Moeen has not played for England since taking a short break from cricket in 2019 but will form part a 16-man touring party which also includes Warwickshire trio Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes and Olly Stone.
Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer have both been rested for the series, though Jonny Bairstow joins Moeen in earning a recall, one year after being dropped. Essex batsman Dan Lawrence has been named in the squad for the first time.
England are due to spend almost three full months on tour in Asia in the new year, travelling directly from Sri Lanka to India for a three-format trip, and have concluded that those who play red and white-ball cricket cannot be asked to take part in every leg.
Stokes, whose father Ged died this week following a battle with brain cancer, and key paceman Archer have been excused from the double-header against Sri Lanka in Galle but will return for India.
Others with major workloads, including Woakes, Test skipper Joe Root and Jos Buttler, can expect to be stood down as the winter programme progresses.
The travelling party also includes seven reserves, who will take part in England’s pre-series practice in Hambantota and also provide Covid-19 cover.
Opening batsman Rory Burns is not included, having previously advised selectors about the birth of his first child, with Bairstow hoping to win a first cap since December 2019.
His inclusion appeared a foregone conclusion from the moment he withdrew from his Big Bash League contract with Melbourne Stars to clear the necessary space in his diary.
Spin is likely to be a key part of the series, with Galle notorious for its turn, and England have included Dom Bess and Jack Leach along with Moeen. Another three, Mason Crane, Matt Parkinson and Amar Virdi are among the reserves. Adil Rashid is once again notable by his absence. The leg-spinner was in fine form during the recent Twenty20 whitewash over South Africa and both national selector Ed Smith and head coach Chris Silverwood have spoken about bringing him back into the five-day fold after two years away.
A lingering shoulder condition has stopped him committing to that and his non-appearance in this squad could suggest that a long-term decision has been agreed.
In the seam attack James Anderson and Stuart Broad are both included, despite the unresponsive pitches they experienced when England last visited in 2018, but it would be a surprise to see both men play both Tests.
Alongside them Mark Wood and Olly Stone are on hand to provide 90mph pace.
England squad: J Root (c), M Ali, J Anderson, J Bairstow, D Bess, S Broad, J Buttler, Z Crawley, S Curran, B Foakes, D Lawrence, J Leach, D Sibley, O Stone, C Woakes, M Wood. Reserves: J Bracey, M Crane, S Mahmood, C Overton, M Parkinson, O Robinson, A Virdi.