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The Politics of Islamic Law

Local Elites, Colonial Authority, and the Making of the Muslim State

In The Politics of Islamic Law, Iza Hussin compares India, Malaya, and Egypt during the British colonial period in order to trace the making and transformation of the contemporary category of ‘Islamic law.’ She demonstrates that not only is Islamic law not the shari’ah, its present institutional forms, substantive content, symbolic vocabulary, and relationship to state and society—in short, its politics—are built upon foundations laid during the colonial encounter.
Drawing on extensive archival work in English, Arabic, and Malay—from court records to colonial and local papers to private letters and visual material—Hussin offers a view of politics in the colonial period as an iterative series of negotiations between local and colonial powers in multiple locations. She shows how this resulted in a paradox, centralizing Islamic law at the same time that it limited its reach to family and ritual matters, and produced a transformation in the Muslim state, providing the frame within which Islam is articulated today, setting the agenda for ongoing legislation and policy, and defining the limits of change. Combining a genealogy of law with a political analysis of its institutional dynamics, this book offers an up-close look at the ways in which global transformations are realized at the local level. 

352 pages | 10 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Asian Studies: South Asia

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Middle Eastern Studies

Political Science: Comparative Politics

Religion: Islam


"Provides an illuminating discussion of the complex entanglements  of religion and ethnicity that continue to animate highly fraught debates on Islamic law today."

Law and History Review

"Hussin’s book is a fresh account of the interaction between Islamic law and both colonialism and the modern state. Its freshness does not lie in advancing a comprehensive or causal explanation. It builds solidly on some past writings, but it recenters our understandings, shows links among developments across the Muslim world, and ventures into much underexplored terrain. The  result  will likely be embraced by a multidisciplinary audience and provide a model of how to understand Islamic law in the modern world."

Journal of Church and State

The Politics of Islamic Law takes a very fresh approach on understanding the roots of modern Islamic laws. It is a very well-researched and well-argued work. This book is a must-read for the students and experts of Islamic law. Since Hussin has traced the roots of Islamic laws in the colonial state and polices instead of Islamic theology and history, it may raise controversies. However, it is not possible to ignore this scholarly work.”

Washington Book Review

"While the unifying thread of  this remarkable work is British  colonialism proper in Malaya, Egypt and India, and its aftermath in  a postcolony (Malaysia), it can also be read as a study in a new  type of ‘comparativism’. . . which thrives instead on critical  comparisons of ideas about law, politics and the state akin to, and  inspired by, such transdisciplinary intellectual traditions as postcolonial studies and the jurisprudence of  violence. . . erudite and deeply engaging. . . . Accessible to non-specialist readers."

South Asia Review

"The book is a refreshing departure from scholarly discourses that focus on binaries of Islamic authenticity and modernity, and works that lament the end of shari’a and the articulation of fiqh (jurisprudence)."

St Antony's International Review

"Hussin's work provides an example of how historical work should be  approached. Like many of the innovative examples of women's legal  history  produced in recent years, Hussin draws upon a wide range of sources  including colonial and local papers, visual material, and private  letters to  paint a picture of the lived life of the law. As well as demonstrating and being an exemplar of how comparative research should be completed, Hussin's monograph can also provide inspiration for those who wish to promote the historical study of law as an interdisciplinary endeavour which is as important as social scientific approaches."

Journal of Law and Society

The Politics of Islamic Law is a remarkable book, both for its breadth and lucidity. The archive that Hussin plumbs is vast (Malaya, India, Egypt) and her analysis sharp. In clear prose she shows the various ways in which British colonial rule transformed Islamic law to fit the requirements of the modern state. This is an important contribution that unsettles a number of assumptions about Islamic law and its modern history.”

Saba Mahmood, University of California, Berkeley

“This book is the work of a gifted scholar with the capacity to work painstakingly through a mass of detail, do comparative work in multiple locations, and draw significant theoretical conclusions. Detailing a genealogy of Islamic law and ‘mixed’ Islamic legal regimes, Hussin offers a sophisticated analysis that places these in the context of colonization and outlines the ways they have been shaped by an ongoing engagement between colonial powers and local elites.”

Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University

"Hussin is to be applauded for weaving a coherent narrative out of intricate political contestations taking place in three interconnected sites: Egypt, India, and Malaya. Her book enables us to comprehend how Muslim elites in the three sites 'capitalized upon, negotiated, and reinterpreted the realities of colonization.' . . . Complementing this achievement is Hussin’s masterful use of a wide range of sources from legal codes and treaties, to colonial and local newspapers, travel accounts, private letters, censuses, maps, and photography to give thick and vivid accounts of the law as a lived reality. In doing so, Hussin is able to form a persuasive final concluding argument on the hybrid nature of Islamic law. Islamic law is not simply an aggregate made up of multiple threads. Rather, it is a hybrid creation of a new legal system that materialized from the layers of multiple legal systems."

Political and Legal Anthropology Review

Table of Contents


Part One: Contexts
Chapter One: The Historical Roots of a Contemporary Puzzle
Chapter Two: Mapping the Transformation

Part Two: Treaties, Trials and Representations
Chapter Three: The Irony of Jurisdiction: Whose Law Is Islamic Law?
Chapter Four: Trying Islamic Law: Trials in and of Islamic Law
Chapter Five: Making the Muslim State: Islamic Law and the Politics of Representation

Part Three: The Paradox of Islamic Law
Chapter Six: The Colonial Politics of Islamic Law
Chapter Seven: The Contemporary Politics of Islamic Law



APSA Politics and History Section: J. David Greenstone Book Award

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