Focus on Family: Egypt


Sr. Hanaa Ishak takes a look at family life in Egypt.

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My name is Sister Hanaa Ishak, an Egyptian OLA sister from Mallawi, which is situated at about 290km to the south of Cairo. I am an English teacher, but right now I am taking care of our clinic and of the boarding house for some university students along with some pastoral works. I have also spent time on various missions in Nigeria, Ghana and Italy.

I am the second child in a family of seven children; six females and a male. I am currently living in a community of three sisters in the city of Assiout which lies almost 400km south of Cairo. We are two Egyptians and a Lebanese Sister.

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Image courtesy of

The word 'Al eayila' means the extended family in the Arabic language, while 'Al Ossra' means parents and children. For us Egyptians, family means love, warmth, togetherness, safety, protection, growth, sharing, diversity, caring … etc. A place where I am loved unconditionally for who I am. In Egypt everything happens in the family: birth, up-bringing of children, celebrations such naming ceremonies, engagements, weddings, bereavement etc.

Children, both girls and boys, live in the family house until they get married and each has his/ her own family. Egyptians like children so it is easy to find families with 2-6 children.

The extended family is so important in the Egyptian culture as well as the immediate family. Grandparents unite the family together in all occasions, they are the reference to so many social issues in the life of their family. They teach us the moral values, and it is through them these values are transmitted from one generation to another. They represent wisdom. We have an Arabic proverb that says: 'Whoever has no elder should go and buy himself one'. Personally I enjoyed my grandparents, they educated me a lot. It’s under their care that we grandchildren of their five sons and daughters learnt how to be true Christians. I remember how my grandpa used to take us all for mass and encouraged our mothers to take us to Sunday School.

Because life has become very costly in Egypt, both parents have to work to help the up-bringing of their children as well as in educating them. Education is a very important investment in every Egyptian family.

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Pictured are Mr and Mrs Kamil Lamy with their daughters Rana and Juliana. Missingfrom the picture is their son George. Kamil is Ceramic Installation Agent, while Thanaa is a Kindergarten teacher. Image courtesy of Sr. Hanaa Ishak.


Life has changed drastically in Egypt since I was a child. In those days, you need not to make an appointment before you go to visit a friend or a family member, but this is the case now for most families.

One of the things that frightens me today in Egypt is that divorce is increasing in both Muslim and Christian families.

While I appreciate the big progress that technology is having on our lives and on humanity, I still see that somehow it has a negative impact on family life. Individualism has taken a big place in family life. Each member is sitting with his/her own laptop, tablet or cellphone. As the saying goes 'more cellphones, less communication etc.' Families are finding difficult to connect. I see around me that some families are finding it difficult to meet unless for special occasions.

Despite all the changes we still keep that warmth of the family. We like to celebrate together our joyful as well as sorrowful moments, believing that only there, in the family, one is supported and cared for. Most Egyptian families like to have meals together. It is around the table that we share our daily activities. Most families take their annual holidays together during summer, where they go to any of the wonderful beaches we have around the Red Sea or the Mediterranean Sea.

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A family worshiping together during the month of Mary last month. Image courtesy of Sr. Hanaa Ishak.


For Christians, the family days are at Christmas, Easter and Assumption, where the whole family get together to go for the Church service after which they share meals together.

For Muslims, Ramadan is the month where a Muslim family gather to have 'Al eftar'.

The Church plays a very important role in the life of a family. It is in the Church that we learn about God. We go for mass, catechism classes, camps, summer club where children, youth and adults spend time to play and chat together under the guidance of the parish priest and the catechists.

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Sr. Hanaa Ishak.


Some of best things about family in Egypt is that :

  • A young man and a young lady don’t get engaged in a marital life without the blessings of their families and they get wedded in the Church before living together. The same goes for Muslims, they need the blessing of both families and the wedding is celebrated in the mosque.
  • Throughout Egypt, the family remains the most important link in the social chain. In rural areas, particularly among the Saʿīdī of Upper Egypt and the Bedouin of the deserts, tribal identity is still strong, and great stock is put into blood relationships. - Street crime is relatively rare in Egypt. 

As for the World Meeting of Families, I believe firmly that it is very important because the family is a priority. It is important to look at how family life has changed worldwide and as Saint Pope John Paul II said: 'the future of humanity passes by way of the family'.


- Sr. Hanaa Ishak

Today, there are seven OLA communities in Egypt. Three of these are located in Cairo: Zeitoun, Choubra and and Meadi. There are two communities to the north of Cairo: Alexandria and Tantá with a further two to the south: Assiout and Guirga. The central thrust of the OLA mission in Egypt is education, healthcare, pastoral work and youth outreach. The OLA Sisters have been present in Egypt since 1881.


 The regions of Egypt. Most of the population is concentrated around Cairo. Image courtesy of


** Read more articles from our 'Focus on Family' series by clicking here.