Fluid Jurisdictions

Fluid Jurisdictions : Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

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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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 270 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 19.05mm | 28g
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 3 Maps; 2 Graphs; 5 Halftones, black and white
  • 1501750879
  • 9781501750878
  • 1,177,452

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
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Review quote

"In Fluid Jurisdictions, Nurfadzilah Yahaya masterfully shows the predicament of diasporic Arabs in the British Straits and Dutch Indies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century." * HistPhil * "She draws on material from multiple international archives to examine 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." * Law & Society Review * "[The book is] innovative [and] well-researched. Fluid Jurisdictions scrutinizes the Hadrami relations with other Muslims, their pursuit of capital accumulation, and their permanence in the region. [The book] tells a multifaceted story of a community that, in several ways, consented to colonial rule in order to improve their conditions within the system." * Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia * "One might consider Nurfadzilah Yahaya's Fluid Jurisdictions a new addition to the literature, but this would discount the active role that Yahaya has played in shaping the conversation from its outset. Although this is her first book, it is one that bears the imprint of her long engagement with the discussion on law in transregional spaces." * Law and History Review * "Fluid Jurisdictions by Nurfadzilah Yahaya begins to answer these questions through a rich, textured, and fascinating account of the Arab diaspora and its engagements with colonial and Islamic law. Through rigorous research, detailed historical analysis and animated storytelling, [the book] draws readers into the mobile and intimate legal worlds created by Arab merchants." * Law & Social Inquiry * "Fluid Jurisdictions has managed to cast a wide net over an ostensibly specific study on an elite diasporic community. This is a laudable accomplishment." * Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society * "[The] reviewers respond to Fluid Jurisdictions enthusiastically, remarking on its refreshing methodological approach, the richness of its multilingual archival source base, and the historical complexity that emerges from Yahaya's comparison of two distinct imperial spaces. Collectively, they highlight the relevance of the book across regional and disciplinary literatures" * H-Diplo *
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About Nurfadzilah Yahaya

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