In tense Cairo, an oasis of religious dialogue

2013-06-13 10:46


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cairo - With its shaded courtyard and quiet library, Cairo's Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies is an oasis of research, aimed at fostering Islamic-Christian ties in a country riven with political and religious tensions.

The internationally-reputed IDEO institute aims to encourage not just study, but dialogue between the religions, in a context where "Islam can be scary and where a country like Egypt is trying hard to find its democratic voice", director Jean-Jacques Perennes said.

The brick building surrounded by greenery is located symbolically in a neighbourhood close to Al-Azhar - Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning - and the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral.

Created at the request of the Vatican in 1953, IDEO celebrated its 60th anniversary this week amid tensions in Egypt.

The celebrations come two years after the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and led to last June's election of the first Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi.

"We have never had any problems with the authorities because we position ourselves in the cultural world, away from proselytism," said Perennes, a 64-year-old French national who heads a team of scholars and researchers at the institute established by the Dominican Order.

The weekend celebrations of IDEO's 60th anniversary were attended by the head of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, and several senior officials of Al-Azhar - a rare scene in today's Egypt where sectarian clashes and Christian fears of marginalisation make the headlines more frequently than shows of ecumenism.

The Coptic pope, whose community represents around six to 10% of Egypt's population, said he was "proud that there is an institute of this calibre in our country to link Islamic and Christian cultures".

Dialogue of shared values

Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, praised IDEO for being "a citadel of learning" aimed at fostering "a dialogue of shared values".

With a library that holds nearly 160 000 volumes, including 20 000 classical texts of Arab and Muslim heritage, IDEO is one of the most important centres of religious studies in the Middle East.

It is open to university researchers both from Egypt and abroad, and many Al-Azhar students take advantage of its facilities.

"According to the Dominican tradition of silence and study, we are trying to create an island of peace, reading and meditation," said Perennes.

Among those using the library, 98% of whom are Muslim, "we get Salafists [ultra-conservative Muslims], women who are veiled, [and some] who aren't. What matters is respect for the academic rules. As for the rest, everyone is free to do as they please", he said.

Mats are available for those who wish to pray while using IDEO's library.

"The sources that can be consulted here are very rare and often not found elsewhere," said student Alaa Badawi.

Khadiga el-Gaafar, a veiled student immersed in a copy of the Encyclopedia Islamica, said the institute "can compete with American libraries."

The tranquility of the space and its heaving bookshelves are not IDEO's only strengths, the centre has also developed a software programme - alKindi - for researching catalogues on Arab culture.

The European Union is financing a study of 200 classical authors of Arabic-Muslim heritage.

IDEO hopes that in the face of increasingly radical discourse, works to contextualise these authors will allow a more "nuanced, less fundamentalist, more pertinent" view of their writings.

Read more on:    egypt  |  egypt protests  |  north africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.