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Georges Anawati, L’ultimo dialogo. La mia vita incontro all’Islam [The Ultimate Dialogue. My life: An Encounter with Islam]

Georges Anawati, L’ultimo dialogo. La mia vita incontro all’Islam [The Ultimate Dialogue. My life: en encounter with Islam], Marcianum Press, Venezia 2010

On 28 January 1994 a first-rate Dominican, Fr Georges Anawati, died in Cairo. It was the day of the commemoration of St Thomas Aquinas, whose theology had inspired all of Fr Anawati’s apostolic initiatives. Who was, then, this cheerful-laughing priest who dedicated his whole life to meeting the great Muslim intellectuals of his own time as well as the Arab philosophers of the Middle Ages?

 

 

Anawati never thought of handing down to posterity the elements for a biography; soon after his death, however, Fr Régis Morelon, then Director of the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO) of Cairo, took care to publish, in French (1996), Le Père G.C. Anawati. Parcours d’une vie and, in Arabic (1998), Abûnâ Qanawâtî, Mishwâr al-‘umr. A few years later, Fr Jean-Jacques Pérennès, the incumbent IDEO secretary, described the events of his life in the book Georges Anawati (1905-1994): un chrétien égyptien devant le mystère de l’Islam, of 2008. The personal letters, occasional writings, witnesses from colleagues and friends gathered in the volume allow a deeper knowledge of this man of culture and faith who left a profound mark on the Church of his times through his attitude of open welcome towards Muslims. But some documents were still missing from the chapter on “private thoughts”.Certainly, Fr Anawati had intended to write a book on his great intellectual and spiritual friendship with Louis Gardet, on the example of Raïssa Maritain’s writings. I was able to look at the draft of the plan and the first chapter but Fr Anawati never took it any further.

 

 

It is therefore significant that the book published in 1998 should propose a 1994 interview in which Fr Anawati entrusted his early memories and existential path to two Egyptian friends. Intitledal-Hiwâr al-akhîr li-l-ab Qanawâtî, the text deserved to be translated in order to shed light on Anawati’s private side. The gap has now been filled by this Italian publication, evocatively entitled L’ultimo dialogo. La mia vita incontro all’Islam [The Last Dialogue. My Life vis-à-vis Islam]. For a more accurate setting to the interview, Fr J.J. Pérennès’ long but substantial introduction(Georges Anawati: un cristiano egiziano alla scoperta dell’Islam)[Georges Anawati: an Egyptian Christian discovers Islam] goes through the life of Fr Anawati. Martino Diez’s translation of the interviewfollows the promptings of Fr Anawati’s two friends.First comes the Beginning of the Path (L’inizio del cammino), in which the interviewee goes back to his youth, his studies and his plans for the future. Next comes Destiny’s Choice (La scelta del destino)in which, now a Dominican, he studies in France and Algiers. Then it is a question of Crossing the Bridges (Valicare i ponti)to open up the continent of Arab philosophy and Islamic Theology: this section is about his publications (some made with Gardet, others on Avicenna), the teachers he met (Taha Hussein, Ibrahim Madkour, Mahmoud el-Khodeiry…), the Dominicans within the Institute (Dominique Boilot, Jacques Jomier, Serge de Beaurecueil…), some old friends (Louis Massignon, Mary Kahil, Louis Gardet…).

 

 

Through all this Fr Anawati experienced a spirituality which invites to be Salt of the Earth (Sale della terra), by being Christians in Egypt as well as priests open to the dialogue, thus endowing intellectual friendships with a profoundly evangelical dimension. The last chapter, As a Conclusion (A mo’ di conclusione), contains a reflection, supported by his two pupils’ questions, which presents philosophy as the handmaid of theology as well as an introduction to mysticism: Fr Anawati here seems to hand in a fully transparent, human and religious, spiritual testament.

 

 

We can only thank Mahmud Azab and Hoda Issa for having allowed us into this conversation with their teacher who can thus become our teacher. Here lies the value of this interview, where the translation preserves the nouances of a conversation taking place sometimes in Arabic, either literary or colloquial, sometimes in French.

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