5 Sri Lankan Malays you should absolutely know about

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Ever faced the scenario where someone has commented how weird your name sounds and you reply that it’s because you’re a Malay and you subsequently find yourself having to explain what being a Malay is all about? Yes, let’s face it, we all have. During such a conversation where you desperately try to recall everything that is Malay from Baabath Puruth to how to say hello in Malayu, have you ever been asked if some Muslim personality were a Malay or not and for the life of you, you couldn’t recall? Well, out of the long list of personalities varying from politicians, soldiers, scholars and sportsmen, here are five Malays that you should absolutely know about to get out of such a situation.

#5 Constable Tuan Saban

Uthuwankande Sura Saradiel a.k.a “The Robin Hood of Sri Lanka” is an infamous bandit in Sri Lankan history books who was at large during the 1860s. Although Saradiel was not a Malay, Constable Tuan Saban, credited with the capture of Saradiel most certainly was.

OnConstable Tuan Sabane of the main modes of our early ancestors arriving in Sri Lanka is said to be as soldiers fighting for the Dutch. Constable Tuan Saban was one such police constable who along with Sergeant Mahat were the two officers said to have initially engaged Saradiel before Assistant Government Agent of Kegalle, E. R. Saunders arrived at the scene with a company of soldiers from the Ceylon Rifle Regiment who were able to capture Saradiel. Constable Tuan Saban is reported to have been killed during the gun fight making him the first regular Police Officer of the Ceylon Police to have sacrificed his life in the course of duty and 21st of March, the date the incident occurred, is still commemorated as the Police Heroes’ day.

The Saban memorial on the Kandy road at Mawanella with inscriptions of the incident.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   (Image credit: island.lk)

#4 Mayumi Raheem

Mayumi Raheem

This Sri Lankan swimming sensation made all Malays proud by representing Sri Lanka at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she was only 17 years old. She participated for the 100m breaststroke finishing her heat in 4th place with a timing of 1:15.33. She first made her swimming prowess known to the world with her appearance at the 2006 South Asian Games winning 3 gold medals, 5 silver medals and 5 bronze medals, a record for any athlete at a single Asian Games.

Image credit: alchetron.com


#3 T.M. Dilshan 

Sri Lankan cricketer Tillakaratne Dilshan plays a shot during the third One Day International (ODI) match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Pallekele on November 6, 2012. New Zealand scored a competitive 188-6 against Sri Lanka after being put in to bat in the third one-day international in Pallekele on Tuesday. AFP PHOTO/ LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The flamboyant Sri Lankan opener and former captain across all formats and the inventor of the infamous ‘Dilscoop’ has a Malay lineage as his father is a Malay and mother a Sinhalese. He was initially named Tuwan Mohamed Dilshan before he changed his name to Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan shortly after his international debut in 1999 citing personal reasons.

#2 Lt. Col. Tuan Nizam Muthaliff

Major Nizam MuthaliffIn the long list of war heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice during the war, Major Tuan Nizam Muthaliff (posthumously promoted as Lieutenant Colonel) is one of the most revered and talked about irrespective of his ethnicity. He was the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the Sri Lanka Army Military Intelligence Corps and responsible for taking out many high profile LTTE targets.

It is reported that Lt. Col. Muthaliff would leave the camp in the middle of the night having previously informed his men not to search for him if he did so and return at dawn with the locations of the terrorist corpses he’d left behind.

It was such extraordinary feats of bravery that sent waves of fear through the LTTE and forced them to launch the successful operation which led to the shooting of Lt. Col. Muthaliff at Polhengoda in 2005.

Image credit: slnewsonline.net

#1 Dr. T.B. Jayah

T B JayahOne of the very first names that comes to mind when talking about Malays is Dr. T.B. Jayah and with good reason too. His 3 hour speech in 1944 on the Soulbury Report and the White Paper of the United Kingdom Government to pass the Dominion Bill paved the way for the full independence of Ceylon, a feat which deservedly earned him a place in the list of National Heroes of Sri Lanka.

During his multifaceted career, Dr. T.B. Jayah was an Educationist, State Councillor, Member of Parliament, Minister of State and Ambassador to Pakistan. His first and original concern was the education of the Muslims and perhaps why his tenure as the Principal of Zahira College is known as the school’s golden era. He passed away in 1960 while on pilgrimage to Mecca leaving a legacy of selfless service to the motherland behind.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Image credit: geni.com

Did we miss anything or do you feel more people should have been featured on the list? Let us know in the comments below.

By Amrit Singalaxana

Malays.lk aims to bring together the Sri Lankan Malay community on to one platform, focusing on our shared cultural aspects that keep the ethnic group connected, such as history, cuisine,fashion, music, and language etc. In addition, the portal introduces channels via social media and blogs, which will create a more interactive dialogue among members of the community.

23 thoughts on “5 Sri Lankan Malays you should absolutely know about

  1. How about late Kalasoori Mohamed Shaheed Oumar (Stanley) The person who composes Malay Songs and the only malay to receive the title.

  2. A timely endeavour, terima kasi. What is still lacking in Sri Lanka’s Malay society is the failure to identify themselves as a separate ethnicity rather than be identified as ‘Muslims’. I always go out of my way wherever possible to explain this issue, and invariably the listener is flabbergasted. The simplest way is to ask, for instance a Sinhalese, if he is a Buddhist. If the answer is yes, then the next is What is your race? He will say Sinhala. Then let himself realise there’s something conflicting! Then tell him about what an ethnicity is and what a religious entity is. If not, they never understand!
    I have been insisting on this well before the last national census. In the enumerator’s register ‘Race or Jathiya’ comes AFTER ‘Religion’. So he/she asks ‘Oyage agama?’ for which invariably the answer is Islam. Then he/she automatically ticks the next cage for ‘Race or Ethnicity’ as ‘Yonaka” meaning Moors. Among that apart from the other ethnicity, Malay is also included but the enumerator is ignorant of the difference.
    So, saudara, saudari, if anyone asks you about your ethnicity, always say I am a Malay and Muslim by religion.

      1. Agree with T.B.Singalaxana about us Malays means what our race is and not part of a religion since Malays in China, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other places aren’t followers of islam. It’s a bit difficult to make it understand to other races in Muslims who thinkshe malays are suppose to be Muslimso from the beginning (which we aren’t) . Besides, this article is great. We have more Malays who are famous including Mr. Latif in the Police Department, Rugger and Football Champs, youth orchestra trainers, singers , dancers etc. Also I’ve seen that many texts don’t mention how much of service has Malays offered as officialsite for the Dutch, British and the Ceylon kings. To mention my great, great, great grandfather was the Colonel of the Malaysian regiment appointed by the British. Saban was one of the five sons he had others respectively Dole (Dool), Jayah, Bongzo, Yaheya and Raban.

  3. I appreciate of your concern about Dilshan being a Malay but it is better not to mention him again as he is not a Muslim anymore. If he is a real Malay he should have kept his Malay Identity intact and we would have been very proud of him. Almighty Allah must grant him hidayath. There are so many other Malays in Sri Lanka to be mentioned which will be worth commenting on. Regret if I had hurt your feelings.

      1. @Nikijuluw Tuan Mohamed Mohinudeen Malay is a race and Islam is a religion. You are born malay and no one can change that. There are so many non muslim malays in the world. Just because they are not muslim you can’t simply exclude them from being malay. this is a very narrow worldview. Is this website only for muslim malays? if so they should probably explicitly state that

      2. Please, let us not argue on religion. A Malay is always a Malay irrespective or what religion he/she follows. That’s their personal matter. Anybody could change their religions but never their race. Beg your pardon, no offence meant. Terima kasi.


    1. @Malays.lk I am very glad I found this website. Please add more articles. Specially about the Malay families who mixed into Sinhala-Buddhist-christian families to enter the “ruling class” during 1800’s and 1900’s.

      @Nikijuluw Tuan Mohamed Mohinudeen

      I feel so sorry for you. Other than coming off as a racist extremist you forget that Dilshan is only half Malay. Also about keeping the true identity?? Do you not remember that Malaysia and Indonisa had Buddisht and Hindu majority? No wonder to this day Malaysia and Indonesia are among the most racist countries in the world who segregate their own population.

      Once I asked a Sinhala or tamil friend who’s religion was Islam, about his “race”. He insisted he is a “muslim jathikayek” Only my Malay friends would tell me that they are Malay. People should understand that there is no Muslim race.

  4. Dear Author,

    I am quite sad that you have not mentioned my name and what i did for the Malays I was the first Malay to captain the Sri Lankan swimming team from 1992 to 2000 and break many records that still stand and the first Sri Lankan swimmer to go under the 1 minute barrier in the 100 butterfly event. The first Sri Lankan swimmer to qualify for the world swimming championship and bring glory by swimming gold in many international completions for Sri Lanka. After I beat Julian Bolling in the butterfly event he retired.

    Currently I have i am in london running my business after completing my masters and PhD in the UK

    I don’t think any other sport man in any sport except for Arjuna Ranatunge has captain a team for 8 years consequently. I was the overall captain of the swimming team for 8 years.

    Furthermore I would like to mention my coach Rizvi Zain who passed away at the Asian games in Bangkok and I had to bring his Janaza back to Colombo he has and will be one of the best coaches produced by our motherland.

    P.s the Raheem sisters are my nieces and started aeimming because I was making waves in the pool and they should be lauded for all the glory they bring to our motherland but next time please do extensive research prior to publishing for example Dilshan is not even a Muslim nor a pure Malay to start with.

    Thank you

    Your truly

    Dr Ghefari Dulapandan

    1. Dear Dr. Ghefari Dulapandan,

      Thank you for bringing to our notice your valuable contribution to Sri Lanka and thereby the Malay community through your achievements as an award winning swimmer.
      Re -iterating the idea behind this article, it is not the ultimate countdown as we have many talented Malays who have achieved great heights in various fields.
      We look forward to enhance this website with more information and your contribution will definitely be considered in our future posts.

  5. I also would like to inform Kalasoori Rufin saldin the only malay who was honoured with this title for the malay dancing talent.

  6. In the field of sports there are many double internationals like Hadjreen, Sourjah, Preena, Marso, Hameed and others who could be included in the first five.
    We don’t want to discourage you with our comments but would prefer if you could do more research before publishing

  7. If we’re talking about epic achievements as identity of prominence among Malays of SL past & present, then the name of Mass Thajoon Akbar (1880-1964), Judge of the Supreme Court of Ceylon & Solicitor General of Ceylon should appear somewhere in the list . His achievements are great many, though fast fading away from the newer generation is a sorry state. Reruns Kashi.

  8. Dear Saudara / Saudari,
    We are happy to see much information on important Malay personalities flowing in. Please note that the article titled ‘5 Sri Lankan Malays you should absolutely know about ‘ is not the ultimate countdown. This is the beginning of a project the Malays.lk team is looking forward to. In fact, this is our main objective; to provide a platform to showcase all Malay talent.
    To enhance the contents of this website, please feel free to send us more information to info@malays.lk which will help us in our future articles.
    We welcome you to join us to fulfill our responsibility towards the Malay community.
    Terima Kasih

  9. Nice to see some one has done something good by creating such a page for the Malays.because its time to bring all Malays together and to unite as one.even in the navy there are only two officer who are Malays and iam proud to be one who have held my head high for the past 22years.showing each and every one that a Malay is a true officer and a gentleman.

  10. I would like to add to Saudara Ramly Amit’s comments re Ruffin Saldin being a “Kalasoori “. In fact he is more than that. He is a “Kalabooshana” which is on a higher level. Not only that, his family holds the rare distinction of being awarded this title twice since his dad the late Tuan Allaldin Ibbon Saldin, known as “dancing Saldin ” of Utuwankande fame was also a Kalabooshana.

  11. My daughter, Anaka Borham represented Sri Lanka in the field of hockey. She took part in the Girls Asia Cup 2011 and Women’s Junior PTT Asia Cup 2012 both in Bangkok, Thailand. I wonder whether any other Malay girl has represented in hockey before. This just for your records. Terimah kasih.

  12. As a sri lankan and a Sinhalese im so happy to see the outstanding contribution of Malay community for the Nation . What they have done should be highly appreciate and a good example for other ethnic groups . God bless malays God bless Sri lanka !

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