Ever think about it? Or arethey one and the same?
Well, if you guessed Muslim, you"d be wrong. Surprised?
Don"t be, many Sri Lankans would have had to think that one through, and
would still have come up with the wrong answer. Astonishingly the descendants
of the Moors themselves, would think there was no difference as well.
Actually Arabs came to trade in Ceylon " a well known
spice outpost " quite sometime before the advent of Islam in Arabia. "I
seem to think these people were here before Mohamed. They were here as
traders," says Sir Emerson Tennant, a widely respected historian. Prophet
Muhammed, or Mohamed as the non-Muslims would say, passed away about 670
A.D. and Islam spread overseas as far ashore as Ceylon, only after his
departure. The Arabs who settled in Ceylon at that time, were brought the
message of Islam by the Arab Muslims " great sailors and a renowned maritime
trading power; as preached not so long ago, by the one they called, "The
light of Arabia". The Arab Muslims preached about the brotherhood of man
and man"s accountability for his actions; that the wealthy had a duty towards
their poorer brethren. They spoke so sincerely and with such fervency that
the Ceylon Moors (Arabs) hearts were filled with a devotion to this faith
that had sprung from the soil of their homeland. "The Mohammedan is a full
blooded native of this country. He is just as much a native as a Sinhalese
or Veddha because he is here for the last 2000 years" says Dr. W. Balendra
L. M. S. (Ceylon) L. R. C. P. (London).
According to the research and investigation conducted
by the anthropologist de la Hall Marret there is a pure Arabic stock "
the Semitic type, the Persian type still in this country. "You can spot
them out at once whether in Jaffna, Puttalam, Malwana, Galle or Trincomalee.
Undoubtedly this Arabic/Semitic infusion dates back to the 8th century,
or says de la Hall Marret, even longer.
The British school of thought, headed by Sir Alexander
Johnstone also confirms this, agreeing that the Mohammedans were Arabs
and they came into Ceylon during the 8th century and landed at Jaffna and
also settled down in Colombo, Beruwela, Galle and Trincomalee. However
Sir Emerson Tennant disagrees with this, his contention being that the
Arabs came as traders before the dawn of Islam, to Ceylon, and settled
down. They accepted Islam when it was preached to them by the Arab Muslims
who came over after the demise of the Prophet of Islam.
The commercial capital of Ceylon is Colombo. This
name is derived from "Cullambo" as the Abyssinians " who first settled
here, later embracing Islam " called it. They were a civilized people having
many arts and crafts and their settlement directly influenced the development
of Colombo. "Hobson Jobson" is the name of a book by Colonel Yule, who
proves by way of records that Colombo was mainly a Mohammedan centre at
first. He also gives a description of Colombo as an Abyssinian outpost
at that time. Moors had gone to the South of Spain and there they had found
grand buildings. They had learned the art of building towns, regrouping
the bungalows, bringing them to the standards that we now follow.
The Moorish influence on the Buddhist and Hindu
civilization of Ceylon is clearly seen. "Marakkalage" meaning the house
which belongs to the man who came in a big wooden vessel. This man taught
the man in the village in which he chose to settle, how to build. The Moor
learnt the art from the South of Spain, from the Roman and Grecian civilizations.
As a result the history of Ceylonese development especially in the fields
of building and navigation owes much to the influx and influence of the
Ceylon Moor, both before and after the advent of Islam. Anthropologist
de la Hall Marett, says that in Beligalla " a Veddha village " the commerce/trade
revolved round a few of the important Mohammedan families. Transporting
goods over a long distance was not practical on foot because of the time
it took plus the limitations of what a single man could carry. The Mohammedan
introduced the "Thavalam" or two bulls tied to a cart, thus showing the
villagers how with the help of and harnessing of animals, more goods could
be carried over longer stretches in a shorter period of time. This was
the forerunner to the bullock cart which the Dutch introduced.
Many think that all Moors are traders or gem merchants.
While this is not the case today, the precedent for this lies in our history
which shows that the Moors followed up stones lying in the river beds of
the Kaluganga, unearthed and brought them to the surface. Thus the gem
industry was mainly in the hands of the Moors and in Ratnapura.
Embracing Islam, the Moors continued their age-old
business of trading, which their religion told them, was good as long as
it was done fairly and not with an extreme margin of profit. With the passage
of time the Moors intermarried with the Sinhalese and today most cannot
claim that they"re of pure Arabic/Semitic descent. However the fair skin
" so prized in this country is a legacy which is still to be found in this
land that the Arabs called "Serendib"