Royal House of Gowa (in present-day Sulawesi). Today the mosque is of great significance and is a symbol of Muslims in Sri Lanka and is the Grand Mosque of Sri Lanka.