Islam in Egypt

Islam in Egypt

The republic of Egypt has recognized Islam as the state religion since 1980. Egypt is predominantly Muslim, with Muslims comprising about 90% of a population of around 80 million Egyptianscite web|url=|title=Egypt from “The World Factbook”|date=September 4, 2008|publisher= American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)] cite web|url=|title= Egypt from “U.S. Department of State/Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs”|date=September 30, 2008 |publisher= United States Department of State] cite web|url=|title=Egypt from “Foreign and Commonwealth Office”|date=August 15, 2008|publisher=Foreign and Commonwealth Office -UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs] cite web|url=|title=Egypt Religions & Peoples from “LOOKLEX Encyclopedia”|date=September 30, 2008|publisher= LookLex Ltd.] cite web|url=|title=Egypt from “msn encarta”|date=September 30, 2008 |publisher= Encarta] Almost the entirety of Egypt's Muslims are Sunnis. Most of the non-Muslims in Egypt are Christians, though estimates vary (see Religion in Egypt).

Prior to Napoleon's invasion, almost all of Egypt's educational, legal, public health, and social welfare issues were in the hands of religious functionaries. Ottoman rule reinforced the public and political roles of the ulama (religious scholars) because Islam was the state religion and because political divisions in the country were based on religious divisions. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, successive governments made extensive efforts to limit the role of the ulama in public life and to bring religious institutions under closer state control. The secular transformation of public life in Egypt depended on the development of a civil bureaucracy that would absorb many of the ulama's responsibilities in the country.

After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the government assumed responsibility for appointing officials to mosques and religious schools. The government mandated reform of Al-Azhar University beginning in 1961. These reforms permitted department heads to be drawn from outside the ranks of the traditionally trained orthodox ulama.

Islam in Egyptian society

As of|1990, Egyptian Islam was a complex and diverse religion. Although Muslims agreed on the faith's basic tenets, the country's various social groups and classes applied Islam differently in their daily lives. The literate theologians of Al-Azhar University generally rejected the version of Islam practiced by illiterate religious preachers and peasants in the countryside. Most upper- and middle-class Muslims believed either that religious expression was a private matter for each individual or that Islam should play a more dominant role in public life. Islamic religious revival movements, whose appeal cut across class lines, were present in most cities and in many villages.

Today devout Muslims believe that Islam defines one's relationship to God, to other Muslims, and to non-Muslims. They also believe that there can be no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Many Muslims say that Egypt's governments have been secularist and even anti-religious since the early 1920s. Politically organized Muslims who seek to purge the country of its secular policies are referred to as "Islamists."

Orthodox ulama found themselves in a difficult position during the wave of Islamic activism that swept through Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s. Radical Islamists viewed the ulama as puppets of the status quo. To maintain their influence in the country, the ulama espoused more conservative stances. After 1974, for example, many Al Azhar ulama, who had acquiesced to family planning initiatives in the 1960s, openly criticized government efforts at population control. The ulama also supported moves to reform the country's legal code to conform to Islamic teaching. They remained, nonetheless, comparatively moderate; they were largely loyal to the government and condemned the violence of radical Islamist groups.

Egypt's largely uneducated urban and rural lower classes were intensely devoted to Islam, but they lacked a thorough knowledge of the religion. Even village religious leaders had only a rudimentary knowledge of Islam. The typical village imam or prayer leader had at most a few years of schooling; his scholarly work was limited to reading prayers and sermons prepared by others and to learning passages from the Qur'an. Popular religion included a variety of unorthodox practices, such as veneration of saints, recourse to charms and amulets, and belief in the influence of evil spirits.

Popular Islam is based mostly on oral tradition. Imams with virtually no formal education commonly memorize the entire Qur'an and recite appropriate verses on religious occasions. They also tell religious stories at village festivals and commemorations marking an individual's rites of passage. Predestination plays an important role in popular Islam. This concept includes the belief that everything that happens in life is the will of God and the belief that trying to avoid misfortune is useless and invites worse affliction. Monotheism merges with a belief in magic and spirits (jinns) who are believed to inhabit the mountains.

Popular Islam ranges from informal prayer sessions or Qur'an study to organized cults or orders. Because of the pervasive sexual segregation of Egypt's Islamic society, men and women often practice their religion in different ways. A specifically female religious custom is the zar, a ceremony for helping women placate spirits who are believed to have possessed them. Women specially trained by their mothers or other women in zar lore organize the ceremonies. A zar organizer holds weekly meetings and employs music and dance to induce ecstatic trances in possessed women. Wealthy women sometimes pay to have private zars conducted in their homes; these zars are more elaborate than public ones, last for several days, and sometimes involve efforts to exorcise spirits.

A primarily male spiritual manifestation is Sufism, an Islamic mystical tradition. Sufism has existed since the early days of Islam and is found in all Islamic countries. The name derives from the Arabic word suf (wool), referring to the rough garb of the early mystics. Sufism exists in a number of forms, most of which represent an original tarika developed by an inspired founder, or shaykh. These shaykhs gradually gathered about themselves murids, or disciples, whom they initiated into the tarika. Gradually the murids formed orders, also known as turuq, which were loyal to the shaykh or his successors. The devotions of many Sufi orders center on various forms of the dhikr, a ceremony at which music, body movements, and chants induce a state of ecstatic trance in the disciples. Since the early 1970s, there has been a revival of interest in Sufism. Egypt's contemporary Sufis tend to be young, college-educated men in professional careers.

Islamic political movements

Islamic political activism has a lengthy history in Egypt. Several Islamic political groups started soon after World War I ended. The most well-known Islamic political organization is the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Ikhwan al Muslimun, also known as the Brotherhood), founded in 1928 by Hassan al Banna. After World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood acquired a reputation as a radical group prepared to use violence to achieve its religious goals. The group was implicated in several assassinations, including the murder of one prime minister. The Brotherhood had contacts with the Free Officers before the 1952 Revolution and supported most of their initial policies. The Brotherhood, however, soon came into conflict with Gamal Abdel Nasser. The government accused the Brotherhood of complicity in an alleged 1954 plot to assassinate the president and imprisoned many of the group's leaders. In the 1970s, Anwar Sadat amnestied the leaders and permitted them to resume some of their activities. But by that time, the Brotherhood was divided into at least three factions. The more militant faction was committed to a policy of political opposition to the government. A second faction advocated peaceful withdrawal from society and the creation, to the extent possible, of a separate, parallel society based upon Islamic values and law. The dominant moderate group advocated cooperation with the regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood's reemergence as a political force coincided with the proliferation of Islamic groups. Some of these groups espoused the violent overthrow of the government while others espoused living a devout life of rigorous observance of religious practices. It is impossible to list all the Islamic groups that emerged in the late 1970s because many of them had diffuse structures and some of the more militant groups were underground. Egypt's defeat and loss of territory in the June 1967 Six-Day War was the main cause for the growth of religiously inspired political activism. Muslims tended to view the humiliating experience as the culmination of 150 years of foreign intrusion and an affront to their vision of a true Islamic community. Islamic tradition rejected the idea of non-Muslims dominating Muslim society. Such a state of affairs discredited Muslim rulers who permitted it to persist. It was, therefore, incumbent on believers to end the domination and restore the true supremacy of Islam. As part of their Sunni creed, the most radical activists adopted jihad and committed themselves to battling unbelievers and impious Muslims. During the 1970s and 1980s, Islamists perpetrated a number of violent acts, including the assassination of Anwar Sadat in October 1981.

Disruptive social changes and Sadat's relative tolerance toward political parties contributed to the rapid growth of Islamic groups in the 1970s. On university campuses, for example, Sadat initially viewed the rise of Islamic associations (Gama'at Islamiya) as a counterbalance to leftist influence among students. The Gama'at Islamiya spread quite rapidly on campuses and won up to one-third of all student union elections. These victories provided a platform from which the associations campaigned for Islamic dress, the veiling of women, and the segregation of classes by gender. Secular university administrators opposed these goals. In 1979 Sadat sought to diminish the influence of the associations through a law that transferred most of the authority of the student unions to professors and administrators. During the 1980s, however, Islamists gradually penetrated college faculties. At Asyut University, which was the scene of some of the most intense clashes between Islamists and their opponents (including security forces, secularists, and Copts), the president and other top administrators--who were Islamists--supported Gama'at Islamiya demands to end mixed-sex classes and to reduce total female enrollment.

As of|1989, the Islamists sought to make Egypt a community of the faithful based on their vision of an Islamic social order. They rejected conventional, secularist social analyses of Egypt's socioeconomic problems. They maintained, for example, that the causes of poverty were not overpopulation or high defense expenditures but the populace's spiritual failures--laxness, secularism, and corruption. The solution was a return to the simplicity, hard work, and self-reliance of earlier Muslim life. The Islamists created their own alternative network of social and economic institutions through which members could work, study, and receive medical treatment in an Islamic environment.

Islamists rejected Marxism and Western capitalism. Indeed, they viewed atheistic communism, Jewish Zionism, and Western "Crusader-minded" Christianity as their main enemies, which were responsible for the decadence that led to foreign domination and defeat by Zionists. They were intolerant of people who did not share their worldview. Islamists tended to be hostile toward the orthodox ulama, especially the scholars at Al Azhar who frequently criticized the Islamists' extreme religious interpretations. Islamists believed that the established social and political order had tainted the ulama, who had come to represent stumbling blocks to the new Islamic order. In addition, Islamists condemned the orthodox as "pulpit parrots" committed to a formalist practice of Islam but not to its spirit.

The social origins of Islamists changed after the 1952 Revolution. In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood had appealed primarily to urban civil servants and white and blue-collar workers. After the early 1970s, the Islamic revival attracted followers from a broad spectrum of social classes. Most activists were university students or recent graduates; they included rural-urban migrants and urban middle-class youth whose fathers were middle-level government employees or professionals. Their fields of study--medicine, engineering, military science, and pharmacy--were among the most highly competitive and prestigious disciplines in the university system. The rank-and- file members of Islamist groups have come from the middle class, the lower-middle class, and the urban working class.

Various Islamist groups espoused different means for achieving their political agenda. All Islamists, however, were concerned with Islam's role in the complex and changing society of Egypt in the late twentieth century. A common focus of their political efforts has been to incorporate the Shari'a into the country's legal code. In deference to their increasing influence, the Ministry of Justice in 1977 published a draft law making apostasy by a Muslim a capital offense and proposing traditional Islamic punishments for crimes, such as stoning for adultery and amputation of a hand for theft. In 1980 Egypt supported a referendum that proposed a constitutional amendment to make the Shari'a "the sole source of law." The influence of the Islamists temporarily waned in the aftermath of Sadat's assassination in 1981, but the election of nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood to the People's Assembly in 1984 revived Islamists' prospects. In 1985 the People's Assembly voted to initiate a procedure for the gradual application of the Shari'a, beginning with an indefinite education period to prepare the population for the legal changes; the next step would be to amend all existing laws to exclude any provisions that conflict with the Shari'a. Moves to reform the legal code received support from many Muslims who wanted to purify society and reject Western legal codes forced on Egypt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

tatus of religious freedom

The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religion; however, the Government places restrictions on this right. According to the Constitution, Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the official interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. However, since the Government does not consider the practice of Christianity or Judaism to conflict with Shari'a, for the most part members of the non-Muslim minority worship without legal harassment and may maintain links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of other religions that are not recognized by the Government, such as the Bahá'í Faith, may experience personal and collective hardship.

An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to build a place of worship. In addition Interior Ministry regulations issued in 1934 specify a set of 10 conditions that the Government must consider prior to issuance of a presidential decree permitting construction of a church. These conditions include the location of the proposed site, the religious composition of the surrounding community, and the proximity of other churches. The Ottoman decree also requires the President to approve permits for the repair of church facilities.

In December 1999, in response to strong criticism of the Ottoman decree, President Mubarak issued a decree making the repair of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code. The decree is significant symbolically because it places churches closer to an equal footing with mosques before the law. The practical impact of the decree has been to facilitate significantly church repairs; however, Christians report that local permits still are subject to security authorities' approval. The approval process for church construction continued to be time consuming and insufficiently responsive to the wishes of the Christian community. As a result of these restrictions, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services.

According to a 1995 law, the application of family law, including marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, inheritance, and burial, is based on an individual's religion. In the practice of family law, the State recognizes only the three "heavenly religions:" Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to the Personal Status Law, which draws on Shari'a (Islamic law). Christian families are subject to canon law, and Jewish families are subject to Jewish law. In cases of family law disputes involving a marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man, the courts apply the Personal Status Law.

Under Islamic law, non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying Christian men. Muslim female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance, while Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives. A sole male heir inherits all his parents' property. Male Muslim heirs face strong social pressure to provide for all family members who require assistance; however, this assistance is not always provided. In January 2000, the Parliament passed a new Personal Status Law that made it easier for a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband's consent, provided that she is willing to forgo alimony and the return of her dowry. However, an earlier provision of the draft law that would have made it easier for a woman to travel without her husband's consent, was rejected.

ee also

* Islam by country
* Religion in Egypt
* Christianity in Egypt


* US State Department []

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