The 13th century saw the birth of a new monastic thought in the Catholic Church in Europe. Monks decided to leave the confines of their cloisters to serve the members of their society and preach the Word of God to a larger audience.
This new reform implied that monks made a strict vow of poverty, renouncing the riches that believers donated to the monasteries and which were considered the common ownership of the community of monks. The monks belonging to these new orders called themselves friars and were no longer bound to a certain monastery but travelled around to teach and evangelise. They survived mainly on whatever people gave them as charity; hence their name, the mendicant (begging) orders. The two main orders of mendicant friars which survive to our days are the Franciscan Order, founded in 1209 by St Francis of Assisi, and the Dominican Order, founded in 1216 by St Dominic de Guzman.
Order of Preachers
The Dominican Order was first established as the Order of Preachers (Ordo Praedicatorum, O.P.) by St Dominic de Guzman (1170 – 1221), a monk known for his care of the poor and his in-depth study of the Holy Bible.
St Dominic first joined the order of the Canons Regular at the age of 25. During one of his travels to the south of France, he was appalled by the weakness of the Catholic faith in the region and the rise of heresy. He decided to dedicate his life to preaching the Word of God and educating the people into the true Catholic faith. He thus established the Order of Preachers and was soon joined by other young men and women who believed in the importance of his message. The order was based on two important principles which were the cornerstone for preaching: a common life of poverty and dedication to learning. According to St Dominic, it was necessary that the friars achieve high levels of knowledge to better understand and teach the Word of God. He sent his friars to learn and preach at the finest institutions at the time such as the University of Paris and Oxford; to this day, Dominican friars must achieve highest levels of learning and knowledge.
By the time St Dominic died in 1221 at the age of 51, his mission had attained outstanding success and the Order of Preachers had spread in many parts in Europe, in France, Italy and England. The friars of the order were later called Dominicans after St Dominic; they are also called the Friar Preachers or the Black Friars after the colour of their hoods since they wore white habits and black cloaks,
With the year 2016 marking the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominican Order, Watani met Friar Jean Druel O.P., deputy to the abbot of the Dominican priory in Egypt, and Director of Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO) in Egypt. Friar Druel earned a Master’s Degree in Theology and Coptic Patrology from the Catholic Institute in Paris in 2002, a Master’s Degree in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language from the American University in Cairo (AUC) in 2006, and a PhD in the history of Arabic Grammar from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 2012. He is in charge of the “200 Project” which offers a “Historic contextualisation of 200 authors of the Classical Islamic heritage”.
To begin with, would you kindly introduce yourself to Watani readers?
I am Jean Druel from France. I came to Egypt in 2002 to prepare for a Master’s Degree in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language at AUC. I am currently preparing for a PhD degree in the Arabic language. I have been temporary procurator of the Dominican priory in Cairo for six years, and am in charge of all its financial and administrative matters. Less than a year ago I was appointed acting director of the priory, since the director was on a mission to teach philosophy at the Dominican University in Rome.
When and how was the Dominican Order established in Egypt?
The Dominican priory was established in Egypt in 1928 by Friar Antonin Jaussen, O.P. (1871 – 1962). The aim of the Dominican friars at that time was to make the priory an extension of the Jerusalem French Bible and Archeaology School (Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem). However, many events on the international scene did not allow for the realisation of this dream. Then, in 1936, three Dominican friars decided to dedicate their life to the study of Islam; Cairo seemed the best place for this goal because it is the land of the venerable Islamic university of al-Azhar which dates back to the 10th century, and is a world-renowned capital of Islamic culture. These three friars were Georges Anawati, Jacques Jomier and Serge de Beaurecueil; the best known of the three was Georges Anawati (1905 – 1994) because he was of Egyptian nationality.
In 1953, the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO) was established with the aim of promoting interfaith dialogue and better understanding among Christians and Muslims.
Can you tell us about Friar Georges Anawati?
Friar Anawati was an Egyptian thinker who specialised in Arab philosophy in the Middle Ages. The importance of this period lies in the fact that it constituted the link between Greek heritage and European thought. Friar Anawati was born in 1905, was a member of the Dominican Order and dedicated his life to building bridges between the Christian and Muslim worlds. He was an advocate of interfaith dialogue and is credited with establishing the idea of holding a cultural dialogue with Islam away from any ideological debate.
Is IDEO engaged in any evangelisation activity?
IDEO does not play any evangelisation role. It only aims at studying and researching the political and social aspects of Islam as well as the history of the Middle East without trifling with religious belief. This goes in line with the call of the Vatican to all Christians to engage in the study of Islam away from any evangelisation goals.
What activities do Dominicans engage in?
We are interested in the study of philosophy and theology and grant special attention to the ecumenical dialogue among the different Christian denominations. We are also interested in Islamic studies, archaeology, human rights and, of course, preaching in churches. We engage in specialised studies of the Bible in a historical and geographical context.
What is the purpose of the Dominicans’ study of Islam and Islamic philosophy?
The main purpose is to establish mutual knowledge and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. The IDEO studies Arab and Islamic heritage to gain a better understanding of Islam drawn from its roots and original sources. On the other hand, we are not interested in the modern Islamist currents or problems such as the rise of radical Islamist groups. We focus on digging in old heritage to help create a common ground and a meeting point that will draw religions closer and solve many of our modern world’s problems.
In this context, will you kindly explain to our readers the latest projects the Dominicans in Egypt are undertaking?
On 2012, an agreement was signed between the European Union and IDEO to undertake the ‘200 Project’ which offers a “Historic contextualisation of 200 authors of the Classical Islamic heritage”. The project launches research in 200 of the most prominent works of Islamic heritage, among them works by the medieval scholars, philosophers, and scientists al-Farabi, al-Bairouni, Abu-Hamid al-Ghazali, Ibn-Arabi, Ibn-Sina (Avicenna), Ibn-Rushd (Averreos), and Ibn Khaldun.
Understanding the historic context in which the works of these great authors was written serves to avoid misreading them, and also reveals the major thought of the different sects in Islam.
How do you see the conflict between the West and the Muslim world?
The problem is that the West views Muslims from a very narrow perspective. The West sees them either as people who constantly create political and social conflict or people who must be preached the Christian faith in the hope that they will eventually convert to Christianity. However, there is a third perspective that IDEO would like to highlight, which is that Muslims are people who have their own belief, ideology, culture and heritage which must be respected. We want to convey the message that it is possible for Christians and Muslims to live together in peace and harmony. This is very possible, provided there is no prevalent extremist Islamic thought.
24 February 2016