Nurfadzilah Yahaya, “Class, White Women and Elite Asian Men in British Courts during the Late Nineteenth Century” Journal of Women’s History, 30.4 (Winter 2018), forthcoming.

Abstract  British imperial politics was profoundly affected by class alongside gender and race. This article probes how legal courts situated white women who were involved in inter-racial relationships with powerful Asian men from the perspective of law and press reports of two cases during the period of high empire in the late nineteenth century. These cases occurred in metropolitan imperial cities of London and Singapore that highly valued merchants’ and foreign rulers’ contributions to imperial coffers. Ultimately, class played a huge factor in the outcome of both cases which involved two prominent men whose wealth, fame, and high status made their subordinate status within the British Empire ambiguous. Reports of trial proceedings demonstrate that class tended to unsettle notions of ‘whiteness,’ ‘subjecthood’ and ‘jurisdiction.’ This meant that the colonial elite formed an unstable category that was highly complex, flexible, and as a result, potentially fragile.

Nurfadzilah Yahaya, “Legal Pluralism and the English East India Company in the Straits of Malacca during the Early Nineteenth Century,” 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.

Nurfadzilah Yahaya, “Craving Bureaucracy: Marriage, Islamic Law, and Arab Petitioners in the Straits Settlements,” Muslim World. Volume 105, 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 qadis 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 centralize colonial bureaucracy suited the needs of highly mobile Arabs who traversed the Indian Ocean as they craved accountability on the part of legal administrators.

Nurfadzilah Yahaya, “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 Indonesia and the Malay World Young Scholar Prize 2014.

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 consideration 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 initiativeWhen 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.

Articles in edited volumes


Nurfadzilah Yahaya, British Colonial Law and the Establishment of Waqfs by Arabs in the Straits Settlements, 1860-1941 in The Worlds of the Trust. Lionel Smith, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp.167-202.

Nurfadzilah Yahaya, Chapter 4 – Tea and Company: Interactions between the Arab Elite and the British in Cosmopolitan Singapore” in Hadhrami Diaspora in Southeast Asia: Identity Maintenance or Assimilation? Ahmad Ibrahim Abushouk and Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim, eds. Leiden: Brill, 2009, pp. 57-80.

Book reviews


Review of Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law. Intisar Rabb. New York: Cambridge University Press (2015). Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamic World (SCTIW) Review, March 2016.

Review of Spiritual Economies: Islam, Globalization and the Afterlife of Development. Daromir Rudnyckyj. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (2010). Southeast Asian Studies, 1/2 (August 2012), 349-351.

Review of Textile Imports into Qajar Iran: Russia versus Great Britain, The Battle for Market Domination. Willem Floor. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 2009. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 42 (2010), 701-702.

Review of Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism. Jeffrey Hadler. Cornell University Press, 2008. Itinerario 33/2, (July 2009), 102-104.

Review of Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915. Eric Tagliacozzo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. Crossroads 19/2, (November 2009), 210-212.

Review of Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka – Dutch Melaka And English Penang, 1780-1830. Nordin Hussin. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2007 Itinerario 31/3, (December 2007): 177-179.

Review of The British Occupation of Indonesia 1945-1946 – Britain, the Netherlands and the Indonesian Revolution. Richard McMillan. Oxford: Routledge, 2005. Itinerario 31/2, (September 2006): 220-221.

Review of Transcending Borders: Arabs, politics, trade and Islam in Southeast Asia. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2002. Edited by Huub de Jonge & Nico Kaptein. Arab Studies Journal 13-14, (Fall 2005/Spring 2006): 148-151.

Encyclopedia articles


“Action Francaise”, “Belle Époque”, “Franco-Italian Convention (1902)”, “Hugo, Victor (1802-1885)”, “Indochina”, “Treaty of Paris (1815)”, “Treaty of Paris (1856)”. In Carl Cavanagh Hodge, ed. Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800-1914 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2008), 4-5, 79-80, 232-233, 332, 349-350, 545, 545-546 (respectively). “Averroës”, “Borobudur”, “Champa Kingdom”, “Geoffrey Chaucer”, “Dante Alighieri”, “Khmer Kingdom”, “Majapahit Kingdom”, “Merovingian Dynasty”. In Marsha E. Ackerman et al, eds. Encyclopedia of World History, (New York: Facts on File Inc., 2008), 28, 49-50, 78-79, 80-81, 99-100, 233-235, 264, 273 (respectively).