Ceylon Muslims protests against the war in Tripoli in front of the Maradana mosque in Colombo 1911. The Sphere, 23rd December 1911, p. 283
Ceylon Muslims protests against the war in Tripoli in front of the Maradana mosque in Colombo 1911. The Sphere, 23rd December 1911, p. 283 (SMI)

I’m excited to share a series of posts on the commitment and the contributions of Ceylon Muslims to the Ottoman Khilafah, under relevant heads. The first post is on the relations of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) with the Ottomans from the medieval era. I am indebted to the following two sources for the information:

  1. A research article titled HISTORY OF SRI LANKA-TÜRKIYE RELATIONS: FROM REMOTE ANTIQUITY TO THE 20TH CENTURY, by Zameer Careem, a professor of history in Colombo University, published in the journal Akdeniz Havzası ve Afrika Medeniyetleri Dergisi[1],(hereinafter referred to as ZC)
  2. A masters thesis titled OTTOMAN RELATIONS WITH SRI LANKA IN THE LATE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY, submitted to Istanbul Medeniyet University Institute of Graduate Studies Program of International Ottoman Studies, by Shifaulislam Mohammed Ismeth, in August 2022, (hereinafter referred to as SMI)

Sri Lanka-Ottoman Relations

From the mediaeval Era until Atatürk abolished the Sultanate in 1924, the Sulţān of the Ottoman Empire, served as the Caliph (leader) of the Islāmic World and the defender of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. Therefore, the majority of Muslims across the world, including those in Sri Lanka, held them in high regard. As evidenced by the letter dated January 7, 1566, from Sulţān ‘Ala’ al-Din Syah of Aceh to Ottoman Sulţān Süleymān the Maginificent, under whose reign the Ottoman Empire reached the apogee of its military and political power, Sri Lanka at the time had fourteen mosques, and the Muslims on the island, despite having a non-Muslim ruler, read their Friday sermons in the name of the Ottoman Sulţān. (Feener et al., 2011). This demonstrates that Muslims in Ceylon were resolute in their commitment to the Ottomans and upheld their allegiance to the Ottoman Sulţān, despite all conceivable dangers, throughout the Colonial era. (ZC) During the age of exploration, which spanned between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Ottomans, like the Europeans, explored the world in quest of new trading routes, wealth, and knowledge, and during this period, some of the most renowned Ottoman scholars of the time produced works on world geography. Kitāb-i Tevārīh-i pādişāhān-i Hindu ve Khitāy ve Kishmīr (1582), an encyclopaedia by the Türkish historian Seyfi Çelebi from the 16th century that focuses on the historical geography of Asia, is one of the earliest works printed in the Ottoman Empire that provides information on Serendib as well as other Asian territories that the Ottomans knew little about. (Bentley, et al, 2007; Casale, 2010; Subrahmanyam, 2018). Another notable Türkish explorer whose work which dates from the 17th century, includes information on Ceylon is Derviş Mehmed Zillî (1611–1682), also known as Evliya Çelebi, who over the course of forty years, travelled extensively throughout the Ottoman Empire and neighbour-ing lands, recording his observations in his travelogue titled, Seyâhatnâme (“Book of Travel”). The Adam’s Peak, regarded by Muslims as the site where Prophet Adam descended after being expelled from heaven, is among the facts about Serendib mentioned in Evliye Çelebi’s travelogue. Although famous travellers like Fa Hien, and Marco Polo have made references to the sacred mountain in their works, the most comprehensive account of Adam’s peak is that of Ibn Battuta, who also scaled the summit during his visit to the island in 1344 AD. In the years 1655 and 1656, Evliya Çelebi visited the eastern Anatolian town of Bitlis (now in southeastern Türkiye), where the people of Bitlis, he writes, possessed a wide array of precious stones, including the diamonds that had come from Ceylon. (ZC)

The ‘Cihānnümā’, a cosmography from the 17th century, written by the Türkish polymath and author Kātib Çelebi, and subsequently translated into a number of languages, is another significant work that provides information on Serendib. (Çelebi, 2021) Despite the fact that there are some errors in the details provided in the chapter devoted to the island, ‘Cihānnümā’ covers a wide range of topics, includ-ing demography, mores, culture, climate, biodiversity, and topography. Additionally, the book includes information on the names that were formerly employed to refer to Sri Lanka as well as details on the island that were mentioned in the writings of some of the most illustrious explorers, cartographers, and historians. (ZC)

My great grandfather, Haji Abdul Sattar Sait, on his way to the Adam’s Peak, 1953. Picture from a family album.

[1] Careem, Z. (2022). HISTORY OF SRI LANKA-TÜRKIYE RELATIONS: FROM REMOTE ANTIQUITY TO THE 20TH CENTURY . Akdeniz Havzası ve Afrika Medeniyetleri Dergisi , 4 (2) , 129-140 . DOI: 10.54132/akaf.1222740