W. Montgomery Watt
William Montgomery Watt
14 March 1909
|Died||24 October 2006 (aged 97)|
|Title||Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies|
|Discipline||Oriental studies and Religious studies|
History of Islam
|Institutions||Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem |
University of Edinburgh
|Notable works||Muhammad at Mecca (1953) |
Muhammad at Medina (1956)
William Montgomery Watt (14 March 1909 - 24 October 2006) was a Scottish Orientalist, historian, academic and Anglican priest. From 1964 to 1979, he was Professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Edinburgh.
Watt was one of the foremost non-Muslim interpreters of Islam in the West, and according to Carole Hillenbrand "an enormously influential scholar in the field of Islamic studies and a much-revered name for many Muslims all over the world". Watt's comprehensive biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Muhammad at Mecca (1953) and Muhammad at Medina (1956), are considered to be classics in the field.
Watt was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church as a deacon in 1939 and as a priest in 1940. He served his curacy at St Mary The Boltons, West Brompton, in the Diocese of London from 1939 to 1941. When St Mary's was damaged in The Blitz, he moved to Old Saint Paul's, Edinburgh to continue his training. From 1943 to 1946, he served as an Arabic specialist to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.
After Watt returned to academia in 1946, he never again held a full-time religious appointment. He did, however, continue his ministry with part-time and honorary positions. From 1946 to 1960, he was an honorary curate at Old Saint Paul's, Edinburgh, an Anglo-Catholic church in Edinburgh. He became a member of the ecumenical Iona Community in Scotland in 1960. From 1960 to 1967, he was an honorary curate at St Columba's-by-the-Castle, near Edinburgh Castle. Between 1980 and 1993, following his retirement from academia, he was an honorary curate at St Mary the Virgin, Dalkeith and at St Leonard's Church, Lasswade.
Watt was Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh from 1964 to 1979.
Watt died in Edinburgh on 24 October 2006 at the age of 97. He had four daughters and a son with his wife Jean. The family went on holidays in Crail, a Scottish village. On his death, the writer Richard Holloway wrote of Watt that "he spent his life battling against the tide of intolerance".
His books have done much to emphasize the Prophet's commitment to social justice; Watt has described him as being like an Old Testament prophet, who came to restore fair dealing and belief in one God to the Arabs, for whom these were or had become irrelevant concepts. This would not be a sufficiently high estimate of his worth for most Muslims, but it's a start. Frankly, it's hard for Christians to say affirmative things about a religion like Islam that postdates their own, which they are brought up to believe contains all things necessary for salvation. And it's difficult for Muslims to face the fact that Christians aren't persuaded by the view that Christianity is only a stop on the way to Islam, the final religion."
He was not afraid to express rather radical theological opinions - controversial ones in some Christian ecclesiastical circles. He often pondered on the question of what influence his study of Islam had exerted on him in his own Christian faith. As a direct result, he came to argue that the Islamic emphasis on the uncompromising oneness of God had caused him to reconsider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which is vigorously attacked in the Koran as undermining true monotheism.
Influenced by Islam, with its 99 names of God, each expressing special attributes of God, Watt returned to the Latin word "persona" - which meant a "face" or "mask", and not "individual", as it now means in English - and he formulated the view that a true interpretation of Trinity would not signify that God comprises three individuals. For him, Trinity represents three different "faces" of the one and the same God.
His account of the origin of Islam met with criticism from other scholars such as John Wansbrough of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, and Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, in their book Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977), and Crone's Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. However, Both Patricia Crone and Michael Cook have later suggested that the central thesis of the book "Hagarism" was mistaken because the evidence they had to support the thesis was not sufficient or internally consistent enough.
Pakistani academic, Zafar Ali Qureshi, in his book, Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics: A Critique of W. Montgomery Watt and Others has criticized Watt as having incorrectly portrayed the life of Muhammad in his works. Qureshi's book was praised by Turkish academic ?brahim Kal?n, and has been seen by its proponents as an attempt at countering Orientalist bias, inaccuracies and distortion.