Samah Tawa doesn't consider herself a devout Muslim. Nevertheless, she wrapped a scarf over her freshly cut hair today, went to a local community center and prayed.

"I needed to do this," said Tawa, a marketing manager who wore a pinstripe suit and a cell phone hanging from her wrist. "I couldn't live through this war without God."

Next to her, Azza Ibrahim, in jeans and a black-and-white striped sports jacket, closed her eyes and bowed. Her mind grew still for the first time all day, she said.

Ibrahim had spent the morning at her kitchen table, distraught over the images she had seen of children killed in the war.

She wept. She was losing sleep; she couldn't eat. Earlier in the week, she and friends tried watching Oprah on satellite television to take their mind off things. But the topic of the day was the U.S. war in Iraq.

That's when the middle class women in Cairo's upscale suburb of Maadi turned to religion. They found themselves drawn to a lecture on such topics as "how to be a more pious Muslim," and "how to cope emotionally with the crisis."

The sponsor of the lecture was the Organization of Social Change, which offers women charity work to channel anxiety into helping the poor.

Though many women have been attending for years, lectures in recent months have grown so large they were moved from private homes to community centers. This week, they swelled even more.

"I keep asking myself, 'Why is this happening? Why are Americans killing our children?' " Ibrahim, 37, said in a soft voice as she sat in a plastic chair at a lecture attended by more than 100 other women. "If I believe in God and Islam it helps me get through this. If I am a good Muslim, I know that everything happens for a reason."

The women -- teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers -- share an interest in deepening their faith. It is not unusual in Egypt, known both for 1,000-year-old mosques and a lively secular culture. But with the violence of the two-year Palestinian uprising and now the war in Iraq, even some secular Egyptians say they look to religion to help them survive the emotional pain.

"I feel calmer when I am here," said Mona Shaker, a 42-year-old housewife, who has started praying and volunteering in the community center. "I cry at night over the war. I worry. And then I come here and pray. It helps me survive knowing that God can help us."

The lectures are led by a well-known Islamic scholar, who said she did not want to be identified because "Islam is against self-promotion." She started the lectures more than five years ago in women's homes. She is so in demand that she now runs her own community center.

Muslims should be pious and pray, she said, but they should also be active in helping the poor of the Arab world.

"You can't just cry in bed and expect things to change," she said. "I think for years in Egypt poorer people were drawn to religion. Now the upper classes are coming to it because they feel they need more in their lives to make sense of it all. We don't want to be an anesthetic to pain. But we want offer a way of knowing there is bigger objectives in life that can help."

She gives jobs at the center to women otherwise without work and also hosts volunteers who make cookies and pastries, baskets, quilts and aprons. All of the profit goes to the poor. The center also conducts reading and religion classes for poor children.

At the lecture today, women sat in a circle as the Islamic scholar discussed the anguish they felt from the war.

"The U.S. are always telling us that Arabs are weak. Bush is launching a crusade against us," the scholar said. The women nodded and agreed. "But God is on our side. If you believe in God, you won't change the world but you will know that you can cope with what's in front of you."

Some women took out notebooks and scribbled quotes. Others cried.

When women are angry or depressed about President Bush, they should understand that he is the enemy of Muslims, the scholar said. They can pray that God will help the Muslims.

"Bush wants to divide Muslims," she said. "But we are stronger than that."

She preached God's forgiveness for those who have not always been religious.

Despite the mistakes you make, she said, "God will forgive you."

She spoke to the issue of modernity. Women can send their children to single-sex schools and consider avoiding the Western system of coeducation, she said.

"Ladies, mixed schools doesn't stop there," she said. "Then you hear I want to go with him to dinner. I want to make love to him. Where does it end?"

Some of the women laughed. Others nodded in agreement.

She urged them to resist pressure from secular friends who try to steer them away from Islam.

Then she took questions. Several women stood up and asked if suicide bombing in Iraq was acceptable in religious terms.

"Yes, because that person is defending their country," she said. Some women looked worried. Others agreed it was the only thing they could do to defend their homes.

The group then fell silent. It was time to pray.

Sama Tawa and Azza Ibrahim closed their eyes, prostrate. For a few minutes the horrible images of war seemed to melt away.