Port of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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The image shows the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka. This port was orginally founded by Arabs Muslims in 8th century. By the 8th century, Arab Muslim traders settled in Colombo as a base for their trade for that part of the world. Today, they make up the local Sri Lankan Moor community.

Those Arabs who had made Ceylon their home, with their children and grand children found themselves cut off from communication with Arabia, but their descendants have retained the religion and observances of their ancestors to the present day with that inward conservation which is a racial habit.

For this particular reason, Muslims of Sri Lanka are known by the Sinhala name “MARAKKALA” which can be translated as (Marakkalam is a wooden boat) ‘boatmen’. the word Marakkar is usually derived from the Arabic ‘Markab’, a boat. The story goes that, when the first Arabic Yemenis landed on the shores of Sri Lanka, they were naturally asked by the natives, who they were, and where they came from. In answer they pointed to their boats, and pronounced the word Markab, and they became in consequence “Marakkalaya”, or the people of Markab.

When Portuguese appeared on the shores of Sri Lanka and persecuted the Muslims in their coastal settlements, the Muslims left their ships and ran to the Kandyan Kingdom. In Sri Lanka, as everywhere they went, the Portuguese made a special point of persecuting the Muslims. As a consequence, many fled the western littoral which had passed under Portuguese control, and settled in the north and east of the island where their descendants live to the present day. during the 15th century AD, 10,000 Arab soldiers and their families were slaughtered in Weligama (Arabic: as-Salawat, a city further to the south of Berberyn sinhala Beruwala) mercilessly by the Portuguese who were renowned for their barbarity towards those who oppose them. The family names of the current Muslims in the region affirm the early ancestry.

There have been Arabs in Sri Lanka for well over a thousand years. Trading dhows plied the waters between the Middle East and the island known to Arab sailors – like the legendary Sinbad – as Serendib even in pre-Islamic times. The first Arab merchants and sailors may have landed on its shores during the Prophrt Muhammad (PBUH)’s life time. By the 10th century this predominantly Arab community had grown influential enough to control the trade of the south-western ports, whilst the Sinhalese kings generally employed Muslim ministers to direct the state’s commercial affairs.

Today, their establishment, The port of Colombo is is one of the busiest ports in the world, and ranks among the top 35 ports. It is also one of the biggest artificial harbours in the world handling most of the country’s foreign trade.

As the third, and smallest, of the island’s racial- religious communities, the Sri Lankan Muslims – generally known as “Moors” – have become the forgotten factors in the History.

By : Mohammed Jehan Khan

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