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Languages of Law: Islamic Legal Cosmopolis and its Arabic and Malay Microcosmoi



In premodern monsoon Asia, the legal worlds of major and minor traditions formed a cosmopolis of laws which expanded chronologically and geographically. Without necessarily replacing one another, they all coexisted in a larger domain with fluctuating influences over time and place. In this legal cosmopolis, each tradition had its own aggregation of diverse juridical, linguistic and contextual variants. In South and Southeast Asia, Islam has accordingly formed its own cosmopolis of law by incorporating a network of different juridical texts, institutions, jurists and scholars and by the meaningful use of these variants through shared vocabularies and languages. Focusing on the Shāfiʿī School of Islamic law and its major proponents in Malay and Arabic textual productions, this article argues that the intentional choice of a lingua franca contributed to the wider reception and longer sustainability of this particular legal school. The Arabic and Malay microcosmoi thus strengthened the larger cosmopolis of Islamic law through transregional and translinguistic exchanges across legal, cultural and continental borders.

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1 On the role of law in the global interactions between 1400 and 1800 ce, see Benton, Lauren and Clulow, Adam, ‘Legal encounters and the origins of global law’, in The Cambridge World History, Volume 6: The Construction of a Global World, 1400–1800 CE, Part 2: Patterns of Change, (eds.) Bentley, Jerry H., Subrahmanyam, Sanjay and Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. (Cambridge, 2015), pp. 80100.

2 Hoogervorst, Tom, ‘Legal diglossia, lexical borrowing and mixed judicial systems in early Islamic Java and Sumatra’, in Ocean of Law: Islamic Legal Crossings in the Indian Ocean, (eds.) Kooria, Mahmood and Ravensbergen, Sanne (Leiden, Brill, forthcoming).

3 For two collective attempts, see the contributions in special issues of journals: Kooria, Mahmood and Ravensbergen, Sanne, (eds.) ‘Indian Ocean of Law: Hybrid Mobilities’, Itinerario 43, no. 3 (2018), pp. 151290; Mawani, Renisa and Hussin, Iza, (eds.) ‘The Travels of Law: Indian Ocean Itineraries’, Law and History Review 32, no. 4 (2014), pp. 733889.

4 Ho, Engseng, Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean (Chicago, 2006); Mandal, Sumit, Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World (Cambridge, 2017); Nurfadzilah Yahaya, ‘Courting jurisdictions: Colonial administration of Islamic law pertaining to Arabs in the British Straits Settlements and the Netherlands East Indies, 1860–1941’, Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2012.

5 Messick, Brinkley, Shari'a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology (New York, 2018); idem, The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley, 1992).

6 Hussin, Iza R., The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority, and the Making of the Muslim State (Chicago, 2016); Bishara, Fahad, A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780–1950 (Cambridge, 2017); Blecher, Joel, Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary Across a Millennium (Berkeley, 2017).

7 Ho, Engseng, ‘Afterword: Mobile Law and Thick Transregionalism’, Law and History Review 32, no. 4 (2014), pp. 883889.

8 Pollock, Sheldon, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley, 2006); Ricci, Ronit, Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia (Chicago, 2011).

9 Kooria, Mahmood, ‘Words of ʿAjam in the World of Arab: Translation and Translator in Early Islamic Judicial Procedure’, Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts, (eds.) Rabb, Intisar and Balbale, Abigail (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 7190; Chambert-Loir, Henri, ‘Islamic Law in 17th Century Aceh’, Archipel 94 (2017), pp. 5196.

10 Gommans, Jos, ‘Continuity and Change in the Indian Ocean Basin’, in The Cambridge World History, Vol.6: The Construction of a Global World, 1400–1800 CE, (eds.) Bentley, Jerry H., Subrahmanyam, Sanjay and Wiesner, Merry E., (Cambridge, 2015), pp. 182209. On the use of Persian as a lingua franca in the littoral and its existence in a Persian cosmopolis, see Sood, Gagan, India and the Islamic Heartlands: An Eighteenth-Century World of Circulation and Exchange (Cambridge, 2016); Petrů, Tomáš, “Lands below the Winds’ as Part of the Persian Cosmopolis: An Inquiry into Linguistic and Cultural Borrowings from the Persianate societies in the Malay World’, Moussons 27 (2016), pp. 147161; Owen Cornwall, ‘Alexander and the Persian Cosmopolis, 1000–1500’, Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2016.”

11 On the role of Arabic language in the legal literature of Malabar in South Asia, see Ḥusayn C. S., ‘Musāhamāt ʿulamāʾ Kayralā fī al-adab al-fiqh bi al-lughat al-ʿArabiyya,’ PhD diss., University of Calicut, 2004.

12 Mellinkoff, David, The Language of the Law (Eugene, 2004), pp. 95135; cf. Schwartz, Bernard, (ed.) The Code Napoleon and the Common-law World (New York, 1956).

13 For an overview of the Islamic connections between both subcontinents, see Feener, R. Michael and Sevea, Terenjit, (eds.) Islamic Connections: Studies of South and Southeast Asia (Singapore, 2009).

14 Lambourn, Elizabeth, ‘Carving and Communities: Marble Carving for Muslim Patrons at Khambhāt and Around the Indian Ocean Rim, Late Thirteenth-Mid-Fifteenth Centuries’, Ars Orientalis 34 (2007), pp. 99133; idem, From Cambay to Samudera-Pasai and Gresik: the Export of Gujarati Grave Memorials to Sumatra and Java In the Fifteenth Century CE”, Indonesia and the Malay World 31, no. 90 (2003), pp. 221284.

15 Prange, Sebastian, Monsoon Islam: Trade and Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast (Cambridge, 2018); Jyoti Gulati Balachandran, ‘Texts, tombs and memory: the migration, settlement, and formation of a learned Muslim community in fifteenth-century Gujarat’, PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 2012; Azra, Azyumardi, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Honolulu, 2004); Eaton, Richard, Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India (Princeton, 1978); ʿĀlim, Tayka Shuʿayb, Arabic, Arwi, and Persian in Sarandib and Tamil Nadu: A Study of the Contributions of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu to Arabic, Arwi, Persian, and Urdu languages, literature, and education (Madras, 1993); Fathurrahman, Oman. Tarekat Syattariyah Di Minangkabau (Jakarta, 2007); Johns, Anthony, Malay Sufism as illustrated in an anonymous collection of 17th century tracts (Oxford, 1957).

16 al-Ranīrī, Nūr al-Dīn, Bustan al-salatin Bab II, Pasal 13, (ed.) T. Iskandar (Kuala Lumpur, 1966), p. 33.

17 Erawadi, . Tradisi, wacana, dan dinamika intelektual Islam Aceh abad XVIII dan XIX (Jakarta, 2009).

18 Mohammad Hannan Hassan, ‘Islamic legal thought and practices of seventeenth-century Aceh: treating the others’, PhD diss., McGill University, 2014; Chambert-Loir, ‘Islamic Law in 17th Century Aceh’.

19 Kooria, Mahmood, The Formation of Islamic Law in the Indian Ocean Rim, c. 615–1000 CE’, in Ocean of Law: Islamic Legal Crossings in the Indian Ocean, (eds.) Kooria, Mahmood and Ravensbergen, Sanne (Leiden, forthcoming).

20 Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad bin ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, Riḥlat Ibn Baṭṭūṭa: Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār fī gharāʼib al-amṣār wa-ʻajāʼib al-asfār, (ed.) Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Munʿim al-ʿUryān and Musṭafā al-Qaṣṣāṣ (Beirut, 1987), pp. 631–632.

21 Mahmood Kooria, ‘Cosmopolis of law: Islamic legal ideas and texts across the Indian Ocean and eastern Mediterranean worlds’, PhD diss., Leiden University, 2016.

22 Petrů, ‘Lands below the Winds’; Cornwall, ‘Alexander and the Persian Cosmopolis’; Eaton, Richard, ‘The Persian Cosmopolis (900–1900) and the Sanskrit Cosmopolis (400–1400)’, in The Persianate World: Towards a Conceptual Framework, (ed.) Amanat, Abbas (Leiden, forthcoming).

23 Muhammad, K. M., Arabi Sāhityattinu Kēraḷattint̲e Saṃbhāvana (Tirūraṅṅāṭi, 2012), pp. 6263.

24 Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, Riḥla, p. 574. The local scholars believe that both Ḥusayns are the same. Muhammad, Arabi Sāhityattinu, p. 62.

25 al-Ahdal, Aḥmad Mayqarī Shumaylat, Sullam al-Mutaʿallim al-muḥtāj ilā maʿrifat rumuz al-Minhāj, (ed.) Zayn, Ismāʿīl ʿUthmān (Jeddah, 2005), pp. 630631.

26 Yakin, Ayang Utriza, ‘Dialectic between Islamic Law and Adat Law in the Nusantara: A Reinterpretation on the Terengganu Inscription in the 14th Century’, Heritage of Nusantara: International Journal of Religious Literature and Heritage 3, no. 2 (2014), pp. 293312.

27 Fang, Liaw Yock, Undang-Undang Melaka: The Laws of Melaka (The Hague, 1976).

28 For some hagiographical and biographical writings on him, see Rafīq ʿAbd al-Barr al- Wāfī, ‘al-Juhūd al-fiqhiyya li al-Imām Aḥmad Zayn al-Dīn al-Makhdūm al-Malaybārī wa duwaruhu fī nashr al-Maḏhab al-Shāfiʿī fī al-Hind’, PhD diss., al-Azhar University, 2014; Raṇṭattāṇi, Husain, Makhdūmuṃ Ponnāniyuṃ (Ponnāni, 2010); Muhamed Kunju P., ‘The Makhdums of Ponnani’, PhD diss., University of Kerala, 2004); O. P. Mayankutty, ‘Role of Makhdums in the Anti-Colonial Struggles of Sixteenth-Century Malabar’, PhD diss., Calicut University, 2007.

29 al-Malaybārī, Qurrat al-ʿayn bi muhimmāt al-dīn’, in his Fatḥ al-muʿīn bi sharḥ Qurrat al-ʿayn (Kottakkal, n.d).

30 On the general pattern of chapterisation in the Shāfiʿī legal texts, see ʿAbd al-Wahhāb Ibrāhīm Abū Sulaymān, Tartīb al-mawḍūʿāt al-fiqhiyya wa munāsabatuh fī al-maḏāhib al-arbaʿa (Mecca), pp. 59–69.

31 al-Malaybārī, ‘Qurrat al-ʿayn’, p. 4.

32 On its reception and circulation among the Shāfiʿī Muslims, see Kooria, ‘Cosmopolis of Law’, Chapter 6.

33 Two Malabari scholars, Muḥammad Musliyār bin Aḥmad Arīkalī (d. 1952) and Anwar ʿAbd Allāh al-Faḍfarī, wrote poetised versions of the Qurra. I have not managed to locate the first poem, but the second poem has been published: Anwar ʿAbd Allāh bin ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Faḍfarī, al-Naẓm al-wafī fī al-fiqh al-Shāfiʿī (no place, 2010); available atالنظم الوفي (consulted online 10 May 2019)

34 I came across a reference to another possible commentary from Somalia entitled Sharḥ Saʿīd bin Muʾallif [li] Qurrat al-ʿayn [sic] bi muhimmāt al-dīn. This commentary is a 444-page manuscript and is mentioned as one of the most circulated Shāfiʿī texts in Somalia. But we do not know the name of its author or scribe, or even its date of composition. From its given title it seems a priori to be a commentary by one Saʿīd bin Muʾallif. Only by being able to cross-check it against the other commentaries could make more interesting observations on the extent of the circulation and reception of the text.

35 al-Bantanī, Nawawī, Nihāyat al-zayn fī irshād al-mubtadiʾīn bi-sharḥ Qurrat al-ʿayn bi-muhimmāt al-dīn (Cairo, 1881).

36 Hurgronje, C. Snouck, Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century: Daily Life, Customs and Learning (Leiden, 2007), p. 290.

37 For his biography, the major sources are Aboe Bakar Djajadiningrat, Tarājim ʿulamāʾ al-Jāwah, Leiden University Special Collections, Or. 7111, unpaginated; Hurgronje, Mekka; Chaidar, , Sejarah pujangga Islam Syech Nawawi Albanteni, Indonesia (Jakarta, 1978); cf. Alex Wijoyo, ‘Shaykh Nawawi of Banten: Texts, Authority, and the Gloss Tradition’, PhD diss., Columbia University, 1997.

38 Rahman, Abd, ‘Nawawī al-Bantanī: An Intellectual Master of the Pesantren Tradition’, Studia Islamika 3, no. 3 (1996), pp. 81114.

39 Wijoyo, ‘Shaykh Nawawi of Banten,’ pp. 173–174.

40 van Bruinessen, Martin, ‘Kitab Kuning: Books in Arabic Script Used in the Pesantren Milieu; Comments on a New Collection in the KITLV Library’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 146, nos. 2–3 (1990), p. 247.

41 al-Dimyāṭī, Muḥammad bin Ibrāhīm Abū Khuḍayr, Nihāyat al-amal li man raghib fī ṣiḥḥat al-ʿaqīdat wa al-ʿamal (Cairo, 1895); MSS, Umm al-Qura University.

42 For a recent Middle East edition, see al-Bantanī, Nawawī, Nihāyat al-zayn (Beirut, 2002).

43 The other earliest known works in this category are Mirʾāt al-ṭullāb fī tashīl maʿrifat al-aḥkām al-sharʿiyya li Malik al-Wahhāb by ʿAbd al-Raʾūf Sinkilī (d. 1693), who wrote it at the request of the Acehnese queen Ṣafiyat al-Dīn Tāj al-ʿĀlam (r. 1641–1675); and Safīnat al-ḥukkām fī takhlīṣ al-Khaṣṣām written in 1740 by Jalāl al-Dīn bin Shaykh Muhammad Kamāl al-Dīn bin al-Qāḍī al-Tarusānī. On a comparative study of these two texts and their importance in the Southeast Asian Islamic legal tradition, see Chambert-Loir, ‘Islamic Law in 17th Century Aceh’; idem, “Aceh in the 17th-19th Centuries: Two Cadis, One Historian” (unpublished article). I am thankful to the author for showing this manuscript to me.

44 Nūr al-Dīn al-Ranīrī, Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm.

45 Chambert-Loir, ‘Islamic Law in 17th Century Aceh’, p. 56.

46 On these debates and reasons that led to his departure, see al-Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib, Rānīrī and the Wujūdiyyah of 17th century Acheh (Singapore, 1966); Ito, Takeshi, ‘Why did Nuruddin ar-Raniri leave Aceh in 1054 A.H.?’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 134 (1978), pp. 489491. On his major opponent who defeated him in his debate, see Khan, Sher Banu A.L., ‘What happened to Sayf al-Rijal?’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 168, no. 1 (2012), pp. 100111.

47 Ranīrī, Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm, pp. 4 and 6.

48 On the details of this division within the school, see Kooria, ‘Cosmopolis of Law’, Chapter 5.

49 al-Banjārī, Muḥammad Arshad, Sabīl al-muhtadīn li tafaqquh fī amr al-dīn (Mecca, 1892), p. 3.

50 Banjārī, Sabīl al-muhtadīn, p. 5

51 Juwaynī, Imām al-Ḥaramaynī ʿAbd al-Malik, Nihāyat al-maṭlab fī dirāyat al-maḏhab, (ed.) ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm Maḥmūd al-Dayyib (Jiddah, 2007), vol. 18, p. 478.

52 Chambert-Loir, ‘Islamic Law in 17th Century Aceh’, passim.

53 Nūr al-Dīn al-Ranīrī, Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm.

54 For example the use farman in Allah farman for “qāla Allah”.

55 Banjārī, Sabīl al-muhtadīn.

56 van den Berg, L.W.C, ‘Het Mohammedaansche godsdienstonderwijs op Java en Madoera en de daarbij gebruikte Arabische boeken,’ Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 31 (1886), pp. 518555.

57 For a list of its numerous manuscript copies from the Malay world and beyond, see Hashim, Jamalluddin bin and Ali, Abdul Karim bin, ‘Kitab Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm oleh Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn al-Ranīrī: Satu Soratan’, Journal Fiqh, 5 (2008), pp. 197215.

58 For example, see two editions of the Sabīl al-muhtadīn with and without Ṣirāṭ in the margin. 1882 with Ṣirāṭ, and 1912 edition without it.

59 On the usage of the text as an important source law for the Malay Muslims of South Africa, see Mayson, John S., The Malays of Cape Town, South Africa (Manchester, 1855), p. 17; on its presence in Sri Lanka, see Ricci, Ronit, ‘Remembering Java's Islamization: A View from Sri Lanka’, in Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print, (ed.) Gelvin, James L. and Green, Nile (Berkeley, 2014), pp. 190, 201.

60 This argument stands in line with the latest literature on the contributions of Southeast Asian communities in the making of Islam and its laws. See for example, Hussin, Politics of Islamic Law; Bradley, Francis R., Forging Islamic Power and Place: The Legacy of Shaykh Daud bin 'Abd Allah al-Fatani in Mecca and Southeast Asia (Honolulu, 2015).


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