An Editor-in-chief of the Coptic Encyclopedia (8 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1991). He was born in Egypt in a small village in Gharbiya Province, called al-‘Aysha.
He graduated from the Higher Training College in Cairo in 1927. Atiya was sent by the Egyptian Office of Education to the University of Liverpool in England, from which he earned his in medieval and modern history in 1931. He completed his PhD in Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of in 1933. The University of Liverpool awarded him a LittD in 1938 because of his work The in the Later Middle Ages, published in the same year. Atiya taught at the University of London (1934), the University of Bonn, Germany (1936-1939), and Cairo University (1939-1942). He held a Foundation Chair in Medieval History (1942-1952), and served as chairman of the History Department (1952-1954) at Alexandria University.

In 1949-1950, Atiya participated in the joint expedition of the Alexandria University and the American Foundation for the Study of Man to microfilm the invaluable manuscript collection of the Monastery of St. at Mount Sinai. Credit must be given to Atiya for establishing the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in Cairo in 1954. Atiya also served as a visiting professor of Arabic studies at the University of Michigan (1955-1956), Columbia University, New York (1956), Indiana University (1957), and University (1957-1958). From 1959 until his death, he lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. He established a complete center for the study of Arabic and Middle East cultures at the University of Utah and founded the library that now bears his name.

In 1967, Atiya was designated distinguished professor of history in of his great efforts and scholarly achievements. Atiya is internationally as a leading scholar in the area of the Crusades. Of special interest is his work History of Eastern . The creation of the International Association for Coptic Studies in 1976 encouraged Atiya to contact scholars to fulfill his long-cherished vision of a Coptic Encyclopedia, which appeared after his death. His achievements have made him unforgettable to the Copts.