Nurfadzilah Yahaya, History

Colonial Development of Islamic Family Law in the British Straits Settlements and the Netherlands Indies

Attached File: 
Mon, 02/14/2011
4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students. 

In the LEGS seminar on 14 February, Nurfadzilah Yahaya will present "Colonial Development of Islamic Family Law in the British Straits Settlements and the Netherlands Indies."

Here is Nurfadzilah's abstract:

"This chapter traces how British and Dutch colonial officials gathered and organized knowledge on Islamic law in the British Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) and the Netherlands Indies (present-day Indonesia) respectively. Despite clear differences between the legal systems and administrative structures of the two colonies, colonial authorities shared a considerable amount of religious literature and knowledge of local Muslim subjects. Through the process of codification and translation, Islamic law, restricted to the realm of personal law, was streamlined since multiple interpretations on a single issue by Muslim jurists and judges were no longer tolerated. In this way, the practice of Islamic law was drastically transformed. While implementing Islamic law, both colonial powers remained guarded against an inadvertent cession of power to colonial subjects. Although they readily dispensed Islamic legal authority within the limited confines of personal law, either directly or through intermediaries, colonial bureaucrats anxiously strove to ensure that their jurisdictions were not encroached upon by local religious laws beyond defined limits. Nonetheless, Dutch authorities were more willing to consult and preserve local religious authorities in leadership positions within the new colonial legal structure, than the British who were able to avoid depending on the local religious elite, by choosing to rely on a rich corpus of judicial precedents, codified and translated legal manuals as well as administrative experience in British India. In contrast to British knowledge of Islam that was more general and expansive within the Empire, Dutch knowledge of Islamic law arose specifically in the Netherlands Indies. Not only that, Dutch bureaucrats seemed to be keener on participating in intellectual debates on Islam than their British counterparts who deliberately avoided discussions on substantive laws. Ultimately however, both the Straits Settlements and the Netherlands Indies were more affected by changes to formal legal administrative structures which remained constantly in flux till the end of the colonial period."