Jordan - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Formation 1946 / 1967
Population 6.5 million / 189 people per sq mile (73 people per sq km)
Total area 35,637 sq. miles (92,300 sq. km)
Religions Sunni Muslim 92%, Christian 6%, Other 2%
Ethnic mix Arab 98%, Circassian 1%, Armenian 1%
Currency Jordanian dinar = 1000 fils
Literacy rate 92%
Calorie consumption 2977 kilocalories
Until the early part of the 20th century, Jordan had been a part of Palestine, most of which is now the state of Israel. The area is the site of one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
Archaeological findings from the west bank of the Jordan River indicate traces of human habitation from around 9000 B.C.E. From 3000 B.C.E. the area was under the control of the Canaanites and Amorites, as well as Sargon (722–05), king of Sumer and Akkad.
Around 1800 Abraham led the Israelites to the mountains of Canaan (roughly corresponding to present-day Israel). By 1023 the Israelites had formed a kingdom, ruled successively by Saul and David (r. c. 1005–965), who made Jerusalem the capital. The Roman Empire annexed Israel in 63 and placed it under the control of a series of consuls. Christians later dominated the area, but in 638 C.E. Jerusalem fell to Caliph Omar (c. 581–644), who declared it a holy city of Islam on the grounds that Muhammad had ascended to heaven from atop the Temple Mount.
The Crusades followed, which asserted Christian control, but the area remained contested terrain and then fell under the domination of the Ottoman Empire. In the wake of that empire’s decline after World War I, Britain took control of Palestine and created the state of Transjordan, under the rule of King Abdullah (1921–46). Contemporary Jordan is still a stronghold for Bedouins (primarily nomad Arab peoples of the Middle East).
In 1948 Arabs and Jews were preoccupied in a war over territories. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Transjordan occupied the West Bank and part of Jerusalem and renamed it Jordan. In 1952 King Hussein (1935–99) assumed power, and Jordan enjoyed a period of economic prosperity with a rise in tourism and substantial aid flowing in from the United States. The Six-Day War of 1967 devastated the country’s tourist industry when Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians poured into Jordan from the Occupied Territories.
By the 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began to pose a threat to King Hussein’s regime; an internal war began, ending with the exodus of the radicals to Lebanon.
In 1994 Jordan and Israel signed a peace accord, promising to drop economic barriers and cooperate with each other on issues of security and water. This made Palestinians apprehensive that they would be evicted with the two nations sharing the spoils. Jordan, however, had been forging close links with Yasser Arafat’s (1929–2004) Palestine National Authority (PNA) and working toward agreements with Palestinians.
Jordan also restored its relations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. King Hussein had launched his country on the road to democracy, prosperity, and modernization. After a protracted illness King Hussein died in February 1999, naming his eldest son King Abdullah II (b. 1962), as the successor to the throne. Under Abdullah’s reign Jordan has moved closer to Israel with recent agreements to pipe water from the Red Sea to the shrinking Dead Sea and to develop a desert science center on their common border. Ties with Egypt and Syria have also been strengthened. However there were some setbacks too. In October 2002 a senior U.S. diplomat was assassinated in Amman, and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad was bombed in August 2003, killing 11 people. In the first independent elections, conducted in 2003, the majority of the seats were won by independent royalist candidates.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Jordan is bordered by Israel on the west, Syria to the north, Iraq to the northwest, and Saudi Arabia to the east and south. The central spine of the Jordanian territory, comprising the highland plateau and hilly regions running from north to south, includes the main cities and towns, such as Amman, Irbid, Jerash, Madaba, and Kerak. To the west the Great Rift Valley runs down the entire length of the country, and includes the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, the Wadi Araba, the Aqaba area around the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Red Sea.
The eastern desert area is a semi-arid steppe (vast, usually level and treeless tracts like those in southeastern Europe or Asia) with scanty rainfall.
Jordan is part of the eastern Mediterranean weather system, so it has one of the world’s most pleasant climates.
Summers are dry and warm-to-hot and winters are wet and cool-to-cold, with occasional snowstorms. In the highlands there are often strong, cool breezes on summer nights and the low-lying areas enjoy pleasant, moderately cool winters. In winter the windswept plateau of Maan, lying between 3,000 and 5,000 feet, is bitterly cold. January is the coldest month and, although below-freezing temperatures are not unknown, the average winter temperature is above 45°F. The hottest month is August, when temperatures may reach 118°F in the Jordan Valley. In Amman the average summer temperature is a pleasant 79°F. Rain falls mostly during the winter months and ranges from 26 inches in the northwest to below 5 inches in the east.
Amman and its nearby areas enjoy sunny, cloudless weather from May to early November, with warm days and cool evenings. Winters can be cold and wet, with rain falling regularly between late November and early April, and temperatures ranging between 46°–59°F. In Jordan there is a diverse range of fauna in different zones, including foxes, hares, badgers, porcupines, hyenas, jackals, gazelles, and camels. There are innumerable species of birds, especially during springtime, since the territories of Jordan and Israel are on the main migration routes from Africa to Europe and Asia.
Jordan has a strong and stable currency, and even though the gross national product (GNP) per capita is low, the country has experienced strong economic growth in the last few years. Jordanian dinars have long been the strongest currency in the Middle East.
Unfortunately after the Gulf War in 1991 Jordan encountered economic problems, and the exchange rates for the dinar plummeted.
Major export products of Jordan are phosphates and fruits. Increasing tourism is helping the Jordanian economy, with the influx of about 2.5 million visitors a year. Jordan has always had to import foodstuffs, but now the internal demand is higher than what can be produced or supplemented by imports.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Despite the Arab region’s rich repertoire of music, literature, and arts, the fairly modern nation of Jordan does not have much to boast of in terms of traditional literature, fine arts, or music. Jordan’s emergence as a center of contemporary arts, however, was recognized during the 1980s by UNESCO, which chose Amman as its Arab Cultural Capital for 2002.
Islamic law forbids consumption of pork products and alcohol; this law is generally adhered to throughout Jordan. As in other Islamic countries, Jordan practices segregation of the sexes, and men control the nation politically, socially, and economically.
The population of Jordan also consists of a sizable population of Circassians (also known as Cherkess), who originally were from the Caucasus.
The Circassian diaspora is found in diverse metropolitan areas of the old Ottoman Empire. There also exists a community of Cherkess in the Holy Land, on the road from Kfar Tavor to the Sea of Galilee.
In Jordan there is an interesting hybrid music with Arab-style singers backed up by orchestras using both Western and traditional instruments.
The Bedouins cling to their musical traditions: groups of men singing to accompany solitary belly dancers. Hospitality is a cornerstone of the Arab lifestyle and etiquette. Jordanian families (especially desert dwellers) are wont to welcome strangers into their homes for meals or light refreshments.
A typical Jordanian meal consists of mezzeh, or starters, followed by the main meal. Unleavened bread (khobz) is eaten with every dish. The other staple items are falafel, deep-fried chickpea balls, shwarma, skewered sliced lamb, and fuul, a paste of fava beans, garlic, and lemon. Mensaf is a Bedouin specialty, which consists of a whole roasted lamb (head included), placed on a bed of rice and pine nuts.
The Arab nomads of Jordan have traditionally eaten lightly and without much variety—wheatflour bread, beans and rice, lentils, spinach, and cakes sweetened with honey for important occasions.
The meat is usually mutton or camel. Gazelle meat, hare, and ostrich eggs have also been popular among the nomadic and Bedouin tribes.
In Muslim communities newborn babies are viewed as tokens of Allah’s mercy. Immediately after birth the baby is thoroughly washed in order to remove all biological impurities. According to Islamic tenets the first sound that a baby ought to hear should be the sacred name of Allah. This is customarily uttered by its father (or a male relative), who whispers the call to prayer or adhan, first into the child’s right ear and then into the left. The underlying idea is to make the child aware of Allah’s omnipresence and his power over the lives of mortals.
When the child is between three days and seven days old, its head is shaved to remove remaining natal impurities. On the day of purification the child is also given a proper name, since Muslim children are not named at birth. The followers of Islam firmly believe that the choice of name has a direct bearing on the character and behavior of the child during his or her life.
COMING OF AGE
Muslim boys generally undergo circumcision between 10 and 12 years of age. This is a puberty rite, separating the boy from childhood and introducing him to his new status as an adult. In Jordanian Muslim families, there is a good deal of festivity, music, special food, and many guests on such occasions.
Islamic marriage customs in the countries of the Middle East and West Asia follow more or less the same pattern. Traditionally the matches are fixed and finalized by the parents of the individuals. However according to Islamic tenets, both the bride and the groom are free to refuse the spouse selected by their parents, guardians, or elders. Prior to the actual wedding the families of the bride and groom decide upon a specific amount of money or articles in kind that the groom’s family must give to the bride. This sum of money is a security amount for the bride in case the marriage breaks up. As in all Islamic societies weddings in Jordan take place in the home of the bride. The rites are conducted by an imam, who also leads the prayers in the mosque.
The bride and the bridegroom sit in separate rooms during the marriage ceremony. Two guests— one from the bride’s family and one from the groom’s family—witness the bride’s consent for marriage and inform the imam. The imam begins the ceremony by reciting relevant passages from the Koran, then talks about the duties of marriage and asks the bridegroom if he agrees to the marriage.
Once the bridegroom has agreed to the marriage, the bride, the bridegroom, and the two witnesses sign a marriage contract that confirms their agreement.
The Koran says that a man may marry up to four wives but only if he can treat them all equally. If a marriage does not work out, the Koran says that couples may get divorced, but only as a last resort.
First the couple must try to resolve their problems.
If this does not work each spouse must choose a friend or relative for counseling. If this still fails, they must wait for four months before they can end their marriage.
All major religions of the world accept death as a part of human life. Keeping in mind the ephemeral quality of life, Muslims are exhorted always to be prepared for the inevitable. When death is imminent, an individual is encouraged to recite and declare his or her faith. They are taught to treat the dead body with gentleness and respect. In Jordan it is customary for Muslims to ritually wash the dead body, perfume it, and drape it in a fresh new white cloth before burial. Also the burial ought to take place as quickly as possible following death. The dead person’s face is turned toward Mecca, the arms and legs are straightened out, and the mouth and eyes closed; a baby who dies at birth or is stillborn has to have a name.
The loved ones of a deceased person come together for prayers. Then the corpse is solemnly carried to the graveyard. After the burial a “wake” is held for both men and women, usually on the same day as the burial.