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Religion in Egypt

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Title: Religion in Egypt  
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Subject: Islam in Egypt, Freedom of religion in Egypt, Irreligion in Egypt, Egyptians, Egypt
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Religion in Egypt

Cairo's unique cityscape with its ancient mosques. Since 640 AD, as many mosques have appeared throughout Egypt, so Cairo, has acquired the nickname of "city of a thousand minarets"

Religion in Egypt controls many aspects of social life and is endorsed by law. The 2006 census counting method included religion, so the number of adherents of the different religions are usually rough estimates made by religious and non-governmental agencies.

[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The vast majority of Muslims in Egypt are Sunni. A significant number of Sunni Muslim Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders.[10] There are under fifty thousand Ahmadi Muslims[11] There is a minority of Mu'tazila, Shia Twelvers and Ismailism numbering a few thousands.

According to the [12] Article 45 of the Constitution extends freedom of religion to the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), but only those three.

The remainder of Egyptians, numbering between 10% and 20% of the population,[2] mostly belong to the native Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Christian Church.[1][4][5][6][7] The most recent declarations, made by Pope Shenouda III and bishop Morkos of Shubra in 2008, put forward the number of Orthodox Copts in Egypt as being over 12 million. Other estimates made by church officials estimate this number to be 16 million. Protestant churches claim a membership of about 300,000 Egyptians,[13] and the Coptic Catholic Church is estimated to have a similar membership among Egyptians.[8][9] Based on these estimates, the total number of Christians in Egypt is between 15% and 20% of a total population of 80 million Egyptians. While some government sources have claimed a percentage of around 6 to 10%,[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] a number of published sources such as the Washington Institute, in addition to some of the Coptic sources, uphold that Christians represent more than 10% of the total population and claim that they actually still compose up to 15 or even 20% of the Egyptian population.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

There is a small but historically significant non-immigrant Bahá'í population, estimated around 2000 persons,[20] and an even smaller community of Jews about 200,[20][29] then a tiny number of Egyptians who identify as atheist and agnostic. The non-Sunni, non-Coptic communities range in size from several hundreds to a few thousand. The original Ancient Egyptian religion has all but disappeared.

Egypt hosts two major religious institutions. Al-Azhar Mosque, founded in 970 A.D by the Fatimids as the first Islamic University in Egypt and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria established in the middle of the 1st century by Saint Mark.

In Egypt, Muslims and Christians live as neighbors, they share a common history and national identity, they also share the same ethnicity, race, culture, and language.[20]

Religion plays a central role in most Egyptians' lives, The Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) that is heard five times a day has the informal effect of regulating the pace of everything from business to media and entertainment. Cairo is famous for its numerous mosque minarets and is justifiably dubbed "the city of 1,000 minarets",[30] with a significant number of church towers. This religious landscape has been marred by a history of religious extremism,[31] recently witnessing a 2006 judgement of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court, which made a clear legal distinction between "recognized religions" (i.e., Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) and all other religious beliefs. This ruling effectively delegitimizes and forbids practice of all but the three Abrahamic religions.[32] This judgement had made it necessary for non-Abrahamic religious communities to either commit perjury or be denied Egyptian identification cards (see Egyptian identification card controversy), until a 2008 Cairo court case ruled that unrecognized religious minorities may obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents.[33]

The Hanging Church of Cairo, first built in the third or fourth century AD, is one of the most famous Coptic Churches in Egypt.

In 2002, under the Mubarak government, Coptic Christmas (January the 7th) was recognized as an official holiday,[34] though Copts complain of being minimally represented in law enforcement, state security and public office, and of being discriminated against in the workforce on the basis of their religion.[35] Naguib Sawiris, one of Egyptians successful businessmen and one of the world's wealthiest 400 people[36] is a Copt. At the same time there is a large number of private companies shared by both Muslims and Copts.

Freedom of religion and human rights


Restrictions on conversion

Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest Islamic institution in the world,[38][39] concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left the Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed pertaining to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children after they reach maturity.

While freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, according to [40] The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim.[41] Public officials, being conservative themselves, intensify the complexity of the legal procedures required to recognize the religion change as required by law. Security agencies will sometimes claim that such conversions from Islam to Christianity (or occasionally vice versa) may stir social unrest, and thereby justify themselves in wrongfully detaining the subjects, insisting that they are simply taking steps to prevent likely social troubles from happening.[42] In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam.[43] However, in February 2008 the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision, allowing 12 citizens who had reverted back to Christianity to re-list their religion on identity cards,[19][44] but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.[45]

Relations with the Coptic minority

Coptic Christians, being the largest religious minority in Egypt, are the most negatively affected by possibly discriminatory legislation. Copts have faced increasing marginalization after the 1952 coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser.[46][47] Until recently, Christians were required to obtain presidential approval for even minor repairs in churches. Although the law was eased in 2005 by handing down the authority of approval to the governors, Copts continue to face many obstacles in building new churches. These obstacles are not as much in building mosques.[20][48][49]

[16][50][52] On January 7, 2010, Muslim gunmen open fire on Christian worshipers leaving a church in Nag Hammadi resulting in the murder of nine Coptic Christians. On January 1, 2011, at least 21 people were killed and 83 injured when a car bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria.[53]

In January 2013, Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors ranked Egypt as the 25th most difficult place to be a Christian, on their annual World Watch List.[54]

Non-religious minorities

There are a small number of Egyptians who identify themselves as atheist and agnostic, but their numbers are largely unknown, as openly expressing such positions risks legal sanction on the basis of apostasy. In 2000, an openly atheist Egyptian writer, who called for the establishment of a local association for atheists, was tried on charges of insulting Islam in four of his books.[55]

Public opinion

According to the survey in 2010 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 84% of Egyptian Muslims polled supported the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion. [56]

Religions in Egypt

Recognized Abrahamic religions


Islamic Cairo As viewed from the Cairo Citadel

Islam has been the state religion in Egypt since the amendment of the second article of the Egyptian constitution in the year 1980, before which Egypt was recognized as a secular country. The vast majority of Egyptian Muslims are Sunni, with a small Mu'tazila, Shia Twelvers and Ismailism communities making up the remainder.[57] A significant number of Sunni Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders.[10] Egypt hosts the most important Sunni institution in the world, Al-Azhar University. It is the oldest Islamic institution of higher studies (founded around 970 C.E.), and is considered by many to be the oldest extant university in the world.

Al-Azhar Mosque founded in AD 970 by the Fatimids as the first Islamic University in Egypt

The Shia Ismaili caliphate of the Fatimids made Egypt their center, and made Cairo their capital. Egypt's various social groups and classes apply Islam differently in their daily lives. The literate theologians of Al-Azhar generally reject the popular version of Islam practised by religious preachers and peasants in the countryside, which is heavily Sufi-influenced. Sufism has flourished in Egypt since Islam was first adopted. Most upper- and middle-class Muslims believed either that religious expression is a private matter for each individual or that Islam should play a more dominant role in public life. Islamic religious revival movements, whose appeal cuts across class lines, have been present in most cities and in many villages for a long time.

According to the constitution of Egypt, any new legislation must at least implicitly agree with Islamic law. The mainstream Hanafi school of Sunni Islam is largely controlled by the state, through Wizaret Al-Awkaf (Ministry of Religious Affairs). Al-Awkaf controls all mosques and supervises Muslim clerics. Imams are trained in Imam vocational schools and at Al-Azhar. The ministry supports Sunni Islam and has commissions authorised to give Fatwā judgements on Islamic issues.


About 10% of Egyptians follow the Christian faith as members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Egyptian Christians are the largest Christian community in the Middle East by raw number of adherents.

Copts do not see themselves as a cultural or ethnic minority but Egyptians whose ancestors embraced Christianity in the first century.[58] The Coptic Christian population in Egypt is the largest Christian community in the Middle East.[17] About 95% of Egypt's Christians are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.[4][5] an Oriental Orthodox Church, established in the 1st century A.D. by Saint Mark. The Church is headed by the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, attests to Egypt's strong Christian heritage. It has a followers of approximately 20 million Christians worldwide.

A common religious scene in Egypt: a mosque next to a church.

Other native Egyptian Christians are adherents of the Coptic Catholic Church, the Coptic Evangelical Church and various Coptic Protestant denominations. Non-native Christian communities are largely found in the urban regions of Alexandria and Cairo, and are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Latin Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Maronite Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, or the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Significant minorities within Egypt's Christian community include the following denominations:[6]

Archangel Michael's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Aswan. A noticeable large proportion of Egyptians in Upper Egypt are of Coptic Orthodox heritage.


Annex of the Library of Jewish Heritage in Egypt, Ben Ezra Synagogue, Old Cairo.

Before 1956 and according to the 1948 census there were 65,639 Egyptian Jews, including Karaites. Jews participated in all aspects of Egypt's social, economic and political life; one of the most ardent Egyptian nationalists, Yaqub Sanu' (Abu Naddara), was Jewish, as were the famous musician Dawoud Husni, popular singer Leila Mourad and prominent filmmaker Togo Mizrahi. For a while, Jews from across the Ottoman Empire and Europe were attracted to Egypt due to the relative harmony that characterized the local religious landscape in the 19th and early 20th centuries. After the 1956 Suez Crisis, a great number of Jews were expelled by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Their Egyptian citizenship was revoked and their properties were confiscated. A steady stream of emigration of Egyptian Jews followed, reaching a peak after the Six-Day War with Israel in 1967. Today, there are 12 Jews.[20][29]

Unrecognized and persecuted beliefs

Ahmadiyya Islam

Ahmadiyya is traditionally an unrecognized sect of Islam in the Muslim world. Ahmadis are small community in Egypt, though the history of Ahmadiyya in Egypt begins in the 1930s.[60] Recently there has been an upsurge of persecution of Ahmadiyya in Egypt. [61]

Bahá'í Faith

Police also regularly detain those without correct documentation and thus some Bahá'ís frequently stay home to avoid possible arrest.[62] In 2008 a court case allowed Bahá'ís to obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents.[33]

Informal estimates about Bahá'ís population in Egypt suggest that there are approximately 2000 Bahá'ís currently resident in Egypt,[63][64] though some go several times higher.[65][66]

Since their faith is not officially recognized by the state, they were not allowed to use it on their national identity cards. Without valid identity cards Bahá'ís encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses.[62] On 16 December 2006, after only one hearing, the High Court of Egypt ruled against the Bahá'ís, stating that the government would not recognize their religion in official identification cards.[32] The ruling left Bahá'ís unable to obtain ID cards, birth certificates, or death certificates.[32] However on January 29, 2008 Cairo's court of Administrative Justice, ruling on two related court cases, ruled in favour of the Bahá'ís, allowing them to obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents.[33] The ruling accepted the compromise solution offered by the Bahá'ís, allowing for them to obtain identification papers without the Bahá'í Faith being officially recognized.[67][68]

During and since the 2011 Egyptian revolution tensions have remained high - homes have been burnt[69] though Bahá'ís contributed to the dialog.[70] Since 2011 Bahá'ís while hopeful remain concerned[64] and a Salafi spokesman has said of Bahá'ís "We will prosecute the Bahai's (sic) on charge of treason."[65]

Atheism and agnosticism

There are Egyptians who identify themselves as atheist and agnostic; until 2008 only one case had been reported, but their numbers are unknown, as openly expressing such positions risks legal sanction on the basis of apostasy; however, as religious crimes in Egypt hold a status to Antragsdelikt, this occurs only if a citizen takes the step of suing the person engaging in apostasy, and cases are not initiated by the general prosecutor. Openly atheist and irreligious people in Egypt endure constant violence and death threats from the public. In 2000, an openly atheist Egyptian writer, who called for the establishment of a local association for atheists, was tried on charges of insulting Islam in four of his books. Atheists or irreligious people cannot change their official religious status, thus statistically they are counted as followers of the religion they were born with. Many are now publicly expressing their views using pseudonyms on social networks and blogs.[55]

See also


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