Egypt’s Islam

Egypt's Islam

Egypt’s Islam: A Journey Through Faith and History

Egypt, the land of pharaohs and pyramids, also boasts a rich and vibrant Islamic heritage. Before planning your trip to Egypt, you better know about religions of Egypt. Islam’s arrival in the 7th century CE marked a turning point, shaping Egyptian culture, architecture, and society. Understanding Egypt’s Islam is not just for religious scholars; it’s vital for any traveler seeking a deeper appreciation for this captivating country.

The constitution of Egypt states that “Islam is the religion of the state, and that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation“. Islam is the third of the Monotheistic Abrahamic Faith. Islam originated with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last of all religious prophets and that the Qur’an was revealed to him by God. Islam derives from the word submission and obedience to God is a primary theme in this religion.

A Brief History of Islam in Egypt:

The introduction of Islam to Egypt unfolded through a multifaceted historical process spanning several centuries. The initial phase involved military conquest in the 7th century when Arab-Muslim forces. Led by General Amr ibn al-As, successfully annexed Egypt from the Byzantine Empire between 639 and 642 AD. This conquest encountered a spectrum of responses from local communities, ranging from resistance to collaboration.

Egypt’s Islam’s influence extended beyond military conquests. Trade and peaceful interactions played pivotal roles, as Muslim merchants and settlers were drawn to the prosperous trade routes along the Nile. These communities, formed over time, significantly contributed to the cultural and religious evolution of the region.

During this period, Egypt had a substantial Coptic Christian population. The dynamics between the Muslim conquerors and the Coptic community varied. With some Copts embracing the new rulers and others resisting change.

The Arab rulers demonstrated a level of religious tolerance, allowing Christians and Jews to practice their faiths under specific conditions. Over the centuries, factors such as socio-economic changes, intermarriage, and cultural exchanges contributed to the gradual conversion of the majority of the population to Islam. 

Islamic Cairo Tour:

With the establishment of Egypt’s Islam rule, Egypt became an integral part of the Islamic Caliphate. The new rulers introduced transformative administrative, and legal reforms. As well as architectural reforms that left an indelible mark on Egyptian society. The coexistence of various religious communities over the centuries has shaped the rich and diverse religious heritage of Egypt. Arrival of Islam marked a profound and enduring chapter in its history.

Fast forward to today, and Islam remains the religion of choice for roughly 92% of Egyptians. Sunni Islam is the predominant branch, with a small Shia minority. If you’re considering an Islamic Cairo tour, you will be surrounded by magnificent mosques like the Muhammad Ali Mosque, testaments to Egypt’s Islamic legacy.

What is Islam and its core principles?

Islam, meaning “submission” in Arabic, is a monotheistic religion emphasizing complete devotion to Allah (God). Its core principles are enshrined in the Quran, believed to be the literal word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Five pillars, the foundation of Islamic practice, guide the lives of believers:

1: The Testimony (Shahada) of Faith:

Laa- Ilah- Ila- Allah, and Muhammad Rasoul Allah.

This testimony has many parts.

“La-Illah” negates that anything or anyone deserves to be worshipped other than Allah.

 “Illa-Allah” affirms that Allah alone truly deserves to be worshipped.

“Muhammad Rasoul Allah” Muhammad is the Prophet and Messenger of the God.

2:  The second pillar is prayer.

Muslims pray to their God five times per day:

1.    Fajr, (Dawn prayer)

2.    Dhur (Noon prayer)

3.    Aasr (Afternoon prayer)

4.    Maghrib (Sunset prayer)

5.    Isha (Night prayer).

There are some prerequisites for the prayers as; Islam, intention, sanity, discretion, cleanliness of body and place, prayer time, covering private body parts, and facing Makkah (Mecca).

3. The third pillar is Fasting. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is obligatory upon every Muslim, sane, post-pubescent, and capable of fasting. Other than women experiencing their monthly menses or post-partum bleeding.

4. The fourth pillar is Charity (Zakah)Zakah is obligatory if five conditions are met; Islam, Freedom, Ownership of the amount upon which Zakah becomes due, Complete and stable ownership, and Completion of a year, except in the case of produce.

5. The fifth pillar is the Pilgrimage (Hajj). Hajj is obligatory once in a lifetime for anyone who is Muslim, Sane, Pubescent, Free, and has the means to perform it with respect to being able to afford its provision and conveyance.

Understanding these principles provides a framework for appreciating the role of Islam in Egyptian daily life. The call to prayer echoing from minarets, the importance of Ramadan, and the presence of mosques are all integral parts of the Egyptian experience.

Islam/Muslim Creed:

The Muslims take their creed of faith from two major sources; the Book of Allah (Qur’an) and, the authentic Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad who doesn’t speak of his desire.

The Qur’an literary means “what is often recited”. The Qur’an represents the fountainhead of Divine guidance for every Muslim. Its revelation to the prophet Muhammad and his practical implementation of the revelation completed God’s blessing for humanity in providing us with a belief and value system that is valid for all times.

The Qur’an confirms the revelations given to earlier prophets though these might not be accessible to us, in the form they were originally revealed. It will continue to guide those who turn to God with a sincere heart, for all times.

While Sunnah is the statements of the prophet including everything the prophet said, made, or did for various reasons on different occasions. As well as the tacit approvals of the prophet include everything that his companions said or did that either showed his favor towards or at least did not object to. The tacit approval of the prophet is as valid as anything that he said or did himself.

Sunni & Shia Islam:

Muslims are Sunni or Shia, they split from each other over a religious-political leadership dispute about the rightful successor to the prophet Muhammad. The Shia believe Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law (Ali Ibn Abi Talib), was the only divinely ordained Imam (religious leader), while the Sunni maintain the first three caliphs after the prophet Muhammad (Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman) were legitimate authorities.

In modern times Sunni and Shia continue to have different views of acceptable schools of Islamic Jurisprudence and who is a proper Islamic religious authority. Sunni Muslims account for 80% of the world’s Muslims while Shia accounts for 20% of Muslims worldwide.

Islam arrived in Egypt in AD 642, from the Arabian Peninsula by Amr Ibn Al Aas, who founded the first Islamic capital in Egypt in Al Fustat (modern Old Cairo) and founded there, the first mosque in Africa, the Mosque of Amr.

The vast majority of Muslims in Egypt are Sunni, and Egypt hosts the most important Sunni institution in the world, Al Azhar University, which is the oldest Islamic institution of higher studies, founded in AD 970.

Muslims in Egypt celebrate some festivals which are national holidays:

Islamic/Lunar New Year.

Molid El Naby (Prophet’s birthday).

Eid Al Fitr (03 days feast following the fasting month of Ramadan).

Eid Al Adha (04 days feast, the feast of sacrifices, on the 10th day of Dhul Hajjah, last month in the lunar calendar, during the pilgrimage season).

Relationships Between Muslims and Non-Muslims in Egypt:

Egypt is also home to a significant Christian minority, primarily the Coptic Church. Though Islam is the state religion, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Generally, Muslims and non-Muslims coexist peacefully, with a rich history of interfaith dialogue. However, there have been occasional tensions, highlighting the importance of mutual respect and understanding.

Travelers to Egypt should be aware of basic Islamic etiquette. Dressing modestly, particularly when visiting religious sites, is a sign of respect. Familiarizing yourself with customs during Ramadan, such as adjusted restaurant hours, can also enhance your experience.

The Egyptian constitution states that “Freedom of belief is absolute” and “The freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine Abrahamic religions is a right regulated by law”.

The constitution also states that citizens are equal before the law and criminalize discrimination and incitement to hatred based upon religion, belief, sex, origin, race, or any other reason. The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship.

A good example of the religious tolerance in Egypt is the Old Cairo District which is known as the ‘Community of Religions’ because the three official religions of Egypt are represented there by their holy places:

Why Understanding Egypt’s Islam Matters?

Egypt’s Islamic heritage is woven into the very fabric of the country. From its history and architecture to its customs and traditions, Islam plays a central role. By understanding Egypt’s Islam, travelers gain a deeper appreciation for this fascinating nation. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Cairo or marveling at ancient temples, recognizing the importance of Islam will allow you to connect with Egypt on a more meaningful level. So, come with an open mind and a thirst for knowledge, and let Egypt’s Islam enrich your journey.