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Contemporary Islamic Law in Indonesia

Sharia and Legal Pluralism

Arskal Salim

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Published in Association with the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The first ethnographic account of legal disputes, practice and institutions in post-tsunami Aceh

Indonesia has probably the fastest changing legal system in the Muslim world. This ethnographic account of legal pluralism in the post-conflict and disaster situation in Aceh addresses changes in both the national legal system and the regional legal structure in the province. Focusing on the encounter between diverse patterns of legal reasoning advocated by multiple actors and by different institutions (local, national and international; official and unofficial; judicial, political and social cultural) it considers the vast array of issues arising in the wake of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh.

It investigates disputes about rights to land and other forms of property, power relations, the conflict of rules, gender relationships, the right to make decisions, and prevailing norms. These disputes are presented on multiple levels and in various forums, either through negotiation or adjudication, regardless of whether they are settled or not. The cases involve various actors from villages, the courts, the provincial government and the legislature, the national Supreme Court and the central government of Indonesia.

Key Features:

  • Covers legal disputes surrounding inheritance, marriage and divorce, legislation and law-making, land dispute, non-Muslims and shari'ah, and religious courts
  • Includes compelling legal case studies from the post-disaster situation
  • Presents law as a site of contestation reflecting the unique set of conflicts arising after the 2004 tsunami

About the Author

Arskal Salim is Senior Lecturer at the Religion and Society Research Centre of the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Australia. Prior to this, he was Assistant Professor at the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. He received his PhD from Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne. His research interests cross anthropology and law, with a particular focus on the legal ethnography of Muslim societies, Islamic and comparative Law, human rights, Islam in Indonesia, and property disputes in Aceh. He has published on the colonial and Indonesian policies on Islamic alms or zakat (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal) and the contested plural legal orders of contemporary Aceh (Journal of Legal Pluralism). He is the author of Challenging the Secular State: The Islamization of Laws in Modern Indonesia (2008).


'Arskal Salim’s Contemporary Islamic Law in Indonesia offers a rich and interesting ethnographic study that looks into a number of relevant questions not only in Aceh, but also in other parts of the archipelago and religiously plural societies more generally...especially successful in illuminating those complicated disputes at the local level in the messy postconflict context.'
- Kikue Hamayotsu, Journal of Church and State

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