In central Cairo, not far from the Al-Azhar Mosque and the Islamic Mission City, is one of the most important libraries for the study of Islamic and Arab civilization, founded by Christian monks.
The Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies, set up in 1953 by Jacques Jomier, a Frenchman, and Georges Anawati, an Egyptian philosopher and convert to Catholicism, attracts dozens of students from around the world daily.
“The library has played a remarkable role in Arab culture, thanks to its association with two great names,” Magdy Azab, the library’s deputy director, said.
Jomier, a scholar of Islam and of the Arabic language, also wrote the first study by a foreign researcher of the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 for works such as his Cairo Trilogy (“Palace Walk,” “Palace of Desire,” and “Sugar Street”). (See a related article, “New Cairo Museum Honors Naguib Mahfouz but Doesn’t Inspire.”)
Anawati held doctorates in philosophy and in theology. Director of the Institute until 1984, he left many books, including: “The Works of Ibn Sina,” “The Works of Ibn Rushd,” “The History of Pharmacology and Drugs for the Arabs,” “Christians in Egypt,” and “Christianity and Arab Civilization.”
Azab says the founders regarded Cairo as the ideal place to establish their institute, thanks to the presence of Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s oldest educational institutions. Their motive was to enable researchers to better understand Islam as a civilization and to appreciate its religious and spiritual dimensions.