“Legal Pluralism and the East India Company in the Straits of Malacca, 1786-1821,” Law and History Review, 33.4 (November 2015): 945-964

Abstract: Although the English East India Company (EIC) in Penang did not manage to extend formal jurisdiction over the Straits of Malacca, they were able to draw other merchants and rulers into their orbit through commercial lawsuits in the EIC commercial court during the early nineteenth century. The court became the default site of adjudication for commercial cases involving merchants of all origins. This article argues that law was a colonizing force. Long before the Straits Settlements came firmly under EIC rule in 1826, the EIC encroached upon other competing jurisdictions. This article focuses specifically on a commercial case that lasted from 1816 till 1821 against an Arab merchant who presided over his own jurisdiction over Muslim inhabitants in Penang. What began as a commercial dispute turned out to be a trial of political usurpation of the neighboring polity of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra across the Straits. The effectiveness of other local legal forums declined with the rise of the EIC forums in the course of the early nineteenth century along with the authority of local sovereign leaders associated with these legal forums. Subsequently, legal authority in the region no longer emanated from the personal authority of powerful individuals such as members of royalty.


“Craving Bureaucracy: Marriage, Islamic Law, and Arab Petitioners in the Straits Settlements,” Muslim World, 105.4 (October 2015): 496-515

Abstract: British involvement in Muslim affairs in the Straits Settlements (Malacca, Penang and Singapore) was done at the behest of Muslim subjects in the colony. Arab Muslims, who were a minority in the region, exhorted British authorities to take charge of the administration of Muslim marriages and divorces. In this way, authority was vested by these Muslims in colonial legal institutions. Instead of trying to wrest religious authority from the secular colonial power, petitioners essentially attempted to remove religious authority from the hands of Muslim qa¯d: is by granting more control to non-Muslim British colonial authorities. Though British authorities were initially reluctant to take on the mantle of administering legal lives of Muslim subjects who formed fifteen percent of the British Crown Colony, a petition in 1875 subsequently led to the application of legal codes and case law devised in British India in 1880 through the Mahomedan Marriage Ordinance that was brought into effect in 1882. This led to an unprecedented development in the administration of Islamic law in Southeast Asia. Thereafter, colonial legal practitioners relied heavily on this corpus of precedents and knowledge prepared by their predecessors in British India. Their conception of Islamic law was in other words based on a universal view of Islamic law, minimally affected by local understandings and customs. A universal view of Islam, coupled with centralized colonial bureaucracy suited the needs of highly mobile Arabs who traversed the Indian Ocean as they craved accountability on the part of legal administrators.


“The Question of Animal Slaughter in the British Straits Settlements during the Early Twentieth Century” Indonesia and the Malay World 43.126 (July 2015): 173-190; Winner of the Indonesia and the Malay World Young Scholar Prize

Abstract: Colonial law empowered British authorities to attempt to intervene in religious affairs. Rather than creating an atmosphere of open fruitful debate, colonial legal structures prevented useful discussions from occurring between colonial authorities and Muslim subjects that could lead to mutual understanding and useful consensus. In 1929, a Muslim butcher in the British Straits Settlement of Penang was fined in a British colonial court for causing unnecessary cruelty to a fowl, despite his claim that he had slaughtered the animal according to the proper Islamic method. The case forced the issue of religious slaughter into the public sphere, and sparked intense debates in the public press on the viability of Islamic method of animal slaughter. For Muslim subjects, animal slaughter was definitely a deeply religious issue. After all, the domain of the religious, generally envisioned as ‘private’ in British colonial imagination, enabled Muslim participation in the public sphere and civil society. Yet, religion sometimes fell out of the frame of discussion. Animal welfare groups robustly advocated stunning by electricity as a more effective, more humane method of slaughter. Other considerations such as general hygiene of slaughterhouses and economic considerations also played a large role in colonial intervention in animal slaughter since the early 20th century. British colonial policy put Muslim subjects on the high defensive that led to the stultification of transformations that were unlikely to stem from British colonial initiative. When discussions became acrimonious, colonial authorities would stifle dialogue by casting the issue as a religious one, thus removing it as a topic of sustained conversation.

For a full list of publications, see curriculum vitae.