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Education and Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Egyptians/Fouad Assaad

As a group, Egyptian Canadians are highly educated. A representative sampling of the community in Quebec in 1989 revealed that 74 percent had a university degree (57 percent possessed a bachelor’s degree, 13 percent a master’s, and 3.3 percent a doctorate). By contrast, among the population of the province generally, only 10 percent of francophones and 23 percent of non-francophones held university degrees. In Egypt, education is viewed as a means not only of obtaining a job but also of achieving status and social mobility. Immigrants to Canada, most of whom are from the middle or upper-middle classes, have brought this attitude with them. Private schooling for the children is highly regarded, the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal being particularly popular. Parents encourage their offspring to achieve the highest possible level of education. The contrast between their aspirations and those of their Canadian-born children, who generally place less emphasis on education, has created conflicts in some Egyptian-Canadian families.

Some parents send their children to Arabic school on weekends, but such instruction is not widespread in the community. There are Egyptian Arabic schools in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. The one in Montreal began in September 1984 as a project of the Association culturelle Égypte-Québec. From 12 students that year it grew to 150 by 1986, when it became an independent organization. The school holds classes on Saturdays for children and adults, and it currently has an enrolment ranging from 60 to 200, depending on the time of year. It is the only Egyptian Arabic school in Montreal, although several other schools and some churches and mosques provide language instruction.

Egyptian Canadians are adherents of three main religions, Coptic Christianity (Orthodox and Catholic), Catholicism (Maronite and Melkite), and Islam (Sunni and Shiite). Coptic Christians are the most numerous, while the Catholics and Muslims are fewer and roughly equal in number. There are also small numbers of non-Coptic Orthodox Egyptians and Protestants. Of the respondents in the 1989 study in Quebec, 35 percent were Copts, 20 percent Catholics, and 19 percent Muslims, while 13 percent followed other faiths and 12 percent did not indicate any religion. Egyptians have established their own religious institutions in Canada, which have become a unifying force in the community. These organizations offer many services in addition to purely religious ones, and the role of the spiritual leader has expanded to include that of organizer, provider of social aid, and promoter of cultural traditions. The religious institutions receive more support from the community than do socio-cultural ones. Nevertheless, attendance seems to be highest immediately after the immigrant arrives in this country and decreases once he or she is more integrated into the new society.

The Copts are the only group whose entire population is Egyptian in ethnic origin. They are subdivided into two major religious persuasions, Orthodox and Catholic. Though the fundamental beliefs are similar, the Coptic Catholic Church acknowledges the supremacy of the pope in Rome whereas the Coptic Orthodox church recognizes the patriarch in Cairo as its leader. As well, Orthodox clergy are permitted to marry. The first Coptic Orthodox church established in Canada was St Mark’s Church in Montreal, which dates from 1967 and serves about eight hundred families. The city now has two other Coptic churches, Toronto two, and Ottawa, Kitchener, and Mississauga one each. As of 1994, there were ten Coptic Orthodox churches in Canada, eight of them located in Quebec and Ontario and one each in Alberta and British Columbia. Most non-Coptic Orthodox Egyptians are of Syrio-Lebanese origin. Many are members of St George, an Eastern Orthodox church established in Montreal in 1909. Of the 1,300 families registered at the church in 1987, approximately 250 were Egyptian.

In November 1986 a new parish named Notre-Dame d’Égypte was formed to serve the Coptic Catholic community in Montreal. The priest was given a mandate to unite this group and revive its liturgy and traditions. The church’s membership exceeds four hundred families. The non-Coptic Catholic community is comprised of two groups, those of Syrio-Lebanese origin (the majority) and native Egyptians. Melkite Catholicism, common in both Syria and Egypt, follows Chaledonian orthodoxy in preference to Monophysitism. Many Melkite Catholics attend the Saint-Sauveur church in Montreal, which is the oldest in the Syrio-Lebanese Egyptian community. It dates from 1890, when a priest from the Basilian Salvadorean parish came to the city to minister to some seventy Catholic and Orthodox families. The church has the largest Egyptian membership of any religious institution in Quebec. In 1987 the parish recorded three thousand families, two-thirds of whom were from Egypt. The community is Arabic-speaking with a strong orientation towards the use of French. Church services are conducted in both languages, and French is used in many of the church’s activities.

Maronite Catholicism, which originated in Syria and was established in Lebanon in the sixth century C.E., is the dominant Christian religion in that country. Its adherents have retained their liturgy in the Syriac language, distinctive saints’ and feast days, and their own patriarch, who is confirmed rather than appointed by the pope. The St Maron Church in Montreal unites the Maronite community in Quebec. Although the first priest, Elie Najar, arrived in 1969, the parish was not officially established until 1982. The vast majority of its members are of Syrio-Lebanese Egyptian origin. As of 1987, the church had a membership of 1,284 families, 600 of whom were Egyptian. Sunday Mass is celebrated in Arabic and Syriac, with a commentary at the end in French. Protestant members of the community in Canada attend Presbyterian and, to a lesser extent, Anglican and Baptist churches. The Egyptian membership at these churches is small.

The Egyptian Muslim community in Canada is also not large and has not established its own organizations. The group participates to a limited degree in the mosques and centres that serve many nationalities in Canada. At most, Egyptians account for only 5 to 10 percent of the thousands of members in such large Islamic centres as the El Omma mosque in Montreal. The Muslim community has stressed the importance of instruction in both religion and the Arabic language. There is now a full-time school, accepted within the public educational system, at the Islamic Centre in Montreal. The children are taught in Arabic, English, and French.