The Masjid land was bought by these South Indian Muslim businessmen and donated to the noble cause. Once built the Masjid was registered as a Trust, which remains the same today with the present Trustees appointed from the descendants of the original donors and Trustees of the Masjid.
During the 7th Century CE, Arab dhows with their distinctive lateen sails filled with monsoon wind began in earnest to sail south-eastwards across the Indian Ocean. Aboard were traders whose destination was the Island they called Serendib—“Island of Rubies”—in search of those precious gems, but also pungent spices, perfect pearls, and much else besides.
Used to mostly barren landscapes, these traders, many of whom came from the ancient city of Aleppo, experienced much pleasure at the sight of Nature’s verdancy and the discovery of its treasures. Thus Serendib was also known as Tenarisin, “Island of Delights” and Jazirat Kakut, “Island of Gems”.
Such was the lure of the stories conveyed not only to the traders of Aleppo but also those of Baghdad—read the astonishingly accurate portrayal of Serendib in Sinbad’s two voyages to the Island contained in the 1001 Arabian Nights—that traders began to settle down on the west coast in the 8th Century. It’s said the first settlement was at the nowadays coastal resort of Beruwela, which in Sinhala means “the place where the sail is lowered”.
These Arabs brought with them not only fabulous goods but also their beloved faith, Islam, which was then enjoying its Golden Age. Indeed some early traders made the Serendib voyage when the Prophet Mohammad was alive. There was an expansion of believers primarily due to the far-travelled traders who settled at Beruwela and elsewhere in Serendib—and all over Asia. They married local wives who had converted to Islam (today their descendants are called Sri Lankan Moors). And Beruwela is where the first mosque was built on the Island, c 920 CE, located on a rocky peninsula where the modern version now stands.
Over the next millennium much change occurred concerning the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Until the 16th Century Arab merchants controlled much of the country’s trade with the blessing of the monarchy, which saw them as an economical and political asset. There was also racial amity between the Sinhalese and Muslims. But then the Portuguese arrived and Muslims were persecuted by the colonists, with west coast settlers fleeing to the Kandyan Kingdom and the east.