The Colombo Grand Mosque was the first mosque built in Colombo by Scholar Khalid Ibn Baqaya who came to Sri Lanka in Hijri 181 as an envoy of Khalifa Al Rasheed who was reigning in Hijri 169 during the regime of Abbasids.
The Arabian trade relationship with Sri Lanka was in existence even before the birth of Prophet Muhammed (Sal). Islamic Da’wa commenced on Monday, 27th September in 622 A.D. by Hijjrath to Madeena. As a result, the birth of Islam was spread to all parts of the world including Sri Lanka, as per the booklet named ‘Ajaa’ ibul Hind’. Two persons belonging to a royal family in Yeman had come to Sri Lanka in Hijri 18 640 A.D., one of them had arrived in Manthottam and the other in Beruwela, as per news appeared in publication named ‘Shenar’ written by Vansendea.
Khalifa Haroon Al Rasheed had a good knowledge of Sri Lankan’s Muslims with regard to their education and religious activities and sent Khalid Ibn Baqaya to Sri Lanka in Hijri 181- 797 A.D.. He was responsible in building the first Mosque in Colombo and also started to organize educational programs there and named it “Colombo Grand Mosque” and by the side there was a Muslim burial ground.
Abu Baqaya of Egypt who came here as a tourist during the regime of 1st Buwanegabahu, died in Hijri 344- 955 A.D.. His remains was buried at this mosque’s burial ground. His name, country and year of death is mentioned in the ‘Meesans’ (Stone) that are laid to identify the buried persons. These Meesans is at the Colombo Museum.
The Mosque is shown in an illustration of the first Portuguese Fort of Colombo which was built in 1518 This illustration has been reproduced by Mr. R.L. Brohier in his “Historical Series” – No 1, and appears on the front of the book. The existence of Mosques in Ceylon, during this period, appears from a description found on this illustration in Colombo. It is said that when “a flotilla of eight Portuguese vessels anchored in the Bay (Colombo) on November 15, 1505, the Commander of the expedition saw, beyond a rummage of masts and spars of smaller shipping and off the shore marred by a crescent of sand, clusters of huts hidden by foliage, some cadjan godowns and two lime-washed Mosques.”
The Mosque was redesigned and built by a Malay Architect Muhammad Balangkaya son of Mr Hooloo Balankaya with the support of several of his rich Moor associates, Minister to the Raja of Goa who migrated to Sri Lanka in 1723. Mr Muhammad Balangkaya was a pious Muslim and took a great interest in the local Moor community and married a Moor lady and through this marriage had six sons and three daughters.
As the mosque at that time was small and inadequate for congregational prayers, and, he redesigned the Mosque and expanded the space. This is the present Colombo Grand Mosque, and was the first of its kind in Colombo, and all of Ceylon at that time.
When the re-building of the Mosque was completed, the then British Governor of Ceylon, Lieut. General Sir Edward Barnes, GCB, visited the Mosque in 1826 and highly commended Mr Muhammad Balangkaya on the excellence of his work.
An additional wing to the Mosque was later constructed by Mr. I.L.M.H. Muhammad Mohideen in 1897, when he managed the affairs of the Mosque. This wing was used as part of the Mosque in addition to it also being used as classrooms for the Hameedia Boys’ English School in 1959 was originally known as “kanjee maduwam” on account of it being used as the place for the distribution of “kanjee” (rice porridge) during the breaking of the Ramadan fast.
Lack of historical evidence has prevented information being found regarding the early management of the Mosque. It has been generally held that the management of the Mosque was in the hands of different individuals at various times and these persons carried out the onerous task of management throughout these years.
However, it is from the year 1918, that substantial historical evidence of the Mosque management is available. A group, consisting of some of the leading members of the congregation of The Colombo Grand Mosque met on Friday, March 17 1918, after Jumma Prayers. This meeting was held within the Mosque premises to discuss improvements, management, as the financial status of the Mosque was in a depleted state. The outcome of this meeting, as far as the welfare of the Mosque is concerned, has been of very significant importance. For the first time in the history of the Mosque discipline and methodology were introduced into the management of the Mosque. This was achieved by the establishment of a set of rules and regulations which provided for the management of the Mosque to be handled by a Trustee and a Management Committee, in addition to defining in detail their powers, responsibilities and duties. Regular meetings were also provided for in this constitution.
It was at this meeting that New Moor Street Colombo Grand Mosque held its first democratic election in order to select a Trustee and a Committee of Management. Mr I.L.M.H. Muhammad Mohideen was unanimously elected the first Trustee as, he had already been handling the affairs of the Mosque for many years before and was acclaimed to be a very prominent benefactor and supporter of the Mosque.
A committee of 45 members was also elected which comprised a Managing Committee of 16 and a General Committee of 29 members.
The youngest son of Mr Muhammad Balangkaya, Mr Tuan Bagoos Krawan Balangkaya – born on Tuesday, Rajab 21 1243 Hijra corresponding to January 28, 1827 qualified in Islamic Theology and became a scholar (Alim) succeeding to the position of Khalifa in Colombo.
A landmark in the history of the Colombo Grand Mosque is the Cannon. Credit must be given to the members of the then Mosque Committee for the keen interest taken in installing the Cannon around in circa 1898. The Cannon has become an institution by itself and stands as a monument. The original Cannon was in service for a long period of time during Ramazan and was fired to indicate the times of end of Suhoor, break of fast, and was also used to announce the sighting of the new moon for Eid Festivals. The present Cannon was donated by Mr A.A. Abdul Raheman, a well known hardware merchant of the Pettah and also a member of the managing committee. The Cannon was mounted on a wooden base that was movable on wheels and this has stood the rigors for more than half a century. It was maintained by the then Imam C.L.M. Abdul Hameed who introduced many improvements for the benefit of the congregation and the Mosque. The Muslim community have always been grateful to all governments of Ceylon for having permitted the firing of the Cannon, even during the two World Wars when such activity was prohibited.
The burial grounds that was present within the premises of the Colombo Grand Mosque was discontinued on October 21, 1874, on the orders of the then government. In the meantime a block of land of over 1.25 acres in extent was purchased in Maradana, on Aug 12, 1875, not only for the purpose of building a Mosque but also to be used as a cemetery for the burial of the dead. This ground was used for burials after the closure of the cemetery at the Colombo Grand Mosque. The present Symonds Road Mosque was built on this site and burial was discontinued here on May 21, 1875. The present Maligawatte Muslim Burial Ground was purchased on October 12, 1874 and this land became the cemetery from this date and it is in use even today.
The history of the Colombo Grand Mosque will not be complete without mentioning of the famous Muslim School which has been a part of the Mosque itself from its inception. The foundation of the building was laid by the then Turkish Consul in Ceylon on August 31, 1900 (1318 Hijra). The school building was erected by Mr I.L.M.H. Noordeen, a great philanthropist and a leading member of the Muslim community and assisted by a host of well wishers viz; Mr O.L.M. Ahamadu Lebbe Marikar Alim, Mr S.L. Naina Marikar, Mr A.L. Abdul Careem, and Mr S.L. Mahmood, JP. If not for the foresight, initiative, and enthusiasm of the founder, who had managed the school for many years, the school would not be in existence today (1959).
It was in 1921 that the name of the school was changed from Al-Madrasathul Hameedia to Hameedia Boys’ English School.