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Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Mattson, Ingrid


This thesis offers an original translation and analysis of a West African didactic poem in Islamic ethics and law, by the Mālikī-Ashʿarī Mauritanian scholar Aḥmad al-Ṣaghīr (d. 1272 AH/1856 CE) called The Faqīh’s Lantern (Miṣbāḥ al-Faqīh). In addition to the critical translation, I examine the poem thematically through the lens of social virtue epistemology. Chapter 1 sketches the background of the text and author, positioning the author historically as a product of a rich scholarly and pedagogical tradition while noting Mauritania’s contemporary place in the North American Muslim imagination. Chapter 2 is the translation of the text, making this classical poem accessible to the modern reader. Chapter 3 is an analysis of the poem centred around four major themes: intellectual virtues, embodiment, expert identification, and self-trust. This unique theoretical lens points to several nodes where Islamic studies and the Anglo-American philosophical tradition intersect, with respect to theories of knowledge.

Summary for Lay Audience

In the Information Age, navigating knowledge and expertise is a critical yet increasingly difficult task for the average person to undertake. It is all the more important for Muslims and people of other faiths seeking to educate themselves about their religious traditions. The ethics of seeking knowledge is one of the topics addressed in an instructional poem by a nineteenth-century African scholar from Mauritania named Aḥmad al-Ṣaghīr (1809-1856). This thesis provides a partial translation of the poem, paying attention to sections related to the ethics of seeking knowledge and information. In these areas, the author addresses themes which, together, demonstrate his theory of knowledge or epistemology. Some of the questions he answers are: What are the traits, skills, and stages necessary for the one seeking knowledge? What criteria should we use to assess teachers and learning communities? What are the signs of a qualified, trustworthy expert? What do we do when we are unsure or doubtful of the information we receive? The poem points to the fact that the author’s theory of knowledge foregrounds social aspects and issues and the virtues needed to navigate epistemic spaces (e.g., trust, relationships with peers and experts, factors in a learner’s environment), making it a social virtue epistemology. Moreover, because the author addresses these issues from his perspective of Islamic theology and law, we may consider it an Islamic social virtue epistemology. Setting aside its focus on the Islamic legal and ethical tradition, the poem speaks to anyone navigating a new or contentious space in an age of disinformation and disrupted channels of trust, and so is full of insight for Muslims and non-Muslims, lay readers and specialists alike.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.