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Author talk - Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia

Date(s) - 01/28/2021
4:00 pm - 5:15 pm

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Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives



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 (Cornell University Press, 2020), 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.


Nurfadzilah Yahaya
Dr. Yahaya, Assistant Professor in the History Department at National University of Singapore, is a legal historian of the Indian Ocean. Prior to this, she was an Early Career Fellow in Islamic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis from 2012 to 2015. She received her PhD from Princeton University in 2012. In addition to her book Fluid Jurisdictions, she has articles published in Law and History Review, Journal of Women’s History, Indonesia and the Malay World and Muslim World.


Mary Anne Vallianatos
Mary Anne Vallianatos is a PhD candidate with the Faculty of law at the University of Victoria. Her dissertation connects histories of Asian migration in Canada’s Pacific Northwest to the construction of race across the former British empire. She is interested in legal history, postcolonial theory, and critical race feminist theory.


Pooja Parmar
Associate Professor, UVic Law; CAPI Research Associate

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