Islamic courts or courts for Muslims?

Shari’a and the state in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore 1

Authored by: Tim Lindsey

Routledge Handbook of Asian Law

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415659406
eBook ISBN: 9781315660547
Adobe ISBN: 9781317337409


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After achieving independence in the decades following World War II, the nationalist leaders of Southeast Asian countries with Muslim populations naturally treated their Muslim populations very differently than had their former colonial overlords. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims were a majority and now became the rulers, as well as the ruled. In Singapore, they were still largely excluded from power, but remained a significant minority. Despite this, the new ruling elites in each of these countries rejected calls for an Islamic state; instead, they chose forms of modern nation-state in which Islam was given limited voice in formal governance. Only heavily institutionalised and regulated (and thus restricted) roles in public life were allowed for the selected Islamic legal traditions 2 that they were willing to apply to their Muslim citizens. To achieve this, each of these three new states preserved much of the formal colonial system for managing religious and ethnic diversity that they had inherited upon independence. This meant that the new states continued to apply colonial models of legal pluralism, albeit in altered forms and to different extents.

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