Journalist. Media development professional

Jordanian Christians are in a fine shape but still a ‘minority’

The most recent horrific attack on Christians in Iraq struck a personal cord with me. Of all the attacks happening daily in Iraq, this one somehow hit home. It might have been the way the worshippers were ambushed during Sunday mass and then slaughtered that’s causing me to lose sleep. It is horrifying to realize that the only reason these Iraqis were butchered was because they belonged to the wrong religion. Being the over-dramatic type, I couldn’t stop thinking about my family in Jordan and wondering what if?

Iraqi Christians mourning their dead. Source (Reuters).

What if they were worshiping at a church in Amman and something similar happens. Al-Qaeda members seem to manage to cross borders so easily these days that a similar attack in Jordan might not be that remote. I know I’m probably going over the top since these things don’t normally happen in Jordan even after the Al-Qaeda-inspired attacks of 2005. But I did think about it, and for a brief moment I panicked.

This horrific massacre of Iraqi Christians has stirred debate of a potential exodus of Christians from the Middle East, with media outlets like Foreign Policy (The End of Christianity in the Middle East) and Voice of America (Al-Qaida Threatens Christians in Egypt, Elsewhere in Middle East) both drawing a very gloomy picture of Christians in the region.

The London-based Arabic publication Elaph also discussed the issue and highlighted this distinct fact: Jordan has become a safe haven for Christians in the region, including Iraqi and Palestinian Christians that are feeling extremism in their home countries.

The article also quoted a piece in the Independent by Robert Fisk in which he referred to Jordan as “the only flame of hope in the region” when it comes to the situation of Arab Christians.

Yes, Jordanian Christians are in a superb position compared with the rest of the region. No one denies this. Coexistence is the name of the game, with many Jordanian Christians occupying senior positions in the government and parliament. Christians and Muslims live in the same neighborhoods and in some cases interact as members of the same family.

However, I don’t think Jordan is completely off the hook. The fact that a Jordanian Christian can’t become a prime minster is a problem that should be resolved sooner than later. The former head of the Jordanian parliament, Abdul Hadi Majali, was actually asked about it in an interview with an Arab Satellite channel. His response was the “minority” can’t rule the majority.

Another fact still affecting Jordanian Christians is the issue of inheritance, where Sharia law still applies to them. The male sibling takes double the share of his sisters and male relatives take a share of the daughters’ inheritance in the absence of a male sibling.

Since I have a big mouth, I have discussed these ticklish issues with many of my friends and coworkers when I lived in Amman. The answer I got most of the time was that Jordan is a Muslim country and we can’t change the rules for a “minority.” Throwing the “minority” label at me never made me feel special, to the contrary, it made me feel like a pariah. I used to respond with: “Come on, you can’t deprive my unborn child from ever dreaming that one day he (yes, a he, she, is another story) will become prime minister. Even minorities should have equal rights.”

But that was back then, when I was young, naïve and passionate. It was back when I thought writing, talking, and arguing would take me somewhere.

I’m now a thirty-something, jaded Christian Arab who has joined the ranks of those who are in the “exodus.” I might not have lots of ground to stand on simply because I packed my bags and left. Ah well, I’m just blowing off some steam on a breezy Friday morning in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Blowing off steam is probably the most I can do at this point since I’m only a “minority”.

26 Comments

  1. November 5, 2010    

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am writing a post about the Arab Christians upon the Iraqi Church attack but still didn’t post it yet. Hopefully, to be done this weekend. I am a Muslim and was so saddened by the news. I am glad that you wrote this post and happy to know that Christians in Jordan are still in a better position compared to others in the region.
    Regarding a Christian PM, I have to disagree with you. Not because of religion or minority issue but because the question shouldn’t be when a Christian can be a PM. Rather, the question should be when Jordanian citizens will be able to chose their PM. Nevertheless, with the unstable situation in the region I am not in a rush to elect a PM. I am sorry if I went off topic with the PM-vote hope :)

    • November 6, 2010    

      Thanks, Jaraad. I think both issues are important. Not sure which one is more likely to happen though:)

  2. Ken Samac's Gravatar Ken Samac
    November 5, 2010    

    Wonderfully written, and thank you for sharing your unique perspective.

    • November 6, 2010    

      Thanks, Ken for the kind words.

  3. A Jordanian's Gravatar A Jordanian
    November 5, 2010    

    Natasha, I liked your article, and I add that even in religious events Muslims and Christians exchange greetings and I even got invited in Ramadan by a Christian family to Iftar (Breakfast). However, when u asked if a Christian can be a prime minister one day… and then you said it will be solved sooner than later. let me ask you this. Do you think one day we will see Muslim US President? or do you think it could happen one day in France of the UK or even in Russia? I think just as much as you wondered we also have the right to ask the question… don’t you think? or even in Israel.. Arabs constitute one fifth of the population, do you think An Arab might be the Prime Minister of Israel one day? just wondering…

    • November 6, 2010    

      Dear Jordanian,

      Let me ask you this, does the constitution of those countries state that the president or PM should be Christian or Jewish?

      Thank you,

      As for Natasha, I agree with you, as a Christian I have heard the word “Minority” so many times, that it made me feel like I’m a neglected or second-class human.

      • Khouloud Rushaidat's Gravatar Khouloud Rushaidat
        November 6, 2010    

        Dear Yousif Jawhar,

        Let ME ask you this, have you ever read the Jordanian constitution?

        Thank you!

        @ Yousif Jawhar and Natasha,

        Nothing in the Jordanian constitution or any other Jordanian law states that the position of a prime minister is reserved for Muslims and that Christians can’t be appointed as prime ministers. Here’s a link to our constitution, http://www.daleelirbid.com/info-and-regulations/pages/constitution.html
        Articles 6/1 and 22/1

        As for the minority part, that is not an insult, it’s just an explanation of actual numbers, it doesn’t mean that people who constitute a small part of the society are less important but the literal translation to the Greek word democracy is “rule by the people”, the majority, since it was based on voting, not that I would vote for someone based on his/her religion, just like I’m going to vote for a christian in the parliamentary elections, but Jordan is still working on becoming a fully Democratic state, as long as we’re all living at peace together, as long as we all have the exact same rights and as long as we all get to voice our opinions then yes Jordan is an oasis to coexistence.

        Plus, if you look at it differently you’d see that it’s good to be part of a minority, not a lot of people are like you thus you’d be unique! :p

        • November 6, 2010    

          Khouloud,
          My understanding is that the fact that the prime minster can’t be a Christian is an unwritten rule as confirmed by Majali’s comments. Also, please note that what’s written in the constitution doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of life in Jordan. The constitution says for example that all Jordanians are equal. I tend to disagree. As a Jordanian woman I still don’t have the right to pass on citizenship to my kids unlike Jordanian men. Also as a Jordanian woman I still don’t get an equal share of inheritance.

          Yes, while all Jordanians are equal there are “some more equal than others”. My two cents.

          • Maha's Gravatar Maha
            November 7, 2010    

            Jordan IS completely off the hook. The deputy prime minister is Christian, isn’t that enough?
            Neither the current PM nor his deputy run a religious agenda; they couldn’t even if they wanted to; so why should their religion matter in the first place?
            Jordanian Christians should worry more about having Jordanian (at least Arab) representation in their religious authority and less about having Christian authority in politics cause it’s their religious institutions that are causing them problems.
            Minority is a statistical fact i don’t see why it bothers you, and as a Christian i’d rather have Sharia law applied to me than be under the mercy of corrupt church courts that don’t follow a bible or a law.

  4. Mona's Gravatar Mona
    November 5, 2010    

    I love reading a heart-felt article, and I think it’s completely normal for you to think about your family back home when reading and hearing about the horrendous massacres in Iraq… I’m sure everybody who were planning/attending a wedding after the 2005 bombing in Amman had similar thoughts about their own situation.

    I definitely can’t belittle your fears, but the fact that the 2005 bombing targeted a muslim wedding and that the atrocities happening in Iraq – bombings, kidnappings, ..etc – are also mostly non discriminatory can perhaps “reassure” you that we’re fortunately/unforunately all in this together.

    I’m shocked and think it’s ridiculous that a Christian cannot head a government in Jordan. I don’t think it should matter at all, as long as whoever gets the job is working for the benefit of the majority… that would be a nice change! And by majority I definitely don’t mean the religious majority.

    On a last note, this sharia inheritance law which is followed in Jordan is more of a convenient patriarchal social set of regulations than anything religious. Many muslims have argued against it and branded it non-islamic. There are ways around it by the way :)

    How do we change things? Who can change things??

  5. Diala's Gravatar Diala
    November 5, 2010    

    Nicely written! & trust me, that news disturbed everyone who read it! It’s a human issue, not religiously related.

    &I do believe as well that it’s not a matter of religion! It’s politics, power and human greed! All started since Adam and Eve…….

    Qaeda is politics, Hezbollah is politics, PKK, ETA.. etc. It’s all about politics, power and human greed.. all working under a ‘religious’ cover. And I guess if you go back in history, you can see so so many examples in all ‘religions’ of this thirst for power and human greed. The cycle keeps on going with different strategies and different players, but unfortunately same goals!

    We’re so trapped inside the box. We need to think outside of it. If you want to look at things from a ‘religious’ point of view only, then you must deal with the whole issue, not a specific part of it. All religions call for peace, with no exceptions, and extremism is in each and every religion no matter what was it and no matter what shape did it take. If we’re going to judge a religion by taking the extremism in it as an example, then we would never live in peace, there will be no coexistence, no respect.. simply nothing.

    All what “religions” are doing nowadays is trading insults.

    ‘Al Qaida-Christians’ news is so disturbing to all those who understand what humanity means.. live it and feel it.. and not which religion/sect they belong to.

    Every single thing that’s happening in this world is all about human greed and thirst for power. We’re all directed – by almost everything around us – towards sectism. So sad!

    With all do respect, religion is not an act.. it’s a feeling, and it’s how much a true Chritian, Muslim, Jew.. ect I am and not how much a true Chritian, Muslim, Jew.. ect I act !! If we all have this inside of us, then we would never ever go into this sectism cycle. We would all feel equal and we would all feel satisfied.

    Religion is for God not for people.. Power and greediness are because, for and directed towards people..

    I do believe in this:
    “Power and Greed in the Name Religion”

  6. November 6, 2010    

    Natasha, thanks for your perspective. Having armed guards at church in Amman at Christmas and Easter seems like overkill until something like this happens.

  7. mahmoudjo's Gravatar mahmoudjo
    November 6, 2010    

    well with all do respect i think you are a bit on the wrong side in this debate …. the idea of a christian not becoming a prime minster is basically a simple math problem ,,, if you want democracy then you should accept the fact that no one from the” minority” will rule the majority it’s simple and clear i cant seem to understand what is your problem with that why are you even making a fuss out of it ,,,,

    secondly ,, there is some kind of court system in the church that deals with Christians according to their religion you kind of chose not to mention or didnt know that [ sighs ] and the government gave it that power !

    personally speaking i do agree with the fact that you are not special as a minority , the term is not meant to imply that, it is used to imply common sense about numbers and figures !

    peace

    • November 6, 2010    

      And how do you apply this “simple math problem” on someone like Marwan Muasher who would have most probably been selected to be a prime minister if he was not a “minority”?

      Muasher climbed up the ranks very quickly but never made it to the prime minister position.

      If we want to apply the logic of Jordanian official Abd Al Hadi Majali then Muasher’s situation wasn’t a math problem per say but rather a conscious decision not to make “the minority rule the majority”

      • Diala's Gravatar Diala
        November 6, 2010    

        Cool it down my friends! We’re all brothers and sisters at the end of the day. We’re all equal between God’s hands. It’s nice to live in peace in those hard times we’re facing these years :)

        What happened should be looked at as a pure human issue! Nothing more nothing less.

        I believe you heard about the deadly mosque bombing in Pakistan that claimed the lives of nearly 70 today! We’re basically killing humanity.. fighting each other for whatever those people are seeking to reach.. it’s not about Jews or Christians or Muslims or whatever.. I believe it’s something deeper.

        We’re turning to be so fanatics, sectarians, hardliners…! &this basically won’t leave us with friends, there would be no respect or coexistence. Yes, I am so idealistic and I love it this way :)

        Tawli balek yaa Natasha … inti el kbeereh.. wala minority wala majority wala gheiro. Religions are there to guide us to be better humans, not to make us fight each other. &I believe you do agree.

        7abibtna inti ya Natasha :) lah!
        lsn to the good people.. Abd Al Hadi look-alikes are all over the world.. not just in the Middle East.. different people, different places, different times.. same shit :))

      • mahmoudjo's Gravatar mahmoudjo
        November 7, 2010    

        ummmmm like what the heck ….hahahaha so he is the only one fit to be a PM tell you what when the day comes and you don’t find any member of the MAJORITY who is qualified to hold that place then we will talk ! and trust me there is along line for that post in jordan !

        what you are saying contradicts everything democracy should be about ,,, you want to be privileged because you are a minority you want to be special with more rights than the others ya3ni min il a5er mr. m3asher bnazarek howeh il wa7eed ili bistahaal ykoon PM bil ordon la 2ino he is a minority ya3ni for you he being a minority means he should stand out from all the other fine majority wanted PM !

        peace

  8. Fekri's Gravatar Fekri
    November 7, 2010    

    Natasha,

    I don’t know why you are very concern about prime ministry. while you as “minority” are arguing why a christian can be prime minister, other minorities in other countries argue why I am as minority has no right to educate or work in public sector or worst a religious Hendos

  9. November 7, 2010    

    Maha,
    Glad to hear that you are happy with the status quo where Jordanian women get half the share of their inheritance and where Christian Jordanian children don’t have the luxury of dreaming that one day they will become prime minsters. Happy it works for you and you are at peace with it because I’m not.
    Thank you for commenting and providing this unique perspective that’s turning this discussion into a very interesting one.

    • Maha's Gravatar Maha
      November 8, 2010    

      I don’t know if you’re aware that the real problem with inheritance for Christian women in Jordan specifically the married ones is not that they get half of what their brothers get but they are manipulated by their families to relinquish their rights to property all together. These are not individual stories but the common practice. I know fathers who divide property when they are alive and well because they genuinely want their daughters to get an equal share. There are many ways to achieve equal inheritance if a family intends it and to bypass sharia law. Changing laws will not change the status quo.
      “Christian Jordanian children don’t have the luxury of dreaming that one day they will become prime minsters” this is quite a melodramatic statement.Like everyone has explained to you already the constitution doesn’t prevent a Christian from being in any post. it’s an appointed position with no set criteria or a promotion track! Saeid Al Mofti a Chechen quota representative was a PM.
      الدكتور منذر حدادين …أردنيون لا أقلية محرومون
      http://www.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=70641

  10. Inquisitor's Gravatar Inquisitor
    November 7, 2010    

    Isn’t the religion issue really the issue in that it shouldn’t be a measuring stick at all. I think the point here is why are there any divisions. In a true democracy the minority voice is worth as much and has just as much power to being about change because it’s not processed as a minority vote only a vote. Truth be told the argument at the root here of all the comments is that secularity us the best. It preserves the voice of the people regardless of faith an removes any restrictions one faith might put on another. Evevryone has a right to believe what they want so long as it doesn’t restrict the rights of others.

    In Jordan, things are generally good but when the law of the land has connection to religious text it leaves the door open for extremism and abuse. The answer is to remove such connections and operate as a secular democracy. Only this early will all have equal rights and real freedom.

  11. Code's Gravatar Code
    November 7, 2010    

    There is no Minority/Majority rules/trends in Jordan, I’m not going to argue against the point of Christians not being able to be prime ministers, actually I think anyone with the right credentials should have a shot at it, but it doesn’t work like this in Jordan, Palestinians are not a minority if I recall right, they don’t have a shot at alot of things, the army for example, actually high officials in the army recently voiced their concern about fellow Jordanians (from Palestinian origins this time) occupying high ranks in the government

    So probably we’re not going to have a Christian prime minister before we have a from-a-Palestinian-origin head of the army, based on numbers at least

    As for the Iraqi church, its blown out of proportion, for some reason, just like that guy wanting to burn the Quran, some ppl have interest in magnifying these stories, Christians are just fine in the region, this is an individual stupid act, doesn’t represent or indicate anything , and these things happen in Iraq everyday

  12. Wa7deh's Gravatar Wa7deh
    November 8, 2010    

    Wow, quite the heated debate. I’ll say this much, and maybe it’ll put a price on my head. I noticed that Arabs are the first to judge if another country discriminates against Muslims, yet always the ones to tell us to thank God for the very few rights we have as minorities in the Arab world. Just because I can go to a church without someone beating me up, doesn’t mean i have enough rights and should be content. I should have the right to have my religious law applied to me if I was religious, and if I was an atheist to not adhere to anyone else’s religious laws. We don’t have any synagogues in Jordan, and don’t even have any openly Jewish people. Bahai’s are forced to study Islam in school. I’m not attacking Islam here, so halt the attacks. I’m suggesting that our system of judgement is not rational when it comes to this issue, and while we want all rights for Muslims in non-Muslim countries, we never give non-Muslims the same respect in Arab countries. I hear people griping about how difficult Ramadan is since not everyone fasts and understands that you’re fasting in other countries, but never heard anyone address how difficult it is to be a Christian during that month, forced to shut up and remain hungry all day. You can’t go eat or drink anything anywhere. I’m all for respecting people, I am not for fining me if I’m eating in public. You can’t force your beliefs on me, just like I can’t ask you to abstain from chocolate for 40 days during Lent. We have double standards when it comes to religious freedoms. Not just between the treatment of Christians and Muslims, but everyone-atheists, jews, bahais, etc. The sooner we address this, the better. That being said, being a Christian isn’t the only problem, in Jordan it’s being Palestinian too, but that’s a story for another day. It’s not whether or not we should see a Christian PM, it’s whether or not that is even a possibility. I think Natasha touched on something here, which why passions are fueled.

    • mahmoudjo's Gravatar mahmoudjo
      November 9, 2010    

      well i think that people who are being heard asking for rights for muslims in non-muslim countries are the extremest and to prove that all you have to do is to see who is asking for it a mile long newly reborn shaik ,, a Hijab + veil + extra thick black undies woman ! while the majority of muslims in non-muslims countries are happy and content with their current status!

      last time i checked their were no jews in jordan and bahai have their own study groups on fridays in their temple and no body is complaining plus bahai are basically considered one of the many muslim subtype so will your argument would work for a shi3i guy studying in any of our school,,,i think not ! would it work for a non- catholic christain in a catholic school ?

      peace

    • Code's Gravatar Code
      November 14, 2010    

      What is “enough rights” then??? If its not just “going to church without getting beaten”??

      Never heard a Christian complaining that people hassle them or tell them to thank god for the rights they have?? and I know a lot of Christians.
      Christians here are just fine, there was never an issue, so lets not create one.

  13. November 12, 2010    

    Generally, our Christian brothers live better than muslims, they are more educated and above the average economic level of most Jordanians.

    Jordan Christians are an authentic part of Jordan, I wont start a lecture in history but they are a fundamental part of Jordan.

    I did not like almajali comment when he described them as a minority, even they are around 5% of the population but the context and the description was not smart.

    what I don’t like more is Christians are stopping at this comment and giving it more importance than what it is worth.

  14. Philip's Gravatar Philip
    November 16, 2010    

    Natasha,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I had written once about the subject of Christians in Jordan and did not receive such a warm response. There is no doubt that the Christian minority is not treated equally. Yes, we do have most rights, but we are not equal to Muslims. I don’t care to compare Jordan to other Arab or Muslim countries because that is not a benchmark to aspire to. If Jordan has aspirations to become more democratic, there has to be a basic understanding that democracy is not about the rule of the majority but rather the protection of the minority.

    However, the main issue that is at heart in everything that happens is the fact that the state (the government) does not relate to me as a citizen in Jordan. It relates to me as someone who happens to have a Jordanian passport. It may see me as a:

    – man or woman
    – Christian or Muslim or other
    – of Palestinian decent or a real Jordanian

    and the list goes on. I would like for the state to see me as a Jordanian, nothing more, nothing less.

    Peace

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