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Religion

Islam is the official religion of Egypt and the vast majority of Egyptians are Muslim, mostly Sunni. Their religion is not just something they practice, it is something they live. Most of the culture and local customs derive from this majority religion.

Other religious practices are permitted in Egypt. Most of the non-Muslim population are Coptic Christian, but there are also catholics, protestants, jews and other minorities. There are Catholic and Coptic churches in the centre of Luxor.

Language

Arabic is the official and main language. English and French are both widely spoken, especially in Luxor itself and other tourist areas. Most Luxor people who are directly involved with tourists, including stallholders in the market, speak many other european languages and some have a smattering of Japanese as well.

En Sha'Allah

Religion permeates the lives of Muslims. Nothing happens unless it is the will of Allah. En Sha'Allah means 'if it is the will of Allah', or in western terms, 'God willing' and is appended to any forward plan. "I'll see you later, en sha'Allah".

The phrase is so much a part of the language that it is also used by Christians and others, not exclusively Muslims.

Holidays and Festivals

Most festivals are based on the Islamic year, the Hijrah, which is about 11 days shorter than the western calendar. Consequently, the festivals that are based on the time of year are celebrated 11 days earlier (relative to the western calendar) than the previous year. There is more about the Islamic calendar on the webexhibits.org web site.

Ramadan

Ramadan is probably the best known of the celebrations. Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Quran to Mohammed and is celebrated for the whole of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The most noticeable feature of Ramadan is that faithful Moslems do not let anything pass between their lips or into any other part of their bodies between sunrise and sunset for the whole month. That includes not only water and food but also anything else. At sunset there are often group meals in the street when the faithful wait to hear confirmation from the local mosque that the sun has set and then take their first food and drink ('Iftar') since before sunrise.

Tourists are not expected to observe Ramadan, but out of respect it is best not to be too blatant about eating or drinking in public places during that month.

During Ramadan timetables may be adjusted to allow more time for prayer and reflection. Together with the fasting of the faithful, this can affect normal local lifestyles and can reduce restaurant and bar facilities. For this reason some people avoid going to Islamic countries during Ramadan but in practice it doesn't make a huge amount of difference to normal routines in Luxor.

At the end of the month of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) there is a feast and a great deal of partying.

Read more about Ramadan and its effect on tourism here.

Day of Arafat

Celebrated on the 9th day of the month of Hajj, during the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Millions of pilgrims make their way from Mecca to nearby Mount Arafat and pray for God's forgiveness. Muslims who are not on the pilgrimage often spend the day in devotion.

Ras as-Sana

This is the celebration of the new Islamic year. Expect a little carnival with parades, drumming, decorations and special sweets.

Moulid an-Nabi

Celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed in the third month of the Islamic year. The celebrations include parades, lights, feasts, drumming and special sweets.

Eid al-Adha

A four-day holiday celebrating Prophet Abraham's willingness to offer his son for sacrifice.

Hajj

This is the time of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Each Muslim is expected to make the pilgrimage (hajj) at least once in a lifetime. Streets are decorated with coloured lights.

Mahmal is performed in each village as people who are going on their pilgrimage pass by and are given carpets and shrouds to take with them.

Moulid of Abu el-Haggag

This festival honours Yussef Abu el-Haggag (pronounced Hajjaj), who was born in Damascus in the mid12th century, moved to Mecca but settled in Luxor where he is honoured as the city's patron Sheikh.

His two-day street festival is held every year, two weeks before the beginning of Ramadan. Expect to see horse races, dancing and stick-fights to the music of drums and an oboe-like instrument. Giant floats, like carnival floats, are paraded through the busy streets with a boat, in the style of the Pharonic solar barque processions.

Armed Forces Day

Celebrates the Egyptian army's crossing into the Sinai in 1973.

Coptic Christmas

This is celebrated over 2 days. On the night of the 6th January, Coptic Christians go to church for mass, then at midnight eat dinner, which is based on turkey. Gifts are exchanged on the 7th.

Coptic New Year

The Coptic New Year falls on the 11th September, or 12th September in a western leap year.

Note about spellings

The correct spelling of any of the festival names (and other arabic words) is in arabic characters, not western letters. There is no 'correct' way to express the arabic words in western characters. There are several transliterations that enable us to understand arabic words without knowing arabic characters, but the way these are written in western letters is not uniform. For example, Qur'an, Quran, Koran, Alcoran, Al-Qur’ān are all common spellings of the religious text of Islam. We use commonly accepted spellings, but you will see others.

Timetable of important dates

In Egypt, as in most of the Islamic world, the dates of holy festivals depend on the actual sighting of the new moon. The appearance of the new moon can be predicted astrologically, but an actual sighting will depend on a number of conditions, including the weather and exactly where on earth it is being viewed from.

The dates of religious festivals in the table are the western dates on which the events should occur in Luxor, based on astrological predictions.

The actual dates will depend on circumstances at the time, so may be out by a day or two. The day actually begins at sunset the previous evening.

Dates in blue are public holidays

Event

2015

2014

Coptic Christmas Day

7 Jan

7 Jan

Independence Day (from UK)

28 Feb

28 Feb

Mohammed's birthday
(Mawlid-al-Nabi)

3 Jan

13 Jan

Revolution Day

25 Jan

25 Jan

Coptic Easter (Sham-El-Nessim)

12 Apr

20 Apr

Sinai Liberation Day

25 Apr

25 Apr

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Liberation Day

18 Jun

18 Jun

National Day (anniversary of 1952 revolution)

23 July

23 July

Flooding of the Nile (Wafa'a el Nil)

15 Aug

15 Aug

Moulid of Abu el-Haggag

4 June

14 June

Coptic New Year

12 Sept

11 Sept

Ramadan begins

18 June

28 June

Armed Forces Day

6 Oct

6 Oct

Eid Al Fitr
Ramadan ends (Bairam Feast)

18 July

28 July

Suez Victory Day

24 Oct

24 Oct

Victory Day

23 Dec

23 Dec

Festival of Sacrifice
Grand Feast (Eid al-Adha)

24 Sept

4 Oct

Hijrah (Islamic New Year)

14 Oct

25 Oct

 

Updated October 2014


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