Egyptian Camel

Post Dynastic Egyptian Religion

The Greek god Poseidon

In the thousands of years that the Egyptian pharaohs ruled the land of Egypt, the religion evolved around the polytheistic worship of the Egyptian gods. However, from the 8th century BC onwards, when foreign powers such as the Nubians, Persians, Greeks and Romans controlled Egypt, things began to change.

However, these foreign powers did not impose their own religions on Egypt. Instead, they adopted the Egyptian religion, worshipping the Egyptian gods. Even Alexander the Great sought the blessings of the oracle of Amun. This respect of the local religion helped the invaders maintain peaceful rule over Egypt without much dissent.

However, some import of foreign religion is inevitable. In fact, the many versions of some of the Egyptian gods, such as Horus, are due to the combination of foreign deities with Egyptian ones.

 

Christianity in Egypt

Mural at St George's Church in Coptic Cairo

In the first century AD, while Egypt was under the rule of the Roman Empire, a new religion slowly permeated the country. Christianity's ideas of a single God and salvation found many followers among the Jews and Greeks of Alexandria. In time, Christianity spread to the native Egyptians.

The Romans actively persecuted the Christians and their religion, fearing that this new religion might cause turmoil in the country. However, when Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the main religion of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the year 324 AD, the religion began to flourish in Egypt.

The Coptic language, an evolved form of the Egyptian language, became the language of the Egyptian Christian church. To this day, the ceremonies in Egyptian churches are still performed in Coptic.

The Hanging Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary

One little-known fact about Egypt in the Christian world is that the Holy Family has actually traveled there. While running and hiding from the agents of King Herod, the Holy Family (Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus) sought refuge in Egypt.

The Holy Family spent over 3 years hiding in Egypt, moving from place to place in order to avoid their pursuers, including the Romans. In each of the locations where they sought refuge, a church or monastery was later erected to commemorate their presence there. The major churches include the Church of St Sergious in Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo), and the Monastery of Al-Muharraq in Assiut.

The fact that these churches in Egypt have actually been blessed by the presence of the Holy Family makes them unique in the Christian world. Not many Christian landmarks can boast such a connection to Jesus. Even now, many Christians from around the world make pilgrimages to Egypt, visiting these holy sites.

 

The Rise of Islam

The Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo

In the year 639, Egypt was invaded by yet another foreign power. The Arabs, under the rule of the Caliph Umar, successor of the Prophet Muhammad, arrived in Egypt, and brought with them the religion of Islam.

In the early years of the occupation, the Coptic Christians and Muslim newcomers co-existed peacefully. Later on, due to disagreements in government and taxation, the Christians attempted a number of uprisings against the Muslims, but were suppressed.

Over the next thousand years, Egypt was conquered by various Arab powers. But Islam remained the national religion, spreading throughout the country. When Baghdad was overrun by the Mongol horde, the Egyptian capital of Cairo even became the center of the Muslim world.

A mosque calling the faithful to prayer

Throughout the ensuing centuries, even though Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the French and then the English, Islam remained the national religion. The majority of the population is Muslim, with the Coptic Christians and the Jews forming the religious minority.

The architecture in Egypt also stands as testament to the power of Islam. Muslim mosques and citadels are present in every city.

The current Egyptian government and calendar still follows Islamic tradition. A large number of the population's workweek is from Sunday to Thursday, and their working hours from 8 am to 4 pm. This is so that the population is able to observe their daily prayers and celebrate Friday as their holy day.

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