W. Montgomery Watt

William Montgomery Watt (14 March 1909 – 24 October 2006) was a Scottish historian, Orientalist, Anglican priest, and academic. 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.[1]

W. Montgomery Watt
Abdolrashidi & prof watt
Watt (right), interviewed by Ali Akbar Abdolrashidi
William Montgomery Watt

14 March 1909
Ceres, Fife, Scotland
Died24 October 2006 (aged 97)
Edinburgh, Scotland
TitleProfessor of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Academic work
DisciplineOriental studies and Religious studies
History of Islam
Islamic Philosophy
Islamic theology
InstitutionsAnglican Diocese of Jerusalem
University of Edinburgh
Notable worksMuhammad at Mecca (1953)
Muhammad at Medina (1956)

Early life and education

Watt was born on 14 March 1909 in Ceres, Fife, Scotland.[2] His father, who died when he was only 14 months old, was a minister of the Church of Scotland.[2][1]


Ordained ministry

Watt was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church as a deacon in 1939 and as a priest in 1940.[3] He served his curacy at St Mary The Boltons, West Brompton, in the Diocese of London from 1939 to 1941.[3] When St Mary's was damaged in The Blitz, he moved to Old Saint Paul's, Edinburgh to continue his training.[3] From 1943 to 1946, he served as an Arabic specialist to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.[2]

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.[3] He became a member of the ecumenical Iona Community in Scotland in 1960.[1] From 1960 to 1967, he was an honorary curate at St Columba's-by-the-Castle, near Edinburgh Castle.[3] 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.[3]

Academic career

He was Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh from 1964–79.

He has been called "the Last Orientalist".[4]

Watt held visiting professorships at the University of Toronto, the Collège de France, and Georgetown University

Later life

Watt died in Edinburgh on 24 October 2006 at the age of 97.[5]


Watt received the American Giorgio Levi Della Vida Medal and won, as its first recipient, the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies award for outstanding scholarship.[1]

Watt received an Honorary Doctorate from Aberdeen University.[6]

Watt's views

Watt believed that the Qur'an was divinely inspired, though not infallibly true.[4]

Martin Forward, a 21st-century non-Muslim Islamic scholar, states:

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."[7]

Carole Hillenbrand, a professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh, states:[1]

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.[8]


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.[9] Qureshi's book was praised by Turkish academic İbrahim Kalın,[10] and has been seen by its proponents as an attempt at countering orientalist bias, inaccuracies and distortion.[11] Qureshi makes his case against Watt by stating:

"Dr. Watt has presented a highly distorted picture of the Life and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad. (peace be upon him). I have refuted his untenable hypotheses, biassed and prejudiced conclusions, and tried my level best to put the record straight."[12]

Georges-Henri Bousquet has mocked Watt's book, Muhammad at Mecca, as an "A Marxist interpretation of the origins of Islam by an Episcopal clergyman."[13][14]

Selected works

  • The faith and practice of al-Ghazālī (1953) ISBN 978-0-686-18610-6
  • Muhammad at Mecca (1953) ISBN 978-0-19-577278-4
  • Muhammad at Medina (1956) ISBN 978-0-19-577307-1 (online)
  • Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (1961) ISBN 978-0-19-881078-0, a summary of the above two major works (online)
  • Islamic Philosophy and Theology (1962) ISBN 978-0-202-36272-4
  • Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets (???)
  • Islamic Political Thought (1968) ISBN 978-0-85224-403-6
  • Islamic Surveys: The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe (1972) ISBN 978-0-85224-439-5
  • The Majesty That Was Islam (1976) ISBN 978-0-275-51870-7
  • What Is Islam? (1980) ISBN 978-0-582-78302-7
  • Muhammad's Mecca (1988) ISBN 978-0-85224-565-1
  • Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions (1991) ISBN 978-0-415-05411-9
  • Early Islam (1991) ISBN 978-0-7486-0170-7
  • Islamic Philosophy And Theology (1987) ISBN 978-0-7486-0749-5
  • Islamic Creeds (1994) ISBN 978-0-7486-0513-2
  • History of Islamic Spain (1996) ISBN 978-0-85224-332-9
  • Islamic Political Thought (1998) ISBN 978-0-7486-1098-3
  • Islam and the Integration of Society (1998) ISBN 978-0-8101-0240-8
  • Islam: A Short History (1999) ISBN 978-1-85168-205-8
  • A Christian Faith For Today (2002) ISBN 0-415-27703-5


  1. ^ a b c d e Hillenbrand, Carole (8 November 2006). "Professor W. Montgomery Watt". The Independent. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Holloway, Richard (14 November 2006). "William Montgomery Watt". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "William Montgomery Watt". Crockford's Clerical Directory (online ed.). Church House Publishing. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b Interview: William Montgomery Watt
  5. ^ The Herald, The Scotsman, The Times, 27 October 2006
  6. ^ "Lecture by Professor Carole Hillenbrand in event: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect" (PDF). University of Edinburgh, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. 2016-12-13. Retrieved 2017-03-25.
  7. ^ The Prophet Muhammad: A mercy to mankind Archived 4 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine (dead link)
  8. ^ Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Princeton University Press. 1987 [1]
  9. ^ Zafar Ali Qureshi, Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics: A Critique of W. Montgomery Watt and Others, Volume 1, Idara Ma'arif Islami
  10. ^ Ibrahim Kalin, Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics: A Critique of W. Montgomery Watt and Others
  11. ^ Ghulam Sarwar, Book Review - Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics, Volume 4, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, p. 115
  12. ^ Zafar Ali Qureshi, Preface - Prophet Muhammad and His Western Critics: A Critique of W. Montgomery Watt and Others, Volume 1, Idhara Ma'arif Islami, p. xiii
  13. ^ Fred M. Donner, The Study of Islam’s Origins since W. Montgomery Watt’s Publications (PDF), p. 4
  14. ^ Jacques Waardenburg, Muslims as Actors, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, ISBN 978-3-11-019142-4

External links

Abd al-Rahman I

Abd al-Rahman I, more fully Abd al-Rahman ibn Mu'awiya ibn Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (731–788), was the founder of a Muslim dynasty that ruled the greater part of Iberia for nearly three centuries (including the succeeding Caliphate of Córdoba). Abd al-Rahman was a member of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus, and his establishment of a government in Iberia represented a break with the Abbasids, who had overthrown the Umayyads in 750.

He was also known by the surnames al-Dakhil ("the Entrant"), Saqr Quraish ("the Falcon of the Quraysh") and the "Falcon of Andalus". Variations of the spelling of his name include Abd ar-Rahman I, Abdul Rahman I, Abdar Rahman I, and Abderraman I.


Ahmed (Arabic: أحمد‎) is a common male Arabic name. Other spellings of the name include Ahmad, Hamed and Ahmet.

Ansar (Islam)

Ansar (Arabic: الأنصار‎ al-Anṣār, "The Helpers") are the local inhabitants of Medina who took the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his followers (the Muhajirun) into their homes when they emigrated from Mecca (hijra).

They belonged to two main tribes of Azd, the Banu Khazraj and the Banu Aus. Azd is the same tribe that Ghamd tribe and Zahran tribe belong to.

Arab studies

Arab studies or Arabic studies is an academic discipline centered on the study of Arabs and Arab World. It consists of several disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, historiography, archaeology, Anthropology, Cultural studies, Economics, Geography, History, International relations, Law, Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Political science, Public administration and Sociology. The field draws from old Arabic chronicles, records and oral literature, in addition to written accounts and traditions about Arabs from explorers and geographers in the Arab World (Middle East-North Africa).

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Banu al-Qayn

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Ibn Ishaq

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Isaac in Islam

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Muhammad at Mecca

Muhammad at Mecca is a book about the Islamic prophet Muhammad, specifically about the first phase of his public mission, which concern his years in Mecca until the hijra to Medina. It was written by the non-Muslim Islamic scholar W. Montgomery Watt and published by Oxford University Press in 1953.

Watt's 1956 book Muhammad at Medina forms its sequel. Later a popular abridgement of these two volumes was published, Muhammad Prophet and Statesman (1961).

Muhammad at Medina

Muhammad at Medina is a book about early Islam written by the non-Muslim Islamic scholar W. Montgomery Watt. Published at 418 pages by Oxford University Press in 1956, it is the sequel to Watt's 1953 volume, Muhammad at Mecca.

Together these two scholarly books form "a history of the life of Muhammad and the origins of the Islamic community," specifically his life in Medina. Watt also states in the 1955 "Preface" that his fourth and fifth chapters here ("The Unifying of the Arabs" and "The Internal Politics of Medina") are a pioneering effort, and hence required greater length than otherwise warranted. The work is the fruit of his examination of the early Arabic sources, and a vast mass of scholarly discussion. To these Watt brought a new perspective, and attempted to answer many questions that had hardly been raised before.

Several years later, Oxford University published another, third book by Watt about the life of Muhammad, an abridgement which was intended for a more general readership, Muhammad Prophet and Statesman (1961).

Mundhir ibn Sa'īd al-Ballūṭī

Abu al-Hakam Mundhir ibn Sa'īd ibn Abd Allah ibn Abd ar-Rahman al-Ballūṭī (887 – 15 November 966) was a Muslim legal expert and judiciary official in Al-Andalus. In addition to his legal career, he was also considered a prominent theologian, academic, linguist, poet and intellectual.

Quran and miracles

Islam considers the Quran to be a holy book, the word of Allah, and a miracle. The text itself is believed to be a miracle on the grounds that the Arabic text would not conform to the standard poetry and prose categories commonly expressed by other forms of written and spoken languages and therefore is attributed to supernatural, esp. divine, agency; esp. an act (e.g. of healing) showing control over nature and used as evidence that the agent is either divine or divinely favoured.The verses of the Qur'an making this claim are given below (Hilali and Muhsin Khan's Translation):

Say: "If the mankind and the jinns were together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another." [Qur'an 17:88]And if you (Arab pagans, Jews, and Christians) are in doubt concerning that which We have sent down (i.e. the Qur'an) to Our final Messenger (Muhammad Peace be upon him ), then produce a surah (chapter) of the like thereof and call your witnesses (supporters and helpers) besides Allah, if you are truthful. [Qur'an 2:23]Or they say, "He (Prophet Muhammad(P)) forged it (the Qur'an)." Say: "Bring you then ten forged surah (chapters) like unto it, and call whomsoever you can, other than Allah (to your help), if you speak the truth!" [Qur'an 11:13]Or do they say: "He (Muhammad(P)) has forged it?" Say: "Bring then a surah (chapter) like unto it, and call upon whomsoever you can, besides Allah, if you are truthful!" [Qur'an 10:37-38]Or do they say: "He (Muhammad(P)) has forged it (this Qur'an)?" Nay! They believe not! Let them then produce a recital like unto it (the Qur'an) if they are truthful. [Qur'an 52:33-34]The Quran describes Muhammad as "ummi",{{|reason=need secondary source, wiki articles cannot have POV or editor interpretation; primary sources need secondary sourcing|date=September 2018}} which is traditionally interpreted as "unlettered," but the meaning is rather more complex. The medieval commentators such as Al-Tabari maintained that the term induced two meanings: first, the inability to read or write in general; second, the inexperience or ignorance of the previous books or scriptures (but they gave priority to the first meaning). Besides, Muhammad's being "ummi" was taken as a sign of the genuineness of his prophethood. For example, according to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, if Muhammad had mastered writing and reading he possibly would have been suspected of having studied the books of the ancestors. Some scholars such as Watt prefer the second meaning. The suggestion is that since Muhammad had no previous knowledge of the content in the Quran, it was in fact composed of miracles. The majority of Muslim thinkers accept the factuality of the miracles found in the Quran.


The Quraysh (Arabic: قريش‎) were a mercantile Arab tribe that historically inhabited and controlled Mecca and its Ka'aba. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was born into the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. The Quraysh staunchly opposed Muhammad until converting to Islam en masse in 630 AD. Afterward, leadership of the Muslim community traditionally passed to a member of the Quraysh as was the case with the Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid caliphs.

Richard Bell (Arabist)

Richard Bell (1876–1952) was a British Arabist at the University of Edinburgh. Between 1937 and 1939 he published a translation of the Qur'an, and in 1953 his Introduction to the Qur'an was published (revised in 1970 by W. Montgomery Watt). Both works have been influential in Quranic studies in the west.

St Mary The Boltons

St Mary The Boltons is an Anglican church in The Boltons, Brompton, London. It is a Grade II listed building.

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