Jordan is a country that should be a must see on everyone’s list of places to go and explore. Jordan has a long deep history through what seems like the beginning of time although it did not official gain recognition as an independent country until 1946. It is situated geographically at what can be called the crossroad to the Middle East. Africa, Asia and Europe all had to travel through the boundaries of Jordan. Being situated in this location means that Jordan was at the center of everything to share and absorb multiple cultures throughout the centuries. Here I will discuss the different aspects of what makes up Jordanian culture.
To truly understand the culture of Jordanians you must first know a little about their history. Jordan has a long history of changing hands as different people spread out to conquer new lands. The earliest evidence of people in Jordan can be dates to the Paleolithic Period, a time frame of 500,000 -17,000 BCE. It was not until the early Bronze Age that we have written documents that show Jordan was trading with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Jordan would later fall under the rule of Babylonian, The Persian Empire, Umayyad Empire, Abbasids, Fatimids, Ayyubid, Mamluks and finally the Ottoman Empire.
Jordan did not officially exist until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War One. Winston Churchill invented Jordan in 1921 and was under Britain’s rule as a colony. Britain organized and trained one of the best Arabic armies ever created who were called the Arab Legion. In 1948, this Legion was so effective that they captured the eastern half of Jerusalem and much of the country’s land. The leader of the newly recognized country was King Abdullah, a tribe leader that was installed by Britain. Due to power struggles with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, King Abdullah had a better relationship with Israel towards the end of his reign. King Abdullah was eventually assassinated outside of a Mosque on July 20th, 1951.
After the death of King Abdullah, his grandson, King Hussein ruled the kingdom for more than 40 years before losing a battle with cancer in January 1999. While ruling, Hussein great strides to further Jordan’s future. Alliances were made with specific countries like the United States, Israel and Britain which provided economic resources, military weapons and relief aid. This was seen as a negative by other Arab nations but necessary for the progression of Jordan. Jordan now holds a joint military exercise/competition each year where more than 30 different nations come to participate and show their allegiance to each other.
One of the more interesting thing about all these conquerors was that a nomadic tribe abandoned their way of life and settles down. This tribe was known as the Nabateans and they settled in a place they called Petra. This is the largest tourist attraction for Jordan and souvenirs can be bought in any part of the country. This area is so popular as the Nabateans were skilled craftsman and constructed the entire city by carving into the sand stone cliffs. Houses, tombs, ministries, and places of worship were decoratively carved.
One of the most famous and inspiring thing about Jordan is the art that is produced. Some of the main areas that are concentrated with art is Irbid, Amman and the world famous Madaba. Most of the art work that you will see in Jordan is that of your classic Muslim designs. Mosques are decorated elaborately with geometric designs throughout the entire building. Embroidery, pottery and mosaic designs are some of the most sought-after forms of art to purchase.
Mosaic is an ancient art form by which an artist will press small pieces of colored ceramic into a wet plaster. They could spend years depending on the size of the design and the picture of which they were designing. Mosaics were very popular during the Byzantine-Umayyad period which was around the fifth to eight century AD. This art work was popular with showing maps, people, villages and are great for detailing the past for scientist. Madaba is considered the home of mosaics and even have an institution whose only job is to continue teaching people this specific art form (U.S. Department of State, 2018).
Weaving is an art form that has been famous within Middle East countries for centuries. Nomadic Bedouin tribes would weave these as they traveled. The colors popular for weaving were orange, black, red and green. When these tribes started to settle down thanks to modernization and the need to not travel, women slowly stopped weaving. Jordanians started to realize this art form was dyeing and started working towards a way to save it. With the help from other organizations there is now the Bani Hameeda Project. This project encourages women to weave and provides supplemental income for both urban and rural women.
Another dying art form in the Middle East is glass blowing. This is mostly the case because of the amount of time and energy that must be put into learning the craft. The art starts with getting a clump of glass and blow into a hallow pipe while manipulating the shape you are producing. This form of art is slowly moving from the northern city of Hebron down towards Amman. Glass bottles filled with sand are another popular use for these bottles. Jordan has over twenty naturally occurring shades of sandstone. With these different colors there is no need for the utilization of dyes. Some say that Mohammed Abdullah Othman of Petra was the first to do this and that everyone else is only imitating him.
Jordanian cuisine is a must for anyone traveling in the region. It is often regarded as the best Arabic food in the region. Whenever someone is invited to a house or a gathering you are not expected to bring anything. The person that invited you is your host and they provide anything and everything you might need. It is also custom to eat everything that the host provides you. The national dish is called Mansaf and is a traditional Bedouin specialty. The dish is seasoned lamb that is cooked in dried yogurt. It will commonly be served on a large platter with an abundance of rice and sprinkled with various types of nuts. This dish takes hours of preparation and is commonly only served during special occasions like anniversaries, weddings, birthdays and other important social occasions.
Embroidery is an important art that is centered around Jordanian women and has started to see a rise in the fashion industry. Utilizing skilled needlework and Middle Eastern prized fabrics they can create beautiful jackets and the even more popular ball and wedding gowns. At almost any time during the week you can see these gowns at five-star hotels at wedding or other celebrations. This has a simple root of where it came from. Traditionally Jordanian girls would be judge on their skill. Embroidery has begun to transition from clothing to other common household items like cushions and curtains. The traditional colors range from purple, maroon, pink with additions of bright gold, green and orange. Some of the common images are flowers, feathers, triangles and common Arabic geometrical designs.
The Jordanian population consists of roughly six and a half million people. The major language spoken is Arabic and the most common religion being Islam. The most well-known holiday that is celebrated by all Islamic followers is that of Ramadan. Ramadan typically last for 30 days and always falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This means that is always changing year to year. This time is for you to self-reflect, going to a mosque, feel closer to god and pray five times a day. During the daylight hours it is forbidden to eat, drink, chew gum, spit in public, have sex and must wear long sleeve shirts and pants if in public. In some countries even foreigners have to abide by these rules or face a heavy penalty from officials. Jordan is more progressive and does not enforce these rules.
Laylat Al-Qadr is when the Prophet Muhammad recited the first verses of the Quran. It typically fal on the tenth to last day of Ramadan and is an important time for people to attend a mosque, read the Quran and ask for forgiveness. Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. On the last day when the sun is over the horizon celebration consumes the whole country. Large dinners with people sharing food and celebrating is common practice on this day. The holiday Ashura is different in the eyes of Shia and Sunni Muslims. Sunnis see this day as a celebration of when Moses and his followers were saved from the Egyptian Pharaoh. Whereas, Shia Muslims see this day as a time for mourning. The reason for mourning is that is it believed to be the day the grandson of Prophet Mohammad was murdered in 680 A.D.
As all of these holidays you can see that almost every major holiday in Jordan is Islamic which was brought to Jordan under Ottoman rule. That does not mean that other religions do not exist within its borders. Being situated next to both Palestine, Israel and other neighboring Arabic countries puts Jordan in a unique situation. Within Jordan the population is very accepting of other religions especially Christianity and even Judaism. To Jordanians as long as you believe in god is important to them. People know that Islam, Christianity and Judaism all believe in the same god but just have different way of worshipping him.
It is not uncommon to see a Mosque and a Christian church next to each other and people greeting each other upon passing. Jordan though, still being a Muslim nation does have Islamic values within its legal system but are some of the most lenient of other Muslim nations. An example is that women in Islamic law inherit half the amount a man does. This law applies to not only the Muslims within Jordan but all religions. One of the most common Islamic law that you still see to this day in Jordan is the separation of sexes. Women and men keep to their own groups and do not interact with each other unless they are married or family. Women also still cover up but not to the extreme as other countries like Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian culture is one that has long deep ties throughout history. As the crossroads between the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa many different cultures have had an influence on Jordan and Jordan has influenced them. Jordan is at the center of what is considered the Holy Land and not only has ties to Islamic traditions and customs but also that of Judaism and Christian. Traditions of making art with you hands like weaving, mosaics, glassblowing, embroidery are all be preserved and are seeing a rise in popularity even during the 21st century. Jordan is also making great strides to preserve ruins like the Roman city in Jerash, Nabatean city of Petra and Ottoman castles as these are all things that show where Jordanians have come from and who they are.