About 2 million Muslims live in Sri Lanka, this makes up about 10% of the population. In contrast to most Western countries, Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority does not originate from migration processes during recent decades. Though many Muslims cultivate ties to far-away relatives in the Middle East - such as Tamil extented families often have ties with South-Indians -, most Sri Lankan Muslim families have been based on the island for centuries. Before the arrival of European colonial powers, Arab and Persian sailors had been the dominant maritime force in the Indian Ocean since the beginnings of the Bagdad califate. In contrast to intolerant Christian invaders later on, Muslims were welcome as merchants all along the shores of South- and Southeast-Asia and settled even in southern China. The Portuguese forces persecuted not only Sri Lankan Buddhists and Hindus but also Muslims. This is why the Buddhist king in Kandy gave refuge to Muslim families.
Descendants of early (pre-colonial) Muslim traders and later settlers from the Middleeast (directly or via southern India) are called Sri Lankan Moors. Their children learn some Arabic prayers in private Koran schools, but their native language is a Tamil dialect, most of them speak Sinhalese, too. Tamil was an international trading language (still is officially recognized in Singapore), many Sri Lankan Moors have family ties to Muslim groups in South-India. Besides Moors, there are two more Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan Malays arrived in the 17th and 18th century in the wake of Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka, most Sri Lankan Malays live in Hambantota District. When the British recruited labour forces from Southern India in the late 19th century, not all workers and other migrants from southern India were Tamil Hindus. Muslims form a significant part of the South-Indian population. So - analog to a second group of Tamils in Sri Lanka once called “Indian Tamils” - there is a Muslim group in Sri Lanka called “Indian Muslims”. Many of them are Shiite, whereas almost all Sri Lanka Moors are Sunni.
Muslims live in all parts of Sri Lanka. There are only very few areas on the island dominated by a Muslim population. The most important hub is the traditional Muslim seaport Beruwela, nowadays a beach resort just north of Bentota at Sri Lanka’s south-western coast. The Sri Lankan district with the highest percentage of Muslim population is Ampara (more than 40%) in the Eastern Province.
Sadly enough, some Sri Lanka Muslims - though traditionally not “fundamentalists” and much better integrated than Muslim minorities in Western countries - died as victims of anti-Muslim violence. This is a very serious issue, though not yet in the focus of international media attention. Maybe one reason is: Western solidarity with Muslims attacked by Buddhists in a developping country seems to be less developped than with Christians attacked by Muslims elsewhere. According to the teachings of the Buddha, most Sinhalese Buddhists are strictly opposed to violence and aggressive speech and emotions of hatred. However, there are extremist minorities in all religions, even in Buddhism.