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Islam in Egypt

Understanding Islam in Egypt: Key Facts for Your Trip

Islam is not just the predominant religion in Egypt, but it also has a profound impact on the country’s social life, legal system, and politics. To fully appreciate your trip to Egypt, it’s crucial to understand how this religion works and how it is practiced in the country. In this article, we will provide you with some key facts to help you navigate your journey. If you’re interested in learning more about Islam in Egypt, our agency can also design a program that incorporates religious aspects, as it is an essential part of the country’s cultural identity.

Table of contents

Facts about Islam in Egypt

Islam is an integral part of Egyptian society, and the following figures help illustrate its importance and relevance:

  • Approximately 90% of Egypt’s population is Muslim, and some sources suggest this figure may be even higher.
  • With a population of over 100 million people in 2020, Egypt has around 90 million Muslims.
  • There are over 110,000 mosques located throughout the country, according to German media outlet Qantara.
  • More than 53,000 imams preach the faith and lead prayer in the mosques of the country, according to the same source.

History and Introduction of Islam in Egypt

Due to its proximity to sacred and foundational sites of Islam, such as Mecca or Jerusalem, Egypt was among the first countries to be conquered by Muslim troops during their earliest moments of expansion. Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, initiated the Hijra in 622 (the moment when the Islamic calendar begins), and died in Medina in 632.

Afterward, there was a rapid expansion of the Muslim faith throughout the Middle East, resulting in the introduction of Islam in Egypt between 639 and 642. At that time, Egypt remained under the political rule of the Byzantine Empire and under the faith of Coptic Christianity at the religious level, although it was embroiled in deep doctrinal controversies and coexisting with other beliefs.

For geographical reasons, the Sinai Peninsula was the first area to be conquered by Arab armies composed, among other units, of 4,000 elite horsemen. In addition, numerous Bedouins from the desert were recruited. Cities fell one after another, and in fact, it was one of the fastest conquests in this phase of Muslim expansion: Pelusio, Belbeis, Heliopolis, Fayum, Thebaid…

The conquest of the Roman fortress of Babylon, strategically located between the Delta and the Nile Valley, was a significant victory that resulted in the emergence of military camps and administrative settlements, including Fustat and later Al Qahira, which eventually became the city of Cairo.

However, the most crucial battle was fought for the capital, Alexandria, which fell in 641, marking the collapse of Byzantine resistance. 

In contrast, the southern region of Lower Nubia, where Christianity was deeply rooted, was a later and more difficult conquest for Islam due to both geographical and religious reasons. The area did not fully embrace Islam until the Middle Ages.

Since the arrival of Islam in Egypt, the country has remained under its influence. The new Muslim rulers did not impose the religion by force but established taxes for non-believers and gave preference to converts, which facilitated its status as the predominant religion in later centuries. Though the speed of its spread is contested, Islam had become the majority religion in Egypt by the 11th and 12th centuries.

The only significant threats to Muslim rule came from the Byzantine Empire’s unsuccessful attempts to restore Christianity and European armies during the Crusades. The latter sought to regain Jerusalem and other sacred sites for Christianity, with the conquest of Egypt being a necessary step towards that goal.

Egypt and the arrival of Islam

What is Islam Like in Egypt?

While there are very conservative currents of Islam in Egypt, such as the Muslim Brotherhood organization, there are also Egyptians who do not strictly follow Islamic precepts. According to data from, the percentage of people who do not declare themselves religious has risen from almost 3% to over 10% in the last decade. However, this figure is still one of the lowest among its neighboring countries, and the majority of the population falls into a broad middle ground.

Egypt plays a central role in the international context as a moderate and slightly open country. The Al Azhar Mosque serves as a reference international teaching center, and its Grand Imam is one of the great spiritual leaders for Muslims in Egypt and beyond.

Egyptian Muslims, like those in any other country, govern their lives based on the five pillars of Islam:

  • The profession of faith, which involves publicly proclaiming “there is no god but Allah” and “Muhammad is his prophet”
  • Praying five times a day
  • Giving alms (zakat) to the needy, which can be voluntary or regulated in a certain community
  • Fasting during Ramadan
  • Making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime.

One of the key aspects that you will notice during your trip to Egypt, whether you are Muslim or not, is the importance of prayer. The call to prayer, which is broadcasted by loudspeakers installed in the minarets of mosques, is a powerful reminder of this religious obligation. In particular, the Friday noon prayer time is significant, as it is mandatory to attend the mosque to pray in congregation, whereas the other prayer times can be done privately at home.

Ramadan in Egypt

Ramadan is a significant pillar of Islam and is celebrated with great fervor in Egypt. If you’re fortunate enough to visit Egypt during this time, which varies annually based on the lunar calendar, it’s essential to pay special attention to it to respect it appropriately and avoid unintentionally causing offense.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, refraining from eating and drinking. This slows down activity on the streets, and many people opt to sleep in or take extended naps, or close their businesses to conserve their energy as much as possible.

However, Ramadan is not a month of sadness and austerity. On the contrary, it’s a time of exceptional camaraderie and joy for Muslims in Egypt, especially during the breaking of the fast (iftar) after sunset. In some instances, large communal dinners are organized where everything is provided, while in others, public events and performances are scheduled at night, which can last until the early morning. As a result, several tourists select Ramadan as a genuine cultural experience rather than avoiding it during their travels.

If your visit coincides with Ramadan, and you’re not Muslim, you’re not required to fast, but you should demonstrate extra consideration for others. In particular, you should refrain from eating or drinking in their presence, as it is considered a significant sign of disrespect. On the other hand, greeting Muslims you encounter during your travels with “Happy Ramadan” (Ramadan mubarak) is a straightforward gesture that they will undoubtedly appreciate.

If you travel with our agency during Ramadan, we will provide you with guidelines and practical advice to help you navigate this exceptional period for Islam in Egypt.

Main Branches of Islam in Egypt

Islam, like other major religions, has different branches based on different interpretations of its teachings and practices. In Egypt, the two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, although they are present in unequal proportions.

Sunnis in Egypt

The vast majority of Muslims in Egypt, about 90% of the country’s 90 million Muslims, are Sunni. Sunni Islam is also the majority sect throughout the Muslim world, comprising over 85% of its followers.

Sunnis believe in the Sunnah, a collection of traditional teachings attributed to Prophet Muhammad, which they consider a source of divine revelations from Allah, just like the Quran.

Egypt’s capital, Cairo, is home to one of the most important Sunni mosques and centers of learning in the world – the Al Azhar Mosque. Many other Sunni mosques of great historical, architectural, and religious significance can also be found throughout the country.

Shiites in Egypt

In contrast, Shiites make up less than 10% of the Muslim population in Egypt, although this figure varies widely from one source to another, possibly due to some followers of the sect not openly acknowledging their affiliation due to persecution or displacement.

The primary differences between Shiites and Sunnis are two-fold. Firstly, Shiites tend to have more flexible interpretations of sacred texts, and secondly, they are followers of Ali, the caliph and son-in-law of Muhammad through his marriage to Fatima, the prophet’s daughter. Ali was assassinated in 661 and his sons, Hasan and Hussein, were not recognized as his rightful successors.

Despite being a minority among Muslims in Egypt, Shiites have one of their most sacred mosques in Cairo – the Al-Hussein mosque – which contains the remains of Hussein, the aforementioned son of Ali and Fatima, and therefore the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the rivalry between the two sects, Sunnis hold great respect for this temple, among other reasons, due to the historical significance of the Fatimid dynasty, which reigned successfully in the country for a couple of centuries (10th-12th centuries) and declared itself the heir of Fatima, and therefore Shiite.

Great Mosques of Egypt

Grand Mosques of Egypt

Taking a closer look at the main mosques of Egypt is not only interesting for their grandeur but also for the immense symbolism they hold for followers of Islam in Egypt and beyond. Here is a list of the most important ones, which you can explore in more detail on the pages dedicated to their respective cities:

  • Cairo: The mosques of Cairo are undoubtedly the most significant and emblematic in the country. As previously mentioned, the current capital was founded by Muslims, who established their power here, replacing the role that Alexandria had played for the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines until then. As a result, Cairo’s Islamic temples are among the city’s top tourist attractions, as evidenced by the large Cairo mosque featured on all Egyptian pound bills. Below is a list of the essential mosques to visit during your trip:
    • Al-Azhar Mosque: This is the most important mosque in Egypt because its Grand Imam is considered one of the great spiritual leaders of Islam in Egypt and beyond. The teaching center integrated into this temple is also one of the most prestigious in the Muslim world. Architecturally, it is also one of the most fascinating. Built in the 10th century, it features elements of the Fatimid style and other later periods, all of them dazzling to visitors. The mosque’s doors, minarets, great central courtyard, and huge prayer hall are all worth admiring.
    • Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrasa: Located in Salah El-Deen square, this mosque was built in the 14th century by the Mamluk sultan who gives it its name. 
    • Al-Rifai Mosque: Also located in Salah El-Deen square, next to Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrasa, this mosque was built in the early 20th century. It houses the tomb of the last king of Egypt, Farouk, as well as the last Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. 
    • Ibn Tulun Mosque: This is one of the most historic mosques in Egypt and one of the oldest still standing. Dating back to the 9th century, it was built by the Tulunids with Abbasid influences.
    • Muhammad Ali Mosque: This is one of the most famous and visited mosques in Cairo due to its special location in the Citadel of Saladin. Built in the 19th century during the time of this vali, whose tomb is located here, it has a great elegance due to its alabaster material.
    • Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque: Another mosque located in the Citadel of Saladin, it is smaller than the previous one but older, as it was built in the 14th century.
    • Suleiman Pasha Mosque: Also located in the Citadel of Saladin, it was built in the 16th century and is considered the first of the Ottoman period. Its style has greatly influenced the later Muslim temples of Egypt.
    • Al-Muayyad Mosque: This mosque best represents the Fatimid splendor of the city (10th-12th centuries), as some of its elements date back to that period, such as the Bab Zuweila gate, which was part of the old wall. The mosque was built on it in the 14th century, and its two spectacular minarets stand out, which can be climbed to enjoy panoramic views of the city.
    • Al-Hussein Mosque: As mentioned earlier, this mosque is one of the holiest for a part of the followers of Islam in Egypt, the Shiites, as the remains of Hussein ibn Ali, son of Fatima and therefore grandson of Muhammad, are preserved here. Its origins date back to the 12th century, but the current complex is from the 19th century.
    • Al-Aqmar Mosque: This mosque is known for its spectacular facade with a stone entrance.
    • Al-Hakim Mosque: Named after the Fatimid caliph, this mosque from the 10th-12th centuries is located next to the medieval gates of Bab al-Futuh and Bab al-Nasr.
    • Al-Fath Mosque: Despite being very recent (built in 1990), this mosque is famous for its minaret, which became the tallest of all Muslim temples in Egypt at the time of its construction.
    • Amr ibn al-As Mosque: The oldest mosque in all of Africa, built in 641 at the same time as the introduction of Islam in Egypt. Its complex is the result of numerous later reconstructions.
    • Al-Fattah Al-Aleem: Located in the new administrative capital of the country, unlike the previous ones, it does not stand out for its history, as it was completed in 2019. However, it deserves to be highlighted for being one of the symbols of modernity of Islam in Egypt and one of the most imposing constructions of this religion today, on par with other great mosques in the Muslim world, such as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi or the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
    • Other mosques in Cairo: although these are the most prominent ones from a tourist perspective, there are other temples that can be visited by those interested in Islam in Egypt, whether for their monumentality, history, or current symbolism. They are the mosques of Al Ashraf (15th century), Al Burdayni (17th century), Al Ghuri (16th century), Al Malika Safiyya (17th century), Al Mahmoudia (16th century), Al Nour (20th century), Al Rahman Al-Rahim (21st century), Al Salih Tala’i (12th century), Al Sayeda Nafeesah (10th-12th centuries), Amir Jamal Al Din Al Ustadar (15th century), Amir Qijmas Al Ishaqi (15th century), Aqsunqur (14th century), Demerdash (16th century), Gamal Abdel Nasser (20th century, where the tomb of this Egyptian president is preserved), Juyushi (11th century), Khayrbak (16th century), Lulua (11th century), Mahmud Al Kurdi (14th century), Abu Dahab (18th century), Al Maridani (14th century), Amir Al Sayf Sargam Mish (14th century), Qanibay Al Muhammadi (15th century), Qanibay Ar Rammah (16th century), Sulayman Agha Al Silahdar (19th century), Sultan Al Zahir Baybars (13th century), Sultan Barquq Mosque-Madrasa (14th century), Taghribardi (14th century), Qalawun Mosque-Mausoleum (14th century), Sayeda Aisha (14th century), Sayeda Zainab (16th century), and Shaykhu Khanqah (14th century).
  • Alexandria:
    • Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi: This mosque was built in the 20th century on top of a medieval mosque and is dedicated to a Sufi master from Murcia, who was born in the 13th century in what was then Al-Andalus. It is the most important mosque in the city and is renowned for its elegant domes with latticework finishes.
    • Attarin Mosque: Built in the 7th century on top of a 4th-century Christian church, this mosque housed the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Nectanebo II. It has undergone significant modifications over the years, especially with a profound reform at the beginning of the 20th century, but it still boasts a beautiful minaret.
  • Luxor:
    • Abu Haggag Mosque: This mosque is one of the most unique Muslim temples in Egypt. It stands next to one of the most famous temples of Ancient Egypt, which represents a blend of styles and periods. The mosque is dedicated to a 13th century spiritual leader who is highly revered in Luxor and is still celebrated with a great moulid every year to commemorate his birth anniversary. Its spectacularity is not only due to its own architecture but also to its location, which adds to its allure.
  • Hurghada:
    • Al Mina Mosque: This majestic temple stands out in the modern city of Hurghada. Its shining domes, marble pavement, and Ottoman-influenced minarets are impressive, and its location next to the port amplifies its beauty.
  • Esna:
    • Al Amari Mosque: In this small city that’s a must-stop on Nile cruises for its famous Pharaonic temple, the Al Amari Mosque also stands out. It offers a glimpse into Fatimid Egypt’s Islamic architecture, with one of its medieval-era minarets preserved to this day.
  • Damietta:
    • Mosque of Amr ibn Al As (year 642): This mosque is the second-oldest in all of Africa, after the homonymous mosque in Cairo. It is named after the Muslim conqueror who introduced Islam to Egypt. Interestingly, it fell into Christian hands several times as a result of the French Crusaders’ conquests in the 13th century. Today, the complex has a modernized appearance.
  • Sohag:
    • Sidi Arif Mosque: This 20th-century mosque is one of the most beautiful Islamic temples in Middle Egypt. Its whiteness and harmony of design, with a large central dome and two enormous minarets, are particularly noteworthy.
  • Qena:
    • Sidi Abd Er-Rahim Mosque: This city, located near Luxor, is not usually part of the major tourist circuits, but it’s home to some of the most beautiful Muslim temples in Egypt. Among them, Sidi Abd Er-Rahim stands out, with a portico of epigraphic reliefs, a great minaret, and a central dome with zigzag decoration.
  • Aswan:
    • Masjed Altabyah Mosque: Of all the mosques in this southern city, this one stands out as being from the beginning of the 19th century. Its two enormous minarets are visible from all over the city.

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