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Religion in Egypt controls many aspects of social life and is endorsed by law. The 2006 census counting method did not include 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 comprising between 80% and 95% of a population of around 80 million Egyptians[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The vast majority of Muslims in Egypt are part of the Sunni Islam. A significant number of Muslim Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders,[10] and there is a minority of Shi'a numbering a few thousands.

The remainder of Egyptians, numbering between 5% and 20% of the population[11], belongs to the native Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Christian Church.[2][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,[12] 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%,[13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20] 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.[21][22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27]

There is also a small, but nonetheless historically significant, non-immigrant Bahá'í population, estimated around 2000 persons[19], and an even smaller community of Jews about 200,[19][28] 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.

According to the constitution of Egypt, any new legislation must at least implicitly agree with Islamic law; however, the constitution bans political parties with a religious agenda.[14]

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"

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 main Egyptian Church 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.[29][19]

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] The Coptic community, as well as several human rights activists and intellectuals (such as Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Tarek Heggy), maintain that the number of Christians occupying government posts is not proportional to the number of Copts in Egypt. Of the 32 cabinet ministers, two are Copts: The successful Finance Minister Dr. Youssef Boutros Ghali and the Minister of Environment Magued George; and of the 25 local governors, only one is a Copt (in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena). However, Copts have demonstrated great success in Egypt's private business sector;[36] Naguib Sawiris, one of Egyptians successful businessmen and one of the world's wealthiest 100 people is a Copt. At the same time there is a numerous number of private companies shared by both Muslims and Copts.

Contents

Freedom of religion and human rights

Religious freedom in Egypt is hampered to varying degrees by discriminatory and restrictive government policies. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group are negatively affected [37] [38]

Coptic Christians, being the largest religious minority in Egypt, are also negatively affected. 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.[19][39][40]

Muslim and Christian share a common history and national identity; however, at times religious tensions have arisen and individual acts of prejudice and violence occur. [29] The most significant was the 2000-2001 El Kosheh attacks, In which Muslims and Christians were being 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".[41] In 2005, In Kafr Salama village, Sharqiya governorate, 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.[29] 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.[15][29][42]

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.[43] The Coptic community, however, takes pains to prevent conversions from Christianity to Islam due to the ease with which Christians can often become Muslim.[44] 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.[45] In 2007, a Cairo administrative court denied 45 citizens the right to obtain identity papers documenting their reversion to Christianity after converting to Islam.[46] 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,[18][47] but they will specify that they had adopted Islam for a brief period of time.[48]

Bahá'ís in Egypt, whose population is estimated to be around two thousand persons[19], have long been persecuted, having their institutions and community activities banned. 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.[49] Police also regularly detain those without correct documentation and thus some Bahá'ís frequently stay home to avoid possible arrest.[49] 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]

There are Egyptians who identify as atheist and agnostic, but their numbers are largely unknown, as openly advocating 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.[50]

Religions in Egypt

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Recognized religions

Islam

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 Shi'ite community making up the remainder.[51] A significant number of Sunni Egyptians also follow native Sufi orders. [52] 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

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.

Christianity

Around 5-20% of Egyptians follow the Christian faith as members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Copts do not see themselves as a cultural or ethnic minority but Egyptians whose ancestors embraced Christianity in the first century.[36] The Coptic Christian population in Egypt is the largest Christian community in the Middle East.[16] 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 C.E. 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 10-15 million Christians worldwide; affiliated sister churches are located in Armenia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Lebanon and Syria and considered as the main Coptic churches in the Middle East.

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 Roman 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.

Judaism

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

Before 1956 and according to the 1947 census Egyptian Jews were 65,639 who were mostly Karaites, 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.[19][28]

Unrecognised beliefs and religions

Bahá'í Faith

"Informal estimates about Bahá'ís population in Egypt suggest that there are approximately 2,000 Bahá'ís currently resident in Egypt."[54] They have been traditionally marginalized as a religious community in Egypt, and recently found themselves in court battling for the right to indicate their faith on their identification cards.

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.[55][56]

Atheism and agnosticism

There are Egyptians who identify as atheist and agnostic; until 2008 only one case is reported, but their numbers are unknown as openly advocating such positions risks legal sanction on the basis of apostasy (this occurs only if a citizen takes the step of suing the person engaging in apostasy, 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.[50]

See also

References

  1. ^ The 2009 American Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
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  3. ^ ""Religion/Islamic conservatism's revival attracts followers, worries governments"". Star Tribune. June 18, 2009. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=MN&p_theme=mn&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EFE4944AB794537&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. 
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  7. ^ a b "Egypt from “msn encarta”". Encarta. September 30, 2008. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557408_3/Egypt.html. 
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  10. ^ Hoffman, Valerie J. Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
  11. ^ The 2009 American Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
  12. ^ ""Who are the Christians in the Middle East?"". Betty Jane Bailey. Accessed June 19, 2009. http://books.google.com/books?id=xrGL7o69KBIC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=evangelical+church+egypt+synod+nile+-wiki&source=bl&ots=0ROIIX5xGt&sig=eal5ZcOkJ8WtjZvs33GBPLYioiU&hl=en&ei=ugg8StjjEIH-sQPm--j4Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7. 
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  23. ^ [1]. The Washington Post. "Estimates of the size of Egypt's Christian population vary from the low government figures of 6 to 7 million to the 12 million reported by some Christian leaders. The actual numbers may be in the 9 to 9.5 million range, out of an Egyptian population of more than 60 million." Retrieved 10-10-2008
  24. ^ [2]. The New York Times. Retrieved 10-10-2008.
  25. ^ [3] The Christian Post. Accessed 28 September 2008.
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  39. ^ WorldWide Religious News. Church Building Regulations Eased. December 13, 2005.
  40. ^ Compass Direct News. Church Building Regulations Eased. December 13, 2005.
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  42. ^ BBC. Egypt church attacks spark anger, April 15, 2006.
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  44. ^ EGYPT: NATIONAL UNITY AND THE COPTIC ISSUE. 2004
  45. ^ Egypt: Egypt Arrests 22 Muslim converts to Christianity. November 03, 2003
  46. ^ Shahine, Gihan. "Fraud, not Freedom". Ahram Weekly, 3 - May 9, 2007
  47. ^ Associated Press. Egypt court upholds right of converted Muslims to return to Christianity. 2008-02-09.
  48. ^ AFP. Egypt allows converts to revert to Christianity on ID. February, 2008.
  49. ^ a b U.S. Department of State (2006-09-15). "Egypt: International Religious Freedom Report". Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71420.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
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  52. ^ Hoffman, Valerie J. Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
  53. ^ Pope Theodoros II
  54. ^ IRIN (2006-05-16). "EGYPT: Court suspends ruling recognising Bahai rights". Reuters. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=26887. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
  55. ^ AFP (2008-01-30). "Egypt's Bahais score breakthrough in religious freedom case". AFP. http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gQ9bxTaqTTvqBMu-r5srjd5d1KBA. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  56. ^ BWNS (2008-01-30). "Egypt court upholds Baha'i plea in religious freedom cases". Bahá'í World News Service. http://news.bahai.org/story/600. 

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