It is not widely known, and the popular text books in Ceylon seem to be silent in this respect, that the Muslims of Ceylon had a part to play in the Arab Conquest of Sind, in the Sub-Continent of India.

"In the time of the Umayyad caliph, al-Walid (705-715), his general, Musa bin Nusir, subjugated the whole of North Africa while his lieutenant, Tariq captured the fair country of Andalusia (Spain). In the east, the Muslim general, Qutaibah, penetrated far into Central Asia. At this very time circumstances led to the conquest of Sind by Muhammad bin Qasim, the nephew and son-in-law of Hajjaj, the able Governor of Iraq. The Brahmin rulers of Sind had sent their legions to help the Persians against the Muslims. During the governorship of Hajjaj some Arab rebels had crossed the border into Sind and taken shelter with Raja Dahir. The immediate cause of invasion, however, was provided by the plunder of some ships, carrying the families of Arabs who had died in Ceylon and the gifts sent by the ruler of that island for the caliph, by the pirates of Daibul, then a flourishing port of Sind. Hajjaj, hearing of this atrocity, addressed a strong protest to Raja Dahir, requiring him to punish the culprits and restore the gifts and the captives. Dahir treated the matter with contempt and refused to take action. Hajjaj, thereupon, decided to chastise the Raja and obtained permission from the Caliph to despatch an army to conquer Sind. His nephew and son-in-law, ‘Imad-ud-din Muhammad bin Qasim, a youth of seventeen, who had distinguished himself as a fighter and administrator, was put at the head of his army…….." – page 98 et seq of "A short History of Hind-Pakistan" published by the Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi.
From the proximate cause of the Conquest of Sind, we could legitimately infer that the Muslims of Ceylon had cultural contacts for several centuries with their brethren in faith inhabiting lands far and near, and Ceylon through her Muslims had established, during the Middle Ages, political and economic relations with the Muslim World which was then influential in every sphere. The extent however of these contacts and the beneficial results which flowed from them have so far not been adequately assessed. The necessary acquisition of a good knowledge of several languages, each of them with a different background and distinctive characters, has probably impeded the progress of the scholars a thirst for research in this particular field. These cultural contacts ceased with the arrival of the Portuguese in Ceylon during the Sixteenth Century.
During the Portuguese and the Dutch periods of Ceylon History, the Muslims who often in the previous periods had been the unofficial ambassadors of Ceylon in foreign countries, found themselves compelled to lead a kind of underground existence – their foreign contacts severed, their political influence diminished, their economic contribution lessened, and their cultural progress retarded. During the most part of this period of isolation, which lasted nearly three centuries the Muslims of Ceylon were out of touch even with their nearest neighbours, the Mussalmans of the Sub-Continent of India – a contact which fortunately revived during the British Period. Like their brethren in India the Muslims of Ceylon were at that time educationally backward and politically insignificant. Therefore their hearts were beating in unison with their elder brothers across the waters, the Indian Mussalmans. The call to them of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) evoked a response among the Muslims of Ceylon as well.
The Ancestors of Sir Syed belonged to a noble family closely connected with the Moghul Court at Delhi. Yet when his father died in 1838, he preferred the post of a Sub-Judge under the East India Company to any position at the Red Fort. Probably he realized that the prestige of the Padsha had no real substance, and that the British had come to stay in India. He was not unaware of the religio-political movement, the so called Indian Wahhabism, founded by Sayyid Ahmad Shahid (1786-1831) who first boldly, challenged the supremacy of the Sikhs and then of the British. Nor was Sir Syed sanguine of any similar movement achieving success and ousting the British. To him the long drawn out controversy among eminent Mussalman theologians as to whether British India was ‘darul Islam’ or ‘darul harb’ was totally unrealistic and essentially futile. He had become dimly conscious that the Mussalmans of India had to accept the presence of the British in power as a fait accompli and evolve a satisfactory formula of a modus vivendi, instead of dissipating their energies on metaphysical arguments or engaging themselves in impossible rebellions with insufficient resources.
His forebodings were proved correct by the events of Eighteen Fifty Seven – A War of Independence to some and the Great Indian Mutiny to others. The presecutions they suffered at the hands of the British completely unnerved the Muslims and they were despairing of any future. It was at this stage that Sir Syed came to the rescue of his community. In his ‘Loyal Mohamedans of India’ published in 1860 he endeavoured to prove that the rumours defamatory of his co-religionists had no foundation, that ."if  in Hindoostan there was one class of people above another who from the principles of their religion, from habits and associations and from kindred disposition, were fast bound with Christians in their dread hour of trial and danger, in the bonds of amity and friendship, those people were the Mohamedans and they alone!” Sir Syed stressed that to the Mussalmans, Christianity was a Revealed Religion ."which believed in the Prophets, and hold sacred the word of God in his holy book, which is also an object of faith with us." And therefore he deprecated the wholesale denunciation against the entire class of Mohamedans then so much in vogue among newspapers. This attitude, however, did not prevent him then and during later years from condemning the aggressive activities practiced by some of the Christian Missionaries. Yet he was more appreciate and sympathetic of the Christian faith than what the majority of his contemporary co-religionists would approve of. Some of them were critical of his Commentary on the Bible. Sir Syed was a great admirer of the New Learning of the West, and his journey to England was undertaken with a view to obtaining a first hand knowledge of this aspect of the West. On his return he devoted his time and energy organizing and establishing in 1875 the Anglo-Mahomedan College at Aligarh.
Sir Syed exhorted his co-religionists to abandon their policy of antipathy towards the British and their attitude of aloofness towards the Government and to co-operative with them in all measures that were conducive to the welfare of the Country and the Community, to adopt the motto of ."Educate, Educate, Educate, ." and thus cure all the socio-political ills then prevalent, to break the monopoly of modern education possessed at that time by the Christian Missionaries, to give up all obscurantism in religious views and customary practices associated with religion and to support measures like vaccination, the Quazi Act and the Walkfs Bill, to demand and obtain representation in the Indian Legislative Council, and to organize themselves for the promotion of their culture and welfare. These were solutions which Sir Syed Ahmed Khan formulated to cope with the problems confronting his Community. These very problems the Muslims of Ceylon also faced. Sir Syed’s solutions naturally gained currency in our Country and his influence on Muslim thought and activity was indeed immense.
Of this, the educational aspect is the most significant. In this sphere, there was during the closing quarter of the nineteenth century a clear awakening among the Muslims of Ceylon brought about by the cumulative influences traceable to sources Islamic, Indian and Indigenous – the Aligarh Movement started by Sir Syed, the religious and educational renaissance resulting from the efforts of the Buddhist Theosophical Society, the Hindu Counter-Reformation headed by Sri La Sri Arumuga Navalar and the Stay in Ceylon, for nearly two decades, of Arabi Pasha, the Father of the Egyptian Independence Movement, officially a rebel and exile, but dearly beloved of the local Muslims. From the activities and writings of M. C. Siddi Lebbe, the then leader among the Muslims of Ceylon, it is clear that the Aligarh Movement made a substantial contribution to this reawakening.
M.C. Siddi Lebbe was a man of vision with a mission – to educate his coreligionist contemporaries, to wean them away from the kind of obscurantist orthodoxy which then impeded all progress. He realized that the maktabs and madrasas which once flourished in Ceylon bringing new knowledge and skills had degenerated into the ‘verandah schools’ and ‘pallikoodams’ where there was no real knowledge imparted or true wisdom gained. He had thought deeply on the problems confronting the Community and taken note of the symptoms of educational backwardness, economic stagnation, political apathy and cultural isolation. Having deftly diagnosed the dreadfully debilitating disease, he prescribed the sovereign remedy of Modern Education in Muslim environment. This prescription of his continues to be efficacious with the necessary alterations in diet and dosage, demanded by the changing circumstances from time to time. For this prescription M.C. Siddi Lebbe was immeasurably indebted to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan also encouraged the friendship between Turkey, politically the most important country and his Community, numerically the largest group in the Muslim World at that time. The friendship was symbolized by the Turkish Fez which he wore himself and adopted as part of the Aligarh uniform. This, however, led in subsequent years to a development which he did dimly anticipate but did not favour in the least – the recognition of the Sultan of Turkey as the Spiritual Head of Islam. To this result several men contributed; among them were Jamaluddin Afghani, Shibli Nomani, and Maulana Mohamed Ali. The Ceylon Muslims themselves came under this spell and were in active sympathy with the formidable Khilafat Movement which was started by the Indian Mussalmans after the termination of World War I. Like them the Muslims of Ceylon were disillusioned, when the Caliphate was abolished by Kamal Ataturk. This naturally called for an agonizing re-appraisal among the Muslims of the World. But that is a different story during a different period of history.

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