The total number of Muslims were 1,134,556 as enumerated in the Census of 1981. From 1911 to 1971 this religious group was enumerated in three ethnic groups, viz. Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) Moors, Indian Moors and Malays. Sri Lanka Moors are those who are, or claim to be descended from Muslims (other than Malays) who have been in the Island for several centuries. Malays also trace their origins in the country to several centuries past and count amongst themselves a minority of converts to Christianity.

Although 55,000 Indian Moors were enumerated in 1963, their number declined to 27,000 in 1971. In 1981 they were not separately reported on at all. This is due to Indian Moors, i.e. comparatively recent immigrants from South India, declaring themselves to be Sri Lanka Moors.

The total number of Sri Lanka Moors was 1,056,972 in 1981, distributed throughout the country with concentrations in Colombo, Ampara, Kandy, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kurunegala and Puttalama Districts. This article is mainly concerned with the entire religious group enumerated as Muslims.

The Muslim population in each of the above Districts was as follows:

Colombo            168,956 (20,041 Malays)

Ampara             161,794

Kandy                125,646

Batticaloa             79,662

Trincomalee        75,761

Kurunegala         64,213

Puttalama           50,246

Of the population in Colombo 166,605 were within the limits of Colombo Municipality where the national minorities are now (1999) in a majority through acquisition of property and colonization by way of planned settlement. The Muslim population of Colombo District had increased between 1981 and 1994 to 212,641, an increase of 26%, while the SL Tamil population of the District increased by 39% in the same period itself a negation of the claim of insecurity and lack of employment in this country, as far as the minorities are concerned. The increase in the Sinhala population of Colombo District in the same period was only 15%.

Persian and Arab traders frequented the ports on the western coast of Sri Lanka for the entrepot trade between the East and the West, as early as the first centuries of the Christian era. It is accepted that Muslim Arabs had settlements on the western coast as early as the ninth or tenth centuries. They were the beneficiaries of the remarkable tolerance extended by the Sinhala Buddhist rulers and the people to foreigners and their faiths. Later Muslim arrivals were from South India and the dominance of the South Indian element is demonstrated by the mother tongue of most of the Muslims of Sri Lanka which is a corrupt form of Tamil. There was a further admixture of a native Sinhala element principally by marriage with Sinhala women and to lesser extent by conversion. The Muslim penetration of Sri Lanka was principally for trade and not for conversion or conquest.

The Portuguese regarded the Muslims as enemies. In 1626 Captain General (Governor)Constantine de Sa de Noronha acting on orders from the King of Portugal expelled all the Muslims from their settlements which were in the Portuguese controlled areas The refugees were invited to sanctuary in the territory of the Sinhala kingdom by the Sinhala Buddhist king Senerat (1604-1635).

Senerat settled the refugees on the eastern coast from Kodiyarama in Trincomalee Bay, one of the principal Sinhala ports to Pothuvila on the south eastern coast. A colony of 4000 were settled in Batticaloa alone. Many others were given lands in the interior.

Muslims, together with the Tamils are dominant in trade and influential in politics. The increased wealth of the Muslim states in the Middle East and their total commitment to religious extremism have both morally and materially promoted the Muslim interest in Sri Lanka in regard to religious fundamentalism, commercial enterprise and pursuit of education.