Sri Lanka – the pearl of the Indian Ocean – is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean.

  • It is known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ because of its shape and location.
  • Ceylon as it was formerly known is separated from peninsular India by the Palk strait.
  • Its proximity to the Indian subcontinent has ensured a close cultural interaction between Sri Lanka and India.
    • Being at the crossroads of maritime routes traversing the Indian ocean, Sri Lanka has also been exposed to cultural influences from other civilizations.
    • Arabs referred to as Serendib. This is a transformation of a name the Indians used for the Island, a version of Sidhaleepa which means ‘the dwelling place of lion’s island’
    • Ibn Shahriyar, an arab author of the book ajab-al-Hind (Marvels of India) written in 960 D refers to Sri Lanka as Serendib but also states that it was also known as ‘Saheelan’ an arabic word from which Ceylon was derived.
  • Arab traders came in the 7th century AD
    • The silk road is one of the most important trade routes in history. The Silk Route was a historic trade route that dated from the second century B.C. until the 14th century A.D. It stretched from Asia to the Mediterranean, traversing China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece, and Italy.
      • It was through these roads that relations between the east and west were established.
      • These exchanges are also responsible for the spread of Island in this beautiful Island country.
  • The last Prophet of Allah, Muhammad SAW (who was born in the year 571 AD) united the Arabian peninsula under Islam during his lifetime.
    • Islam started its expansion towards the eastern regions through trade that was encouraged by the development of the maritime silk roads.
    • Muslim were known to have a commercial talent notably encouraged by Islam. They also had excellent sailing skills.
  • The commercial ships had to halt at various ports to be supplied with water and food, be repaired or to wait for changes in the wind direction.
  • These interactions resulted in further expansion of Islam to the people living in important coastal cities in the Indian subcontinent.
    •  When the time was right the sailers would embark on their ships towards their next destination, which was typically China.
  • Many of the arab and persian traders settled down on the island in large numbers and controlled much of the trade on the Indian ocean.
    • They married native Tamil and Sinhalese women and settled in the east of the Island around Batticaloa and Ampara
  • Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka
    • The Portuguese started to control Sri Lanka in the 16th century and used the term ‘moor’ to describe the island’s muslims
    • The Muslims of Sri Lanka have a very rich history behind them and also resistance during Portuguese and Dutch occupation of the Island. They not only withstood the onslaught of various types of constraints put on them but they also saved their religion from the colonizing christians and rebuilt the economy.
      • When the portuguese arrived during the 15th century, many of the arab traders’ descendants (now called Sri Lankan Moors) were the main traders in spice with their connections extending to the middle east.
        • The portuguese colonists attacked, persecuted and destroyed the sri lankan moor settlements, warehouses and trading networks.
        • The population of sri lankan moors declined significantly during the colonial rule due to the pogroms against the moors.
        • Many defeated moors were thus forced to move out to the interior of sri lanka.