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Jayson Religion

Brief Portraits of Egyptian Atheism

Arabic Atheism

From Egypt Independent, on a very taboo subject in which some have given their full name and testimony:

Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation.

Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.

Both her immediate and extended families began to insult her. “You just want to have free relations with boys,” they would say, or “You used to be the best girl in the family,” and “Now you’re a prostitute.”

Some come from a Christian background:

Ayman Ramzy Nakhla, 42, comes from a Protestant background. He worked in preaching Christianity with the church, but then decided to abandon religion altogether. He is now not very much concerned with knowing if God really exists or not.

Nakhla’s father was a priest, and Nakha worked for ten years as librarian in the Theology College of the Evangelical Church, and as an assistant to a priest, which is an administrative position. Ramzy says that this background was the one that actually led him to lose interest in religion, getting so close to the truth of the Church made him decide to leave it.

Others from a Muslim background:

Other atheists say they believe atheism is in fact more moral than the old, rigid moral codes offered by traditional religions.

Omar says her journey began when prominent cardiologist Madgy Yaqoub managed to treat a two-year old relative of hers in open heart surgery. Rahman, the child, had a valve that did not work and another with malformation.

The successful operation led Omar to wonder how a man such as the doctor, who had lived his life saving many children like Rahma, could be thrown to hell for not being a Muslim. Omar found that religions just chose its followers to end up in heaven, and say that other people would go to hell, regardless for whatever good deeds they do in their life.

Omar says she believes in God, but is against all religions. She says she is still looking for Him and is not aware of His truth.

As a result, some mix between the two:

Some atheists, however, still feel without religion, they are missing something. Despite her rejection of religion, Kamel still misses the spiritual side, resorting to Sufism as she attends Sufis meetings and listen to sufi music, especially those of al-Naqshbandi and Nasr Eddin Tobar. She also enjoys listening to Christian hymns and is massively affected by them. She says, however, that this is just a need for spirituality, nothing more.

Kamel goes back to saying that she has not yet reached a final result for her inner conflict.

Indeed, Egypt is changing. Your vote: Is this for better or for worse?
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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Poisoning the Azhar

Flag Cross Quran

God,

So much of Egypt’s identity is tied up in the Azhar. The pinnacle of Islamic learning among Sunni Muslims, the Azhar was one of the world’s first universities. Always straddling the line between fidelity and challenge to the ruler, the institution was muzzled by Egypt’s successive military governments. Now, the controversy is back.

But is it healthy, God? For 500 students suffering from mass food poisoning, the answer is no. For the university president fired after the flare-up, the answer is no. For the place of the Azhar in Egypt’s post-revolutionary transition, the answer remains to be seen.

The Azhar was politicized by the constitution, giving it a role in the process of legislation. The same document guaranteed its independence and the right to select its own leadership. This process has also set off what many observers see as a struggle to gain control of the institution. A prominent Salafi leader publically said as much, admitting their ambition.

But the rumors swirl around the Muslim Brotherhood, prompting them to officially issue a denial of any involvement. But their spokesman did praise the firing of the president, saying this move against corruption proves the revolution is on the right track. Coincidentally or not, he was appointed by the military council, prior to the constitution.

God, so much seems wrong with this situation. First and foremost, heal the sick students. But heal an institution as well, and a political system which has put it in the heart of controversy. Certainly a student protest over sick colleagues can be seen as a spontaneous reaction. But to call so deliberately for the removal of the president – and even of the Grand Sheikh himself – has all the markings of political expediency.

Hold leaders accountable, God, but is this corruption? Investigations are ongoing. Perhaps corruption was part of the old regime everywhere, God, even in the Azhar. If so, then yes, purge. No sin remains hidden forever. Give the institution men of knowledge and integrity, who will prepare the generations to come in an honorable path. In a land where much is religious, men of religion matter deeply.

Therefore, God, protect the Azhar from men who use religion – whoever they may be. Right religion is meant to help us understand you, ourselves, and to secure a society of virtue. But religion can also enrage or sedate, and not always righteously. May religion in Egypt produce humble men; may the Azhar aid in the process.

But now in Egypt, God, the poison seeps everywhere. May this be a wrong diagnosis: Perhaps it is medicine which weakens the body as it kills the contagion. But there is much in Egypt to be healed, God.

You are the healer. May Azhar make this known.

Amen.

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Current Events Jayson

Statistics on Religious Perspectives in Egypt

On September 25 al-Masry al-Youm published a very interesting survey on religious perspectives conducted by the Information and Decision Support Center of the Egyptian Cabinet of Ministers. Here are a few of the significant findings; keep in mind that Christians make up between 6-11% of the population:

  • 73% of Egyptians are religious and pray regularly.
  • 38% are open to friendships with those of other religions, while 62% are not
  • 87% would not mind having a neighbor from another religion, while 13% would
  • 78% believe there are no problems between Muslims and Christians, while 19% say there are
  • 16% wish to omit the reference to religion on the national ID card, while 76% favor it
  • 58% stated they would not vote for a president of a religion different than their own, while 36% said they would
  • 37% stated they would not vote for a parliamentary candidate different than their own, while 60% said they would
  • 65% stated they would not be affected if a cleric endorsed a certain candidate, 16% said they would consider it, and 14% said they would follow it
  • 25% stated they support the Muslim Brotherhood, 25% said they are indifferent to it, and 21% said they opposed it

Please note there are other interesting statistics in the article, but I did not include them because the percentage totals seemed to be in error. Imagining this to be the error of the article, it should add an additional grain of salt to the above figures, beyond that which should be given to statistics in general.

Observations

Should the statistics presented be accurate, however, it sheds light on Egyptian society and political questions.

  • It confirms that Egyptians are very religious in nature, which has been documented elsewhere.
  • It confirms the statement that Muslims and Christians live peacefully as neighbors in mixed communities, but confirms also the suspicion that their relationships are not very strong.
  • Assuming, perhaps wrongly, that many Christians would be among the 19% claiming interreligious problems, it illustrates a large number of Muslims, though certainly the minority, agree with them.
  • It lends confirmation that religion and identity are strongly intertwined, as the percentage of religiosity roughly equals the percentage wishing religion to remain an official national designation.
  • It illustrates a high percentage of the population is uncomfortable with political leadership being in the hands of a different religion, yet mostly at the level of the head of state. In Islamic history, while the caliph was necessarily a Muslim, members of other religions have often served as high level functionaries in government. It appears the majority of the population translates this notion into acceptance of interreligious parliamentary representation.
  • It counters the notion that religious clerics exert a great influence on the voting patterns of the population. During the March 19 referendum passed overwhelmingly by the population, opponents complained that many clerics urged their communities to vote yes, even declaring such a vote to be an Islamic duty. While 14% acceptance of a clerical endorsement is still large, it by no means characterizes the Egyptian people.
  • It confirms the strong popular base of the Muslim Brotherhood while illustrating also a similarly large opposition to their program. Upcoming elections may well be determined by which group successfully mobilizes their supporters and recruits the middle ground. With committed and organized members, however, these statistics may confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood has an advantage in the competition.