Today was Easter Sunday. (Ok, technically it was yesterday – where did the day go!?)
Uniquely, it was Easter in both Eastern and Western rites today (a confusing difference of opinion about the dating of Christianity’s biggest holy day based on which calendar is being used – Gregorian or Julian). Here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan the king has declared that all Christians should observe Easter according to the dating used by the Eastern rite. This certainly makes thing simpler in this Muslim country where there are significant Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox minorities. Why does it take a Muslim monarch to get Christian sects to agree on something? (but I digress . . . )
Of course today was a regular work day for the majority of Jordanians, but Christians around the Kingdom worshiped freely and observed the holiest day of Christianity without hindrance. This, despite the fact that Islam does not recognize the resurrection of Jesus at all. In fact, Islam teaches that Jesus was never even crucified, hence no resurrection. Yet, here in a country where 97% of the people are Muslim, Christians are allowed to believe as they wish and maintain their worship and devotional practices without fear of reprisals.
Not so in neighboring Egypt, where Coptic Christians are regularly persecuted and sometimes even killed while attending church services. Large scale rioting recently broke out in a southern province when a Christian governor was elected. However, here in Jordan the government reserves a certain number of parliamentary seats for the Christian minority (actually at a higher ratio than the number of Christians in the population – a bone of peaceful contention and debate for some). A Coptic Christian friend of mine is so happy to be living in Jordan where he and his wife and children have no fear of public persecution. Their church building is located across from one of the largest mosques in the city (see slideshow below) – something that might be a cause for concern in downtown Cairo, but here in Amman it ensures they receive extra police protection when things are unsettled in Egypt.
I don’t want to make it seem like Jordan is a Utopia of peace in the Middle East and that there is no tension between Muslims and Christians here. For sure, there are small problems from time to time. It is rare to find deep bonds of friendship between Muslims and Christians here. However, in a society where the notion of tribe is still very alive and well, this is no surprise. Unlike America where family bonds are broken early and people seem to develop a greater affinity for their friends than relatives, here in Jordan the opposite is true. People live with their families for much longer (and this is viewed as normal and acceptable) and will almost always choose family over friends when making plans and determining allegiances. This tendency naturally precludes many Muslim-Christian friendships, but it also minimizes the number of friendships outside of the family in general.
That said there is a mutual respect between the two religions and a recognition of the need of peaceful coexistence. This was demonstrated to me today as Muslim friends and acquaintances greeted me for Easter, using the traditional Arab greeting for any major holiday (used by all Arabs):
كل عام و انتم بالخير
Which roughly translates “Goodness to all of you every year.” It is used during the Muslim Eids, Christmas, New Years, Easter, and other major holidays.
Some Muslim friends even went out of their way to call me and greet me and my family with a cheerful “Happy Easter!”
While the rest of the region is boiling with turmoil it is these small glimpses into everyday life here that reassure me that Jordan is not on the same slippery slope. For sure, there are economic woes and political disquietude and even a lunatic fringe that makes “good” press, but overall there is a commitment to peace and safety for all Jordanians and guests living within the borders of the Kingdom. Certainly this is in part due to the wisdom of the royal family represented by His Majesty, the late King Hussein and his son His Majesty King Abdullah II. They have set the tone for a Jordan that has been given character and heritage by its diverse tribal (Muslim & Christian) roots yet strengthened by the recognition of the common good.
In my opinion, the peace that the Kingdom of Jordan experiences today is also a remnant of the peace left by the risen Lord who so many centuries ago had a soft spot for the people of this area – choosing to be baptized and baptize, heal, and feed thousands on this side of the river. The love and peace he exuded can still be felt today.
Note: If the slideshow is too fast for you to read the captions you can hover over the pictures and a control bar will pop up. You can then cycle through the images manually.