Georges Chehata Anawati, o.p., died in Cairo, Friday morning January 28, 1994, on the Feast day of Thomas Aquinas. He was born on June 6th 1905 in Alexandria, in a family of Syrian origin, of the Greek Orthodox rite, that had emigrated to Egypt around 1860.
Upon having obtained his Pharmacist diploma at the University of St. Joseph (Beirut), he joined the Lyon School of Chemistry and became a chemical engineer. In 1934, he entered the Order of Preachers. Once at the Saulchoir, M.-D. Chenu, o.p., asked him if he was willing to invest himself in the study of Islam and Arab Culture in Muslim countries, without any proselytizing whatsoever. He accepted, and this eventually led to the creation of the IDEO (1945). Fr. Anawati was thus one the IDEO’s founders (along with Serge de Beaurecueil, o.p., and Jacques Jomier, o.p.), then its Director, and later its President.
A firm advocate of the encounter between cultures and also a pioneer of the Islamic-Christian dialogue, he sparked many occasions, at all levels, where believers could meet.
He was a friend of Taha Hussein, Louis Massignon, Louis Gardet, Gustav von Grunenbaum, and of many other Eastern and Western intellectuals. As such, his influence was exceptional, because of both the quality of his interpersonal relationships and of the value of his scientific production, in many areas (Arab Philosophy, Islamic Theology and Mysticism, History of Pharmacopeia, Cross-cultural relations, …). His bibliography boasts a total of 26 works (12 of which done in collaboration with another author) and over 350 articles. Among the more noteworthy: Introduction à la théologie musulmane (1948, with Louis Gardet), the French translation of Avicenna’s Metaphysics (1978-1985), The History of Drugs and Medication (1959, in Arabic, reprinted in 1996), Christianity and Arab Culture (1992, in Arabic).
Some men seem to incarnate the grace-filled opportunities at certain points in History. The end of the Second World War promised great hopes. New freedom enhanced minds to be opened-up towards the possibility of all-out ecumenism: the world was waiting for those people who would build bridges between different cultures. Georges Anawati was one of these people: born during and rooted in the Middle East’s “Renaissance” period, his formation in Pharmacology, Philosophy and Theology putting him at the cross-roads between Eastern and Western knowledge, his vocation to be a pilgrim of dialogue could not have been set-up any better.
In times when minds are becoming shut, when new polarizations between cultures begin to appear, when all that seems to matter is the pursuit of one’s own identity, it is of grave importance to follow and to keep alive Fr. Anawati’s intuition and project.