Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Ruth Mas

Second Advisor

Carla Jones

Third Advisor

Deborah Whitehead


Scholarship on Islam and gender consistently questions as to whether or not Islamic norms oppress Muslim women's agency. One aspect of this discussion is the issue of a Muslim woman's consent in getting married and in sexual relations. The scholarship of Kecia Ali focuses on this issue of consent, and when she finds the Islamic legal tradition lacking in allowing for a woman's consent in marriage, she calls for Muslim women to engage in acts of "personal reflection." This creates a binary concerning agency, wherein external norms (The Islamic Legal tradition) suppress agency, while true agency is only found in acting in accordance with internally felt desires. This thesis investigates the reasons why Ali folds into ideas of personal reflection to reconcile Islamic understandings of marriage with contemporary Western views. In order to do this, I explore Ali's commitment to the Islamic Tradition's ability to change to incorporate consent in marriage, and how she fails to substantiate such flexibility and adaptability. Secondly, I argue that calling for "personal reflection" depends on notions of the authentic self, wherein the self holds inner depths and wisdom. In the second part of this thesis, I explore how the combined scholarship of Saba Mahmood and Ludwig Wittgenstein can provide enriched ways to understand agency. Through Mahmood's scholarship on the women's mosque movement in Egypt, she argues for a view of the self and desires as malleable through discipline. Building on this, Wittgenstein's theory of language games demonstrates how the discipline and outward action shape the rules of the language games, or rather, the norms of a society.