Professor J.D. Latham 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 (sws). 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 as a member of the committee of Gobs Memorial Series.
Some years ago, Latham 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 non-Muslims and the less-informed Muslims. He emphasized the fact that most of the malicious propaganda was based either on a 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 revere 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 centuries, 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 (sws) of the Muslims without formally being a Muslim, for in doing so it apparently meant that he was praising someone who, given his 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 a lack of it, between reason and faith is shared by many other Christian scholars of Britain as well.
Muslims should 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.