W. Montgomery Watt

William Montgomery Watt 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 and Muhammad at Medina, are considered to be classics in the field.
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The period of Muslim occupation in Spain represents the only significant contact Islam and Europe was ever to have on European soil. In this important as well as fascinating study, Watt traces Islam's influence upon Spain and European civilization--from the collapse of the Visigoths in the eighth century to the fall of Granada in the fifteenth, and considers Spain's importance as a part of the Islamic empire. Particular attention is given to the golden period of economic and political stability achieved under the Umayyads.

Without losing themselves in detail and without sacrificing complexity, the authors discuss the political, social, and economic continuity in Islamic Spain, or al-Andalus, in light of its cultural and intellectual effects upon the rest of Europe. Medieval Christianity, Watt points out, found models of scholarship in the Islamic philosophers and adapted the idea of holy war to its own purposes while the final reunification of Spain under the aegis of the Reconquista played a significant role in bringing Europe out of the Middle Ages. A survey essential to anyone seeking a more complete knowledge of European or Islamic history, the volume also includes sections on literature and philology by Pierre Cachia.

This series of "Islamic surveys" is designed to give the educated reader something more than can be found in the usual popular books. Each work undertakes to survey a special part of the field, and to show the present stage of scholarship here. Where there is a clear picture this will be given; but where there are gaps, obscurities and differences of opinion, these will also be indicated. Full and annotated bibliographies will afford guidance to those who want to pursue their studies further. There will also be some account of the nature and extent of the source material. The series is addressed in the first place to the educated reader, with little or no previous knowledge of the subject; its character is such that it should be of value also to university students and others whose interest is of a more professional kind.

Events are making clear to ever-widening circles of readers the need for something more than a superficial knowledge of non-European cultures. In particular, the blossoming into independence of numerous African states, many of which are largely Muslim or have a Muslim head of state, has made clear the growing political importance of the Islamic world, and, as a result, the desirability of extending and deepening the understanding and appreciation of this great segment of mankind.

Islamic philosophy and theology are looked at together in a chronological framework in this volume. From a modern standpoint, this juxtaposition of the two disciplines is important for the understanding of both; but it should be realized at the outset that it is a reversal of the traditional Islamic procedure. Not merely were the disciplines different, but in the earlier centuries the exponents were two different sets of persons, trained in two different educational traditions, each with its own separate institutions. There was little personal contact between philosophers and theologians, and the influence of the two disciplines on one another was largely by way of polemics. Eventually while philosophy died out as a separate discipline in the Islamic world, many parts of it were incorporated in theology.

This work is designed to give the educated reader something more than can be found in the usual popular books. The work undertakes to survey a special part of the field, and to show the present stage of scholarship. Where there is a clear picture this will be given; but where there are gaps, obscurities and differences of opinion, these will also be indicated. This work is brilliant in its design, style, and intimate understanding. It is a must read for specialists and policy makers alike.

W. Montgomery Watt (1909-2006) was professor emeritus of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of numerous books, including Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions, Islam: A Short History, Muhammad's Mecca, and Islamic Surveys: The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe.

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