Colonialism Violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh Controversy and its Aftermath

‘Khairudin Aljunied has done a great deal to illuminate the background to this controversy and analyse the response of the colonial government to the unexpected crisis which still has a profound impact to this day on the political leadership of Singapore.’

Imran Andrew Price, Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Singapore.

About the book

This book deals with the genesis, outbreak and far-reaching effects of a legal controversy and the resulting outbreak of mass violence, which determined the course of British colonial rule after post World War Two in Singapore and Malaya. Based on extensive archival sources, it examines the custody hearing of Maria Hertogh, a case which exposed tensions between Malay and Singaporean Muslims and British colonial society. Investigating the wide-ranging effects and crises faced in the aftermath of the riots, the analysis focuses in particular on the restoration of peace and rebuilding of society.

Topics discussed

The author provides a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of British management of riots and mass violence in Southeast Asia. By exploring the responses by non-British communities in Singapore, Malaya and the wider Muslim world to the Maria Hertogh controversy, he shows that British strategies and policies can be better understood through the themes of resistance and collaboration. Furthermore, the book argues that British enactment of laws pertaining to the management of religions in the post-war period had dispossessed religious minorities of their perceived religious rights. As a result, outbreaks of mass violence and continual grievances ensued in the final years of British colonial rule in Southeast Asia – and these tensions still pertain in the present.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students of law and society, history, Imperial History and Asian Studies, and to anyone studying minorities, and violence and recovery.


‘This work is refreshingly innovative, provocative…]…[The author effectively deciphers the surveillance strategy used by the colonial administration and provides a useful insight into the reconciliation and reform process conducted by the British to overcome the weaknesses laid bare by the Hertogh riots. And it is here that this book makes a substantive contribution to the existing literature on the controversy. The workings and responses of the colonial state machinery are carefully scrutinised and evaluated within a theoretical construct.’

Joseph M. Fernando, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2009

‘This book is certainly a welcome addition to the historiography of the Maria Hertogh episode. The treatment is original and comprehensive. It goes beyond the issue of religious grievance, even though many consider the most important cause of the riots. The author has admirably achieved his objective which is “to shift beyond the study of the causes of the riots towards a deeper examination of the wide-ranging effects and crises faced in the aftermath” (p. 3). It is well-researched and documented. The application of theory is not heavy-handed. The study has contemporary relevance.’

Asian Journal of Political Science, 2009

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