WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka



Sri Lanka Malays in focus

The Island by Kalabooshana S. B. C. Halaldheen

Malays are a recognised minority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. Most of them are the descendants of Malay soldiers who were brought to Sri Lanka in the 17th century by the Dutch.

Some of the Malays are the descendants of Javanese Princes who were exiled to Sri Lanka because they rebelled against the Dutch rule. Some Javanese convicts were banished to Sri Lanka by the Dutch. The more dangerous convicts were sent from Sri Lanka to Cape Town in South Africa.

At present there are about 60,000 Malays in Sri Lanka. Although the Malays are a minority within a minority they have contributed their mite towards the development of Sri Lanka many serving in the armed services of Sri Lanka and in the Police Service. Some are in the clerical and administrative services of the government. Many serve as teachers and in various other professions such as accountants, doctors, engineers, etc. Some work in the tea and rubber plantations as superintendents, conductors or supervisors. A few of them are in the private sector or in the import/export trade.

The first Muslim to be elevated to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka was a Malay, Marhoom Justice M. T. Akbar. He was also the first Malay to serve in the legislature. He was responsible for the introduction of the first Muslim Marriage and Divorce ordinance and the Wakfs ordinance in Sri Lanka.

The first Muslim in the Cabinet of Ministers in Independent Sri Lanka was a Malay, Marhoom Dr. Tuan Burhanuddin Jayah. He passed away in the Holy city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia while he was on an official visit to set up the Sri Lanka Pilgrims House in Jeddah. He was buried at Jennathul Bakki in Medinah after Janaza prayers held both in Medinah and Mecca at the special request of the custodian of the two Holy Mosques, His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia.

Marhoom Dr. Jayah was also a diplomat and was also a pioneer in Muslim education. He was the Principal of Zahira College, Colombo for many years. It was during his period, many Muslim colleges were set up in the principal towns of Sri Lanka where there was a concentration of Muslims.

Names of places such as Jawatte, Kartel (Slave Island) in Colombo, Jaela in the suburbs, Jayakachcheri (Chavakachcheri) in the North and names of streets such as Malay Street, Java Lane, Jalan Padang point to the fact that Malays have been living in the various parts of the country. Today the 60,000 Malays are scattered in Colombo, Hambantota, Ampara, Kalutara and in few other towns.

The Dutch ruled the maritime province of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) from 1640 AC to 1796 AC. It was during this period the Javanese Malays were brought to Sri Lanka by the Dutch. When the Dutch territory in Ceylon was ceded to the British in 1796, the British authorities found that the Malays who were well known for their bravery were ideal soldiers. It is said that a Malay soldier who draws out his kris knife from his pouch will not put it back unless there was blood in it. If he was unable to kill or injure his enemy he would cut his own flesh and ensure that there was at least a little blood on it.

Soon after the British took over the maritime province of Ceylon, the Ceylon Rifle Regiment was formed and many Malays were recruited to the Rifle Regiment The British administrators also recruited Malays to the Fire Brigade.

Malays were preferred for security related jobs. Many Malays were recruited for the Police service. In fact, the first policeman to lay down his life during the course of his duty was a Malay policeman named Sabar. He was killed while he tried to apprehend the notorious Saradiel of Uthuwankanda, known as the Robin Hood of Sri Lanka.

Recently the 80-year-old Sri Lanka Malay Association (SLMA) commemorated the death of several Malay security personnel in the ongoing ethnic conflict in the north and the east in Sri Lanka. This gave the lie to the of repeated canard that the Sri Lanka Army comprises entirely of the Sinhalese population.

Even in the field of sports, the Malays of Sri Lanka are not second to anyone. Sri Lankan Malays formed the first cricket club in Sri Lanka 125 years ago and named it the Colombo Malay Cricket Club. This club is still going strong and is a regular meeting place for many sports enthusiasts.

Eighty years ago i.e. in 1922, the members of the Colombo Malay Cricket Club and other Malays formed the All Ceylon Malay Association which is now known as Sri Lanka Malay Association (SLMA).

A social service arm of the SLMA named SLMA Rupee Fund was started during the time of Marhoom Zahiere Lye, and is doing yeoman service to the community.

All these three organisations commonly known as Padang Complex is situated at Jalan Padang, Kompannaveediya, Colombo 2. Incidentally, Jalan in Malay means Road. Jalan Padang means Padang Road or Mawatha. In order to honour the Malays, the Colombo Municipal Council agreed to use the name Jalan Padang instead of calling it Padang Mawatha or Padang Road. This is the first time that completely a Malay name Jalan Padang has been given to a road.

Malays in Sri Lanka are a peace loving and God fearing community. They built many mosques. Some of the well known Malay mosques are the Bogambara mosque in Kandy the Military mosque in Java Lane in Colombo and the Wekande mosque at Kompannaveediya.

Although the Sri Lanka Malays have lost touch with their home country for more than 300 years, they have preserved their religion, culture and language. They speak a form of Malay which is a mixture of Malay, Arabic, Tamil, Sinhala, English and Dutch. Whereas the Cape Malays of South Africa have lost their language, the Sri Lankan Malays have been able to preserve their language at least in a creole form.

Except for the Javanese princes who were exiled to Sri Lanka by the Dutch, the Malay soldiers and others did not bring the women folk to Sri Lanka. Most of these Malays inter-mingled with their co-religionists Moors and married Moorish women who were Muslims. A few Malays married Sinhala, Tamil or Burgher women.

For many years, Malays had a representative in the legislature of Sri Lanka but during the last few years they have been denied this right. The small but virile Malay community of Sri Lanka hope and pray that the proposed amendments to the new constitution will provide for representation to the Malay community and others who have not been given any representation in the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka