WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Malay mosque in Kurunegala

by T. S. Jamalon, Chief Trustee 

Malay Jumma Mosque Kurunegala is located in the city of Kurunegala at the confluence of Dambulla Road, Welagedara Veediya and North Tank Road. This is the oldest Mosque in Kurunegala constructed during the time of the British Colonial rule for the first Malays who arrived in this city.

The following will help establish how old the mosque is: The Grand Mosque at New Moor Street, Colombo was designed and built by a Javanese architect Mohammed Ballankaya who was the son of Hooloo Ballankaya, Minister to the Raja of Goa who was exiled to Sri Lanka in 1723. The Wekande Jumma Mosque was a gift from a free Javanese, Pandan Balie in 1796, while the Masjidul Jamia at Java Lane was built out of the Pensioners Fund of the Malay Regiment. Several other mosques built during this period are located in Kandy, Kurunegala, Trincomalee, Hambantota and Kinniya.

The British, in the process of consolidating their rule in the island began spreading their influence throughout the country by stationing garrisons in major cities. To this effect they dispatched from Kandy in 1848 a Malay Regiment consisting of 30 men and 2 officers. This Malay regiment was permanently stationed at Kurunegala.

The officers brought their families from Kandy and settled down in Kurunegala. The British gave them lands.

The Malays being all Muslims and religious, in 1850 the Colonial authorities built a Mosque for them by the side of Kurunegala Lake. From the preceding it is plausible to assume that the mosque originally had a Jama'ath of 32!

These officers and men of the British Malay Regiment were settled along Parade Street (now Dr. H. K. T. de Zylva Mawatha) and in the area opposite the Mosque between Dambulla Road and the Maligawa grounds. The name Parade Street was derived from the fact that the Malay regiment regularly held their Parades on this street.

The Mosque was originally known as Malay Military Mosque. With the passage of time the mosque was popularly called Malay Mosque, "Java Palli", "Ja Palliya".

This being the first Mosque in Kurunegala, was the first recognized place of worship for all Muslims in and around Kurunegala. With the arrival of the Indian Muslim merchants in this city they too attended this Mosque. However, as time went by cultural differences between the Indian Muslims and the Malays began to tell, causing friction that became a strain in the orderly and peaceful function of the activities of the Mosque.

The Indian Muslims being financially strong decided to set up their own mosque with Katheebs brought down from India. They purchased an abandoned residence of a British official in the heart of the town and thereby the AL Jami ul Azhar Jumma Mosque, "Sonaha Palli" or "Marakkala Palliya" was born.

Origin of Muslim burial grounds in Kurunegala

At about the time the Malay Mosque was established, a plot of land, 3 acres in extent at Pollathapitiya on Dambulla Road, half a kilometre away from the Mosque, was allocated for a burial ground.

This land thus became the first Muslim burial ground in Kurunegala.

This burial ground later came to be known as Makam. However, after many years it was felt at that time that this burial ground was too close to residences that were coming up in the area. Therefore, a new burial ground was opened at Muttetugala on Hiripitiya Road about one kilometre from the Mosque. With the establishment of the "Indian" Mosque a second burial ground was established in close proximity to the Malay Burial Ground.

At Makam lies buried a saint by the name Sembu Salli Masthan (Saibo) Avuliya. Masthan Saibo, a Bengali was a very pious person during his life time. It is said that he would go begging for alms. All he would ask for is coffee or half a cent (hence the name sembu salli) to buy coffee.

Elders have related that, once he gets his coffee he would place it in his bowl and ask that the bowl be filled with hot water. He would then retire to a secluded spot under a tree and consume the vapours rising from the hot coffee.

Afterwards he would overturn the residue under the tree and depart. The curious have found that the remnants of the coffee left was white and not black. To this day a thakiya is being maintained at the grave site of this avuliya by the Malay Mosque.

Malay community leaders

In any discussion of the affairs of the Malay Mosque, names (other than those mentioned elsewhere) of the following Malay community leaders who, at one time or other had been trustees of the mosque come to mind. Tuan Mahmoor Omerdeen, Tuan Pakkon, T.A.G. Omerdeen, Tuan Ariffin, Abdul Majeed Ammin Jamalon, Jumalon Ammin Jamalon, Tuan Noor De Laher, Tuan Noor Sharif Jamalon, Tuan Noor Jallal Allin, Tuan Noor Jallal Burhan, Tuan Surajudeen Bangsajayah, Miskin Jain, Tuan Umardeen Jamalon.

Tuan Mahmoor Omerdeen, popularly known at that time as "melayu guru" was the last Malay Katheeb of the Mosque. It was under his tutelage that the great educationist, statesman and diplomat Tuan Brahnubeen Jayah learned to recite the Holy Quran. Tuan Brahnudeen Jayah's father was at that time a police sergeant at Galagedera. Tuan Surajudeen Bangsajayah was also a member of the Wakf Board. Casie Lebbe Aarachchige Meera Shahib, A.M.A. Azees, Shahul Hammed, E.L.A. Majeed were among those who got-together with the Malays to help run the affairs of the mosque. This is by no means a complete list. These are the only names the present generation could recall. These names are recorded here with the hope that at least these will be passed down to posterity. However, it is felt that those whose names have been forgotten may have made equal or more important contributions.

In 1956 the then trustees of the Malay Mosque namely,

1. Tuan Ayn Tuan Noor

2. Tuan Ayn Tuan Noor Lyne

3. Salay Mahat Daiyan

4. Abdul Haq Abdul Ghany

5. Sultan Mohamed Abdul Raheem

6. Mohamed Kamaline Hamza

7. Tuan Hashim Sudar

Progress of the Malay mosque through the passage of time

Throughout its history, support for the Malay Mosque has been waxing and waning. It has had its glorious days. For the Malays, the Mosque has always been the focal point of their religious and cultural life.

The emerging political philosophy in post independent Sri Lanka found no room for the Indians here. So, they had to depart from the island leaving behind all their properties. Most of these Indian Muslim merchants were very pious Muslims; they bequeathed all their properties to their mosque, thus the Al Jami ul Azhar Jumma Mosque became the largest single property owner in the town. With these resources this mosque had no difficulty in running its affairs smoothly. The Malay Mosque with no resources of its own had been limping along on contributions from the faithful.

With the surge of population resulting in an unprecedented movement of Muslims towards urban areas, the Malay Mosque became increasingly popular. Due to the strategic location of this Mosque resident Muslims, visiting Muslims and Muslims travelling through this city frequently called at this Mosque for their prayers and made it an unforgettable landmark in the city.

For Friday congregations the Mosque becomes filled to capacity. Many are compelled to pray outside in the compound right up to the edge of the road and in any free space available outside.

The present number of members of the Jama'ath is one hundred and thirty (130). As this mosque is in the heart of the town this figure might give misleading impressions. This number is composed of permanent households. However, this mosque is frequented by over 650, as evidenced by the attendance at Jumma prayers and other religious activities conducted at the mosque.

Current development

Now it is felt, like it has never been felt before, the need to develop the Mosque to accommodate the ever increasing faithful. Therefore, the trustees of the Mosque have started a campaign to canvass for support from those in power and from influential people to develop this Mosque. A fund raising drive is under way to collect funds from Muslims the world over.

As a successful result of this campaign the Chief Minister of the North Western Province the Hon. S. B. Navinna and His Worship Mayor of Kurunegala Mr. Nimal Chandrasiri de Silva have expressed their support and co-operation for this project. The Hon. M. H. M. Navavi Minister of Highways, Transport and Environment (North Western Province) has visited the site several times and advised the Chief Minister on this project. The Hon. Navavi is a great source of strength to the board of trustees. At the monthly meeting of the Kurunegala Municipal Council held in May this year a resolution has been unanimously adopted to grant twenty perches of state land adjoining the Mosque for its development.

The subject of the development of this Mosque has been the object of much discussion over the past many years. After considering all opinions the trustees of the Mosque have come to the conclusion that the development must make available the maximum area possible for prayers and that the building itself should reflect the glory of Islam in all its splendour. It is believed that this might be the most important Islamic development in Sri Lanka in recent times.

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