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Religion is the single most important element in the Egyptian social fabric. Muslims and Christians both live strictly in accordance with religious laws. Even when they digress (Muslims who drink alcohol, for example) they are usually keenly aware of their sinfulness and rarely flaunt it.

There are five pillars of Islam:

1) Shahadah (the testimony of faith): Muslims profess that there is only one God, and that Mohammed was his messenger.

2) Salat (prayer). Muslims pray five times a day, you'll hear the infectious call to prayer reverberate through towns at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, at sunset and at nightfall.

3) Zakat (alms-giving): Muslims give 2.5% of their disposable assets to the poor every year

4) Sawm (fasting): During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

5) Hajj (pilgrimage): Every Muslim who is financially and physically able to must perform the pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.

The pervasiveness of faith is fascinating to observe, especially in the way it helps people deal with poverty and political disenfranchisement. For example, everyday speech is peppered with references to God. One of the most common phrases is Insha'Allah -- if God wills it -- and is used to qualify anything from lunch dates to marriage plans. Such turns of phrases are rooted in a deep belief that God permeates every aspect of life, and that the main duty of human beings is to obey His will and prepare for the afterlife.

This religiosity applies to Muslims and Christians alike. The Coptic church in Egypt is one of the oldest in existence, with roots dating back to the first century. Christians today make up about 6% of the population.

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