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Islamic Law in a Plural Context:The Struggle over Inheritance Law in Colonial West Sumatra

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Abstract The paper deals with the historical dynamics of the struggle over inheritance law in West Sumatra under the colonial rule of the Dutch Indies. The Minangkabau in West Sumatra are an interesting example of legal pluralism in Muslim societies. Their adat (indigenous law and social organisation) of matrilineal heritage regulated kinship, group affiliation, inheritance of property, and succession to office. Since the sixteenth century they have been devout Muslims. Their history is characterised by dynamic transformations of the relationship between adat and Islam, and—since their incorporation into the colony of the Dutch East Indies in the early nineteenth century—with the state. The paper shows how these conflicts and negotiations produced different results in different arenas. The agreements reached in the political arena were usually different from the use of law in the decision-making processes of village and state courts, as were the actual practices of villagers in everyday property and inheritance affairs.


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