Professor J.D. Latham belongs to that
category of Christian scholars who have chosen to adopt a more sympathetic view
about Islam and its followers than many of their predecessors who spared few
stones from overturning to disrepute Islam and the Prophet, may Allah's
blessings and mercy be on him.
He is regarded by many as the successor
of Professor Montgomery Watt, the famous author of many well-known books on
Islam including his highly acclaimed two volumes on the life of the Prophet (pbuh).
The two, apart from the similarity of views, have served as Professors at the
department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Latham
has also served as an editor of the bulletin of The British Society of Middle
Eastern Studies (BISMES) and a member of the committee of Gobs Memorial Series.
Recently, he delivered a lecture on the
topic of `Modern Challenges to Islam' in which he described the various efforts
undertaken by the Christian writers and preachers from time to time to undo the
influence of Islam on the non-Muslims and the less-informed Muslims. He
emphasized the fact that most of the malicious propaganda was based either on
lack of proper understanding of Islam or on deliberately distorted information
about it. He then informed the audience about the noticeable change in attitude
towards Islam one can observe in some of the well-known Christian scholars of
today as distinct from their predecessors. This, according to him, was a welcome
and healthy development.
He also pointed out the remarkable
departure from the earlier policy of the Vatican regarding the faith which has
the second largest following in the world after Christianity. To substantiate
his view he quoted the relevant portion of the documents of Vatican II. The
documents are the official version of what was agreed to by almost all the
important Christian authorities of the world, whether Catholic or non-Catholic,
who had assembled in the Vatican city between 1962 to 1964 for long sessions to
decide a formal policy for the entire Christian world on various issues
confronting them. The result of all these efforts were compiled in sixteen
documents outlining the formal Christian policy called `The Documents of the
Vatican II'. One of these documents is entitled `Declaration on the Relationship
of the Church to Non-Christian Religions'. Professor Latham quoted the part of
this document relevant to Islam in his address. It says:
Upon the Moslems, too, the Church looks
with esteem. They adore one God, Living and Enduring, Merciful and All-Powerful,
Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men. They strive to submit
wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just as did Abraham, with whom
the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself. Though they do not acknowledge
Jesus as God, they rever Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin
mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion. In addition they await
the Day of Judgement when God will give each man his due after raising him up.
Consequently, they prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially
through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.
Although in the course of the centries
many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this
most sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to strive sincerely for
mutual understanding. On behalf of all mankind, let them make common cause of
safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace, and freedom."
The lecture was followed by a
question-answer session. This writer asked him how he managed to respect and
praise the Prophet of the Muslims without formally being a Muslim, for in doing
so it apparently meant that he was praising someone who, given his (Latham's)
beliefs, had been consistently telling lies by making false claims to be the
true Prophet of God and the receiver of His message. He gave no clear answer to
the question but instead revealed that faith to him had nothing to do with
reason. It appeared to be some sort of an apology for being a Christian.
Interestingly, this view of Professor Latham about the relationship, or lack of
it, between reason and faith is shared by many other Christian scholars of
Britain as well. Ironically, however, many of the Muslim scholars too very
proudly present the same absurd apology to those who demand reasonable
explanations for the religious teachings of Islam.
He was asked by another Muslim to
compare the linguistic beauty of the Quran with that of the Bible. Being a
scholar of the Arabic language, he frankly admitted that while he found the
existing English translation of the Bible too dull, even the Greek translation
was no match to the inimitable literary beauty of the Quran. He, however,
expressed his inability to comment on the Hebrew version of the Bible since he
didn't know the language.
It is neither possible for us nor is it
our responsibility to know whether, deep down in the heart, people like
Professor Latham are really convinced about the authenticity of Islam or not. It
is, however, quite clear that many of the Christian scholars know fully well
that by adopting a sympathetic attitude towards the Muslims, as also towards
followers of other faiths, they stand to gain an important advantage by turning
away the attention of most of the people from the real issues that separate
other faiths from the Christian beliefs. They have learnt through experience
that they cannot afford to create a situation of confrontation in which a
serious comparison between the dogmatic and intellectually unacceptable beliefs
of Christianity with the Islamic faith will be necessitated. The modern
advancement in the field of communication that has made it possible for
information to spread in all corners of the world in no time has worsened their
apprehensions. By `tuning down' this confrontation, they have attempted to halt
the influence of Islam from making inroads into some of the honest, open-minded,
and `less-committed' Christians who would have felt compelled to find the truth
if the attitude of the Christians had been less friendly.
It is, of course, not being suggested
that the Muslim scholarship should somehow ensure continuity of the earlier
belligerence between the two faiths. They should, however, be aware of the
changing attitude of the Christian world and devise fresh strategies to present
the true Message of God to mankind in view of the changing circumstances which
seem to be much more favourable for a faith which has the strength of reason
behind its claims and teachings.
While presenting the message of Islam to
the non-Muslims it should, however, be made quite clear to them that God
Almighty cannot possibly desire from His servants to be following diverse and
conflicting paths for the purpose of attaining salvation and earning His
blessing. Of all the different versions of beliefs claiming divinity, logically
only one can be the truth or else it will have to be acknowledged that the
Creator of the World wants confusion and not truth to prevail in this world.
That, of course, is the last thing the Almighty can will; that is, however,
exactly what Professor Latham and the Vatican Declaration seem to be implying if
one cares to look deeper into what they are attempting to suggest.