Mohamed Hawary: Egypt’s Jewish Studies Doyen Looks Back

Source: The Forward, 7-15-09

A Career in Academia Born of Desire To Know ‘The Enemy’ Leads to Acclaim and Visits From Fellow Scholars

“What’s a nice professor of Jewish studies doing teaching in a place like this?”

For those unfamiliar with contemporary Egyptian intellectual life, this might be the first question that comes to mind upon meeting Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Hebrew studies and Jewish thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, a teeming school of some 180,000 students.

Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

JACOB BENDER
Genizah Go-To Guy: Mohamed Hawary’s expertise on Cairo’s Jewish treasure trove is valued by colleagues worldwide.

Hawary, 59, is considered to be the doyen of Jewish studies in Egypt. A world-renowned scholar of Judaism, the author of numerous books and articles on a wide range of Jewish subjects, Hawary is also a practicing Muslim and a proud and patriotic Egyptian. The Forward recently interviewed Hawary in Cairo, where both he and this reporter were attending an interfaith conference at Al-Azhar University.

“I first developed an interest in Judaism and Israel because of the many verses in the Holy Quran pertaining to Jews,” Hawary recalled. “This led me to want to know more about Jews, the historical relationship between Judaism and Islam, but also to learn about Israel.”

It was, Hawary said, the 1967 Six Day War with Israel that ultimately moved him to turn his budding interest into a career. “Israel was the enemy, of course, of Egypt and the Arabs. But I thought it was important to know who this enemy was.”

Motivated to pursue Hebrew language and Jewish studies, Hawary received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 at Cairo University and completed his doctorate at Ain Shams. There, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Divinity of the Children of Israel, From Moses to the Babylonian Exile.”

“When I started out in the field,” Hawary said, “there were very few of us. Hebrew was not a separate department, but was studied as part of Arabic and Semitic languages.” Today, thanks to the efforts of Hawary and his colleagues, more than half of the 18 institutions of higher learning in Egypt have departments of Hebrew and Jewish studies….READ MORE

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