Religion in Egypt
|Religion in Egypt|
|Religions in Egypt|
|Life in Egypt|
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.
Egypt is predominantly Muslim, with Muslims accounting for 95% of a population of around 80 million Egyptians The vast majority of Muslims in Egypt are part of the Sunni Islam. A significant number of Muslim Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders, and there is a minority of Mu'tazila, Shia Twelvers and Ismailism numbering a few thousands.
According to the Constitution of Egypt, any new legislation must at least implicitly agree with Islamic law. 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, mostly belong to the native Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Christian Church. 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, and the Coptic Catholic Church is estimated to have a similar membership among Egyptians. 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%, 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.
There is a small but historically significant non-immigrant Bahá'í population, estimated around 2000 persons, and an even smaller community of Jews about 200, 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.
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", with a significant number of church towers. This religious landscape has been marred by a history of religious extremism, 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. 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.
In 2002, under the Mubarak government, Coptic Christmas (January the 7th) was recognized as an official holiday, 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. Naguib Sawiris, one of Egyptians successful businessmen and one of the world's wealthiest 400 people is a Copt. At the same time there is a large number of private companies shared by both Muslims and Copts.
- 1 Freedom of religion and human rights
- 2 Religions in Egypt
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Freedom of religion and human rights
Freedom of belief and worship are formally recognized by the Egyptian Constitution, but are effectively limited by government intervention and sectarian conflict. Some aspects of the country’s laws are heavily biased in favor of Islam and against religious minorities, most notably the country’s approximately 10 million Coptic Christians. Religions other than Islam have typically had to be deemed compatible with Sharia and petition for legal recognition. Although the state provides funds for the construction of mosques and the training of imams, no such aid is extended to non-Muslim communities, whose requests for building permits are often denied or delayed. Individual adherents of minority religions also face frequent discrimination by government officials, who often deny them identity cards, birth certificates and marriage licenses. Authorities often fail to sanction individuals involved in carrying out attacks against members of minority faiths, relying instead on non-judicial procedures in order to avoid offending the Muslim majority. The government also discriminates against Islamic religious minority groups, most notably Shi’a Muslims. Shi’as face open official discrimination, including being barred from admission to Al-Azhar University.
Restrictions on conversion
While freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, according to Human Rights Watch, "Egyptians are able to convert to Islam generally without difficulty, but Muslims who convert to Christianity face difficulties in getting new identity papers and some have been arrested for allegedly forging such documents. The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim. 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. In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam. 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, but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.
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. 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.
Muslims and Christians share a common history and national identity; however, at times religious tensions have arisen, and individual acts of prejudice and violence occur. The most significant was the 2000-2001 El Kosheh attacks, In which Muslims and Christians were involved in bloody, inter-religious clashes following a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian. "Twenty Christians and one Muslim were killed after violence broke out in the town of el-Kosheh, 440 kilometres (275 miles) south of Cairo." In 2005, in Kafr Salama village, Sharqiya governorate, an altercation between a Muslim and a Christian resulted in the death of the Muslim. Muslim villagers later attacked the Abu Sifin Church and several Christian homes and looted several shops before the authorities restored order. In 2006, one person who was both drunk and mad attacked three churches in Alexandria left one dead and from 5 to 16 injured, although the attacker was not linked to any organisation. 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.
There are 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 (if a citizen takes the step of suing the 'apostating' person, though not automatically by the general prosecutor). 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.
Religions in Egypt
Recognized Abrahamic religions
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. A significant number of Sunni Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders. 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.
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.
Copts do not see themselves as a cultural or ethnic minority but Egyptians whose ancestors embraced Christianity in the first century. The Coptic Christian population in Egypt is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. About 95% of Egypt's Christians are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. 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.
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:
- Apostolic Catholic and Orthodox Churches:
- The Coptic Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has around 210,000 members in Egypt and roughly 50,000 adherents abroad. It is in union with the Pope in Rome. It is headed by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, currently Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak.
- The Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria (an Eastern Orthodox Church) has around 350,000 adherents in Egypt, out of whom approximately 45,000 are of Greek (Hellenic) descent. The Church has another 1.5 million adherents in Africa and between 10,000 and 15,000 ex-patriates in Europe, North and South America. The current Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is Pope Theodoros II.
- The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has about 7,000 members in Egypt. The eparchy of Egypt is looked after by a Protosyncellus, and has between 35,000 and 50,000 ex-patriates in Europe, North and South America, and Australia.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church) has around 7,000 adherents in Egypt. Most of them follow the Holy See of Echmiadzin in Armenia, rather than the Holy See of Cilicia in Lebanon.
- The Latin Catholic Church has around 7,000 adherents in Egypt. Most are citizens born in Egypt but of foreign descent, like Italians, Maltese and French, or members of the foreign diplomatic corps in Egypt. There are very few native Christian Egyptians who adhere to the Latin Church, and those who do (several hundreds) do so mainly through marriage.
- The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East (a Protestant Church known in Egypt as the Anglican Church) has between 10,000 and 15,000 members in Egypt.
- The Maronite Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has around 5,000 adherents in Egypt.
- The Armenian Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has around 1,200 adherents in Egypt.
- The Chaldean Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has about 500 members in Egypt.
- The Syriac Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church) has around 2,000 adherents in Egypt.
- The Syriac Orthodox Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church) has a very small population in Egypt, numbering between 450 and 500. Most are students of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, or foreign students studying in Egyptian universities.
- Protestant churches also exist in Egypt. The total number of Protestants in Egypt is around 200,000. they are:
- The Evangelical Church of Egypt (Synod of the Nile) (a Protestant Church) has around 140,000 members in Egypt.
- The Assemblies of God Church, which has around 40,000 adherents in Egypt.
- The Free Methodist Church, which has 120 churches and has around 10,000 adherents in Egypt.
- The Christian Brethren Church, which has around 5,000 adherents in Egypt.
- The Pentecostal Church of God, which has Church around 3,500 adherents in Egypt.
- The Pentecostal Holiness Church, which has 1,400 adherents in Egypt.
- The Church of God of Prophecy, which has 1,100 adherents in Egypt.
- The Seventh-day Adventist Church has 852 adherents in Egypt.
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, Jews in Egypt number fewer than 200.
Unrecognized and persecuted beliefs
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. Recently there has been an upsurge of persecution of Ahmadiyya in Egypt. 
Police also regularly detain those without correct documentation and thus some Bahá'ís frequently stay home to avoid possible arrest. 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.
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. 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. The ruling left Bahá'ís unable to obtain ID cards, birth certificates, or death certificates. 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. 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.
During and since the 2011 Egyptian revolution tensions have remained high - homes have been burnt though Bahá'ís contributed to the dialog. Since 2011 Bahá'ís while hopeful remain concerned and a Salafi spokesman has said of Bahá'ís "We will prosecute the Bahai's (sic) on charge of treason."
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. Irreligious people and atheists are notably increasing, though it is difficult to get an estimate because the state does not recognize any religion other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. 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.
- Persecution of Copts
- Christianity in Egypt
- List of Coptic Churches in Egypt
- List of Coptic Orthodox Churches in Canada
- List of Coptic Orthodox Churches in the United States
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