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Merchants, Maidens, and Mohammedans: A History of Muslim Stereotypes in Sinhala Literature of Sri Lanka

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2022

Alexander McKinley*
Department of Religion, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL, USA


This article analyzes stereotypes of Muslims that have recurred in Sinhala literature over the past seven centuries. This temporal span includes (1) a precolonial time when Muslims were a curiosity in Sinhala poetry as rich traders, wild men, and seductive women; (2) an early colonial time when the Portuguese and Dutch displaced more Muslims into the island interior, and Sinhala authors increasingly wrote of them as religious others akin to Tamils; and (3) a late colonial time when British policies forged religo-racial political categories in the decades leading up to the anti-Muslim pogroms of 1915. Each case is also connected to postcolonial instantiations or transformations of these typecasts. This history therefore eschews linear narratives of change to show the recurrent tendencies of social reasoning through stereotyping, past and present.

Research Article
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2022

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