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.