Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

by Nurfadzilah Yahaya
Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

by Nurfadzilah Yahaya


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This wide-ranging, geographically ambitious book tells the story of the Arab diaspora within the context of British and Dutch colonialism, unpacking the community's ambiguous embrace of European colonial authority in Southeast Asia. In Fluid Jurisdictions, Nurfadzilah Yahaya looks at colonial legal infrastructure and discusses how it impacted, and was impacted by, Islam and ethnicity. But more important, she follows the actors who used this framework to advance their particular interests.

Yahaya explains why Arab minorities in the region helped to fuel the entrenchment of European colonial legalities: their itinerant lives made institutional records necessary. Securely stored in centralized repositories, such records could be presented as evidence in legal disputes. To ensure accountability down the line, Arab merchants valued notarial attestation land deeds, inheritance papers, and marriage certificates by recognized state officials. Colonial subjects continually played one jurisdiction against another, sometimes preferring that colonial legal authorities administer Islamic law—even against fellow Muslims.

Fluid Jurisdictions draws on lively material from multiple international archives to demonstrate the interplay between colonial projections of order and their realities, Arab navigation of legally plural systems in Southeast Asia and beyond, and the fraught and deeply human struggles that played out between family, religious, contract, and commercial legal orders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501750878
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nurfadzilah Yahaya is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore. Follow her on Twitter @nfyahaya.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Establishing Legal Domains
1. The Lure of Bureaucracy: British Administration of Islamic Law in the Straits Settlements
2. Surat Kuasa: Powers of Attorney across the Indian Ocean
3. Resident Aliens: Exclusions of Arabs in the Netherlands Indies
4. Legal Incompetence: Jurisdictional Complications in the Netherlands Indies
5. Constructing the Index of Arabs: Colonial Imaginaries in Southeast Asia
6. Compromises: The Limitations of Diasporic Religious Trusts
Conclusion: Postcolonial Transitions

What People are Saying About This

Iza Hussin

Fluid Jurisdictions tells a rich, detailed, and original story about Arabs in Southeast Asia. Weaving together a formidable diversity of archival material, it makes a significant contribution to world history, the study of law and imperialism, Southeast Asian and diaspora studies.

Julia Stephens

Enlivened with telling archival anecdotes and visual materials, Fluid Jurisdictions provides a compellingly textured history of individuals struggling to navigate business and family relations across shifting geographical and cultural boundaries. Nurfadzilah Yahaya writes with witty flair, making this both a seminal work for the field and a true pleasure to read.

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