One of the most memorable experiences of my life, and certainly of the years that I spent living and studying in Egypt, was the six months or so that I studied Islamic philosophy, one on one, with Father Georges Anawati OP (1905-1994) of Cairo’s Institut Dominicain des Etudes Orientales.
He was a wonderful man. Once, having bought and just begun to read a book by F. E. Peters of New York University, I noticed that it was dedicated to Father Anawati, “of the Dominican Institute and the Kingdom of God.” I was so pleased at that dedication that I located Professor Peters’s office telephone number and called it, thinking to leave a message of gratitude. It was late at night in Utah and early in the morning in New York City, but, to my surprise, Professor Peters was in his office and answered the phone. We reminisced for about twenty minutes about our mutual friend, who had passed away several years before.
He reminded me of jovial Friar Tuck, from the Robin Hood stories.
He was enormously amused that I was a Latter-day Saint. Often — we met weekly at the Dominican Institute, for about three hours each time — he would bring something in (e.g., a glass of tea, a cup of coffee, even [on one occasion] a tiny bit of wine) and mischievously pretend to offer it to me, knowing that I wouldn’t take it. Once, though, he brought in a bar of Cadbury chocolate. “Are you allowed to eat Cadburys?,” he asked. “Yes!” I said, grabbing the chocolate bar. He laughed uproariously.
When I told him that our son Joseph had been born, he asked “Is he named after St. Joseph the Carpenter?” No, I said. Not really. “Then, after Joseph Smith?” No, not that, either. “Well,” he asked, “you do pray to Joseph Smith, don’t you?” No, I told him. We venerate the Prophet and other good men, we respect them, but we don’t pray to them. He reflected for a few seconds and then said, as if to himself, “These heresies are all so bizarre!”
Finally, my time in Egypt was drawing to an end. Accordingly, I arranged for someone to bring a beautiful leather-bound edition of the “triple combination” (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) so that I could present it to Father Anawait to be added to the excellent library of the Dominican Institute. He was pleased, but he wondered: “Should it go into the Islamic section? No, that wouldn’t be right. Maybe into the Christian section. Perhaps we should put it into a section called ‘Limbo’?”
Whenever I saw him at conferences or at lectures thereafter — which wasn’t often, but happened occasionally — he would call across the room, in greeting, “al-Murmuni!” “The Mormon!”