Here are some fascinating details and photos of the oldest mosques in Sri Lanka. We compiled this article from available historical records and information from local community and national sources.
Historians cannot always be absolutely certain of the precise dates when even some of these mosques featured here were first built. Yet for centuries prayer services are performed every day in them in the same manner shown by prophet Muhammad (PBUH) more than 1400 years ago. If you happen to be near them you might hear the call for prayer or Azaan five times a day calling the Muslims to stop what they are doing and be present for the prayers of the Almighty Lord.
Abrar Mosque Beruwala (Founded 920AD)
Image Credit: Nation.lk
Abrar Mosque in Beruwala is the oldest mosque in Sri Lanka according to official sources and traced historical documents. Available oldest documents indicate it to be constructed in 920 AD, making it nearly 1100 years old. On June 8, 2003 a stamp was issued by the Government of Sri Lanka featuring this mosque, to mark the first Arab settlement in the country.
This historic mosque has been rebuilt extensively overtime with little attention paid to preserve any historical aspects or artifacts. In 1893 the roof was propped up by large round pillars. They were demolished in 1986 when the present front facade was rebuilt to accommodate 3000 worshipers at a time.
There is a very large and interesting water pond in front, said to be centuries old with green color but very pure water. This pond is used for performing the Islamic ritual washing by devotees before prayers.
Colombo Grand Mosque (Founded 8 or 16th century)
Image Credit: Colombograndmosque.com
The Colombo Grand Mosque is the main mosque in Sri Lanka. It occupies a unique place in the life of Sri Lankan Muslims. Its early origins are hidden in the dim past where legend and tradition are interwoven with history. However it does have a documented history of nearly 500 years. It is believed that the famous Sir Alexander Johnston discovery of the Colombo Arabic Inscription tombstone dating to 948AD was found in the old Colombo Muslim cemetery that was next to the Grand Mosque. This gravestone is currently at the Colombo National Museum. This indicates the mosque might be at-least 1100 years old and possibly the oldest mosque in Sri Lanka.
In 1820s, the mosque had been inadequate for the growing congregation of Colombo Muslims. So the Mosque was redesigned and rebuilt by a Malay Architect Muhammad Balangkaya. The renovated mosque was a two-storey Mosque building and was probably the first mosque of its kind in all of Sri Lanka at that time. Even the British Governor of Ceylon visited the mosque in 1826 and commended the architect. An additional wing was later constructed in 1897. The mosque was reconstructed again during 1900s to meet the demands of time.
The present Colombo Grand mosque is a imposing grand structure but completely rebuilt a few decades ago. Their is hardly any evidence in the mosque to suggest it might be centuries or a millennium old except the first Muslim school building at its back. There is also a old Canon Gun that dates to 1897 which was fired to indicate the times of break of fast, end of Suhoor during the Islamic month of Ramadan and was also used to indicate the start of the Eids (festivals).
Ketchimalai Mosque Beruwala (12th Century)
Image Credit: Hafiz Issadeen
The sight of the beautiful Kechchimalai Mosque along the Colombo-Galle coast road has always been a treat to the weary traveler. The history of “Ketchimalai” Mosque goes back centuries, with its myths and legends lay hidden also many tales. One of them is the civilization that was created around this mosque. Local tradition says it dates back to the 12th century, when a vessel came ashore at Ketchimalai, Beruwala, with seven members of the royal family of Hadramouth, Yemen. Sultan Ashraff, his five brothers and a sister. At this time there had already been Muslims in the region who well respected by the Sinhalese Kings. The royal entourage, on disembarking, were apprehended by the coastguards of the Sinhala king and escorted to the king and even lived at the palace for some time. But realising that the life-style within the palace was a hindrance to fulfilling their spiritual obligations, sultan Ashraff, along with his siblings took residence in the western part of Beruwala. After a few years of peaceful existence, he passed away and the people of Beruwala buried him at Ketchimalai. After sometime, the Shaikh Abdul Cader bin Shaikh Yoosuf (chief priest at Maradana Jumma Mosque, Beruwala is said to have put up a Cadjan building to cover the grave and set apart a small area for the mosque.
The mosque today is a citadel of Islamic art, and one of the most ancient Mosques of Sri Lanka. It is of ancient Arabic and Asian-Moorish architecture, as it stands tall and white upon a rock, surrounded by swaying coconut palms. Viewed from the Galle Road, it looks picturesque. The sound of the sea blends with the sounds of prayer, when devotees flock there.
Mosque in Makuluwa, Galle
There is a mosque in Makuluwa, Galle, which tradition relates is one of the oldest in Sri Lanka. It is said to be 1300 years old. It doesn’t seem to have been rebuilt like the other mosques here very frequently. So the walls of it are several meters thick inside.
According to the oral evidence, Muslims settled in Palathady near the area of Polwattu river-valley built their mosque in 1200. It seems that Muslims of Sri Lanka have selected sites near the mouth of rivers and shallow of waters for their erection of mosques from the early period.
There could be older mosques in Sri Lanka than featured here. Nobody is certain when and where the first mosques were built in Sri Lanka. It is most likely at-least one mosque was there in each of the ancient maritime ports towns and villages of Sri Lanka like Galle, Mannar, Colombo, etc. Between 7th century to 16th century these sea port towns & villages were often populated or controlled by Arab or Moorish traders. But during Portugues and Dutch colonial periods, Muslims were displaced from their early settlements which were turned into forts and colonial settlements. Any early mosque or Muslim artifacts would have been destroyed or lost during this time.
Help us improve this article.
This article is a work in progress. We are seeking information about old mosques. If you have any information about old mosques in Sri Lanka we would be very grateful if you would please send them to us. You can also share any info about old mosques in the comments below. Thank you.
1. Historic Beruwela
2. Colombo Grand Mosque History
3. Muslims in Sri Lanka – some impressions