Egyptian Culture

Religion

Religion plays a large role in Egyptian society. Islamic principles regarding law, politics and social customs continue to influence Egypt’s laws and political interactions despite Egypt’s formal status as a state. The vast majority of the Egyptian population (90%) identify as Muslim, mostly of the Sunni denomination. Of the remaining population, 9% identify as Coptic Christian and the remaining 1% identify with some other denomination of Christianity. While these statistics give an overview of the religious landscape of Egypt, there is also a small but growing number of people who identify as or nonreligious, as well as some who consider themselves to be Muslim by birth but not by devotion.


Social tension often arises from religious differences. People practising minority religions may experience some form of discrimination, and there may occasionally be clashes between the Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority. Intermarriage or conversion between religions may also be discouraged or prohibited by family. However, for many Egyptians, the distinctions between their religious affiliations are not always relevant in their interactions with others, and relations are generally respectful. In Egypt, Muslims and Christians are not residentially segregated, with clusters of Coptic Christians scattered among the Muslim majority. Everyday expressions of reverence towards their faith are common among both religious groups and, at the general level, many religious values are shared, such as compassion towards others and devotion to their God.


Islam in Egypt

For the vast majority of the Egyptian population who identify as Muslim (Sunni), Islam plays a significant role in their personal, political and legal lives. The country has long been a centre for Islamic scholarship, with Egypt being home to one of the oldest and most respected institutions of Islamic education in the world. Identification with Islam can be cultural to some extent, as a parallel can often be drawn between Islamic principles and Egyptian values. However, Egyptians are generally obedient and observant of the religion due to deep faith.


In Egypt, everyday expressions of the Islamic religion tend to be through dress, dietary codes, regular prayer and frequent references to Allah’s (God’s) will or blessing. For example, Friday is considered to be the holy day and is the day of the main congregational prayer. This means that Friday marks the break in the working week, and the two-day weekend occurs on Friday and Saturday. It is also common to find Egyptians frequently referring to God with statements about the future often containing the statement ‘inshallah’ (‘God willing’) to show that, ultimately, the future is determined by God’s will.


Coptic Orthodox in Egypt

The Coptic Church belongs to the family of churches. The majority of Copts live in Egypt and Coptic is the largest Christian denomination in the country (with between 6 and 11 million followers). It is thought that the origins of the Coptic Church are Egyptian; hence, Copts are often referred to as ‘Egyptian Christians’. The religion continues to pay homage to its ancient origins with the use of the Coptic calendar and with Coptic services commonly conducted in the ancient Coptic language along with Arabic. A common marker of Christians in Egypt is a tattoo of a cross on the inside of the individual’s right wrist.


The religion shares many central tenets with other Christian denominations (like Eastern ), such as the belief in Jesus Christ as a divine being, and valuing kindness and forgiveness. While the Coptic Church is led by the Pope of Alexandria (based in Cairo), there are two Coptic bishops in Australia and more than 50 priests serving Egypt-born followers in Australia.

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