Egypt’s identity defined under the monotheistic umbrella

Bassem Youssef

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“Monotheistic religions” is a phrase we were brought up hearing. School, television channels and houses of worship strengthened our belief that the phrase refers to the three “major” religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Therefore, any other religion is not considered monotheistic - meaning it’s an unsacred religion, the rituals of which are not worthy of respect or recognition.

So, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the only monotheistic religions in the world and all other religions are man-made myths.

Do we agree on this? Unfortunately, we don’t.

These three religions themselves do not recognize one another as monotheistic.

The Jew does not consider that Christianity is a monotheistic religion but considers it as a lie. He also believes that Jesus was a false messiah.

The Jew and the Christian both don’t recognize Islam as a monotheistic religion.
How can they admit that our prophet, Mohammad, prayer and peace be upon him, was really sent by God without abandoning their religions and converting to Islam?

Some, in best case scenarios, refer to him a great social and political leader. In the worst case scenarios, they view him as a liar.

Therefore, the Muslim, according to the perspective of the Jews and the Christians (his colleagues in the association of monotheistic religions), has lost his path and will not be granted mercy and will therefore not go to heaven.


We all remember when al-Azhar got angry at the Vatican when the Pope said that Islam is not a monotheistic religion. In response, al-Azhar withdrew from dialogue as if the Vatican’s opinion surprised us and as if the dialogue between religions has any significance.

Even the Muslims who brag that Islam recognizes Christianity and Judaism believe that the books, doctrine and religion of the latter two are distorted. Therefore, a Muslim views any Christian or any Jew a person who has lost his path and one whose current religion is not monotheistic. Therefore, the Muslim rejects that Christians and Jews publicly evangelize their faiths although all three of them belong to the “bunch of monotheistic religions.”

In brief, the issue of “monotheistic religions” is nothing more than a definition and a categorization that we alone adopt in the world and that no else uses. We also do not practically believe it or implement it on the level of our actions with other religions.

If there’s a categorization that can combine these three religions, then it can be the “Abrahamic religions.” This is the recognized categorization among the people who live outside the education ministry’s book or outside the hallways of where the Egyptian constitution is written.

When you describe these religions as monotheistic and exclude others from this definition, then you are saying that 4 billion people out of 7 billion believe in non-monotheistic religions. Not to mention that Islam, Christianity and Judaism followers each believe that the other is wrong. So upon which logic are we using this categorization?

If someone worships locusts, to them that’s a monotheistic religion just as you view your religion as monotheistic.

Have you ever heard of a religion in which its believers say: “By the way, our religion is not monotheistic, but we are playing dumb.”

Within Islam

Why can’t we be more honest and admit that we need a more accurate categorization because we don’t accept just any Muslim as our own. Al-Azhar has clearly announced that the Shiites will not be allowed to spread their sect or call for embracing it because they are Muslims of a lesser level.

Protect it from whom? If religion needs protection, then the protection it needs is not from atheism or from other religions. The protection it needs is from the futile outdated religious rhetoric

Bassem Youssef

So let’s be frank with ourselves as we write the constitution and for example say in Article 3: “The believers in the three monotheistic religions that we specify have the right to practice their rituals. But they are not allowed to call for [embracing] their religions - which we consider monotheistic only due to the ‘companionship’ among us. The followers of the Sunni sect are the only ones who are completely free to practice their rituals and dawa. The Shiites and others are not allowed to do so.”

The insistence on this futile discussion under the slogan of “maintaining the state’s identity” still surprises me. As if a few lines in a constitution are what will protect this identity or what will prevent people from embracing other religions or abandoning religion altogether.

Egypt’s identity

This is the phrase that everyone misuses. It’s as if Egypt, which presented civilization to the world, is still waiting for someone to present its identity in a card.

Dr. Yasser Barhami said that Egypt’s identity, since 1,400 years ago, is based on Islam and that everything else is nothing more than monuments and statues.

This means that the few thousands of years before the advent of Islam are of no value.

Haven’t we learnt from the previous phase in politics that only God protects religion? Haven’t we learnt that if people or institutions reincarnate the role of God’s shadow and attempt to involve religion in politics and take political and procedural measures to protect religion, the result will backfire?

When will we quit this ongoing absurdity as we discuss freedom of religion and illogically present our argument under the excuse that freedom of religion “encourages adultery and allows same-sex marriage.”

Is this all you think about?

They will answer by telling us; we do this and that in order “to protect religion.”

Protect it from whom? If religion needs protection, then the protection it needs is not from atheism or from other religions. The protection it needs is from the futile outdated religious rhetoric.

We still haven’t learnt from our mistakes. After people cheered for smashing the religious movement (as if it came to an end forever and as if it will never emerge again), we still rush to al-Azhar or to church and insist to involve them in politics and grant them articles in the constitution - articles that can be misused to tyrannize in the name of religion.

Can you guarantee that al-Azhar will maintain its “centrist” positios? Can you guarantee that the Brotherhood and the Salafists will not form a majority at the Council of Supreme Scholars and that the mufti or al-Azhar sheikh will not be one of them?

We can’t guarantee this unless we make all appointments upon supreme sovereign decisions and include that we only bring Sufi sheikhs who do not cause problems. And therefore, we contradict ourselves when we demand that al-Azhar be independent. At the same time, we grant it jurisdictions that may be misused since if an extremist Salafist assumes this post, he can prevent Sufis from practicing their rituals just like al-Azhar is doing now regarding the Shiites.

The solution is to dissociate this great institution from politics and let it fix itself. This way, if it fails, our lives will not be affected by whoever heads it if he decides to issue fatwas (religious edicts) as per his own understanding of religion.

The excuses of “monotheistic religions” and “protecting religion” are outworn excuses that only aim to impose control over society one way or another. Egypt has had its identity before Article 219 which Yasser Bahrami talks about. Egypt has had its identity before Article 2 of the constitution was added by Anwar al-Sadat in 1971.

Religion is more sacred than Sadat and Barhami’s additions. God does not await articles in a constitution to protect his religion.

In Germany, where they do not recognize Islam as a monotheistic religion, there are strict rules for slaughtering animals but the only ones who are exempted from these rules are the Muslims as they are allowed to slaughter animals as per Islamic guidelines in specific places. The “secular” Germany grants rights to citizens whom it does not recognize their “monotheistic” religion.” It doesn’t grant this right to other citizens.

People cheered when prayers were broadcast on the fourth channel of BBC in Britain and considered this a victory for themselves. But it is in fact a victory of the state’s secularity because by this move, they allowed the Muslim minority which calls for secularism everywhere in the world to practice its freedoms and then curse secularism in their country in order to restrain others.

The UAE inaugurated a Buddhist temple a while ago. Have we seen the Emiratis convert to Buddhism in massive numbers?

In Egypt, we are scholars at “not recognizing” this or that religion, as if this will change anything at all.

We “don’t recognize” the Baha’is whether on the level of their practice of rituals or even in the identity card. Has this eliminated them? Has this succeeded at portraying a better image of Islam? We recognize the Jewish category in the identity card but we don’t recognize the Baha’is although their number has probably exceeded the number of Jews in Egypt.

What’s with all this exaggerated panic around identity as if Egypt’s identity is linked to constitutional articles which doesn’t increase or reduce one’s hunger?

When will we quit this confusion of raising our voices to demand a modern civil state, like the rest of the world’s countries, and then formulate articles that grant religious institutions the jurisdictions to intervene in citizens’ lives by categorizing what’s monotheistic and what’s not?

European constitutions which include recognizing one official religion of the state does not impose this religion’s legislations on its citizens. Civil rights and citizens’ daily rights are not affected by such articles.

Therefore, instead of plunging into these debates over the second, third, fourth and other constitutional articles, let’s be more realistic.

Let’s write a great constitution that protects freedom, citizenship and equality and then add in the last line of the last page an article that says: “Do you know this sweet talk about citizenship and equality? This is [addressed] to the [followers] of the monotheistic religions which we specify and which we [also] specify their rights according to our mood. [Refer to Article 3]. So dear citizen, if you want to attain your ‘citizenships’’ rights entirely, you better remain monotheistic.”


Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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