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Jordan A to Z: ​A is for … Amman!

Jordan A to Z:  A is for … Amman!

Panoramic view of Amman from the Citadel hill.

Amman is the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The kingdom (pop. 6.5 million) is conveniently located between Palestine, Israel,  Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Red and Dead Seas.  2.5 million reside in the city of Amman, which can be located at the following coordinates: 31° 56′ 0″ N, 35° 56′ 0″ E.  I have lived here in Amman for the last 3.5 years and I can honestly say that I love it here.  Everyday I walk out of my house it is like stepping into a cultural and historical learning lab.  As with anyplace in the world Amman has its high points and low points.  In this case both figuratively and literally as it is a city spread out over 19 hillsides.

Greater Amman Municipality Website – Contains a lot of good information, including current events and initiatives around the city

Amman is one of the oldest settled cities in the world.  In Roman times it was known as the city of Philadelphia  (meaning: brotherly love) and was one of the chief cities of the Decapolis.  At that time the area was under Roman rule and there are many ruins from that era that remain in the city today, including a well preserved (and restored) amphitheater that is still in use for concerts and shows.  The area has been under a variety of rulers throughout history: the British, the Ottomans, the Umayyads, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Nabateans and all the way back into the earliest days of recorded history the city was the capital of the ancient Ammonite people.  The influences of all of these times and rulers can be seen throughout the city if one pays attention in the right way.

View of Amman with Roman Amphitheater pre-1950

View of Roman Amphitheater today ... note all of the buildings on what was once a barren hillside.

Today Amman is a bustling metropolis … but most of the development has happened since the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Modern Amman is a study in contrasts.  There are many uber-rich folks and a lot of the very poor as well.  Many label the city as divided between two halves with the balad or Old City (in this case) being the dividing line:

East Amman: poorer, more conservative socially, religiously and perhaps politically.  More traditionally “eastern” in its feel.  You won’t find any big supermarkets, mega malls, major hotels, or fast food chains on this side of town.  People shop at their local neighborhood butcher, fruit stand, and bakery.  The pace of life is more relaxed and the neighborhoods tend to be more crowded and honestly a little run-down.  Arabic is the default language.  You will find very few non-Arab  foreigners living here, although we did for 2.5 years and it was great for learning language and culture.

East Amman

West Amman: wealthier, and more liberal (at least by local standards).  It is more “western” in its feel.  You will find almost any western thing you are looking for on this side of town … McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chili’s, Safeway (supermarket), the Marriott  … fast food, big supermarkets, malls, major hotels, etc.  Of course Arabic is the official language, but many people on this side of town speak English and will actually prefer to communicate with non-Arabs in this manner.  Popular neighborhoods include: Jabal Amman, Abdoun, Swufiyeh, Um Udhayna, Khalda, and Jubeiha … just to name a few.

Western style coffee shop at a mall in West Amman

I also like to identify Central Amman: for me this is comprised of the three hill-top neighborhoods of Jabal Amman, Jabal al-Webdeh, and Jabal Hussein, located in the middle of town … just west of the balad and running north.  These three neighborhoods are a bit older and more residential.  They seem to be a happy medium between east and west to me.  Mostly smaller shops with some modern conveniences, but with wider and cleaner streets and only minutes away from everything available in west Amman while still retaining some local culture and flavor.

Jabal Hussein, Jabal Amman and points West from the Citadel hill

So much for short posts!  That’s it for A is for … Amman!  Enjoy the gallery below and look tomorrow for Jordan A to Z: B is for ….. ?

Also if you have a moment check out these 5 random links from the A to Z challenge (I cannot vouch for their content … I am simply providing random links from the participant list at the A to Z website).

The Jersey Shore Mom     Doris and Dave’s Excellent Adventure     Tasha Seegmiller     Libby Heily     Life’s Autumns

Some Random Pics of Amman

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Ramadan in Jordan 2011, an Outsider’s Perspective: Ramadan Basics (part 1)

It’s a little after 4:30 AM on August 1st, 2011.  This date happens to coincide with Ramadan 1st, 1432.  Ramadan is the Islamic holy month of fasting and the name Ramadan is actually the name of a month on the Islamic calendar.  The official Islamic calendar is lunar (as opposed to the solar Gregorian calendar familiar in the West), and records years from the date that Muhammad made his emigration from Mecca to Medina.  Due to the differences between the calendars, the beginning of the month of Ramadan changes from year-to-year according to the Gregorian calendar.  It shifts about 11 days earlier each year.  This year Ramadan falls during the peak of the Middle Eastern summer.  Long hot days will surely make for a difficult fast.

This Ramadan, I will be blogging my knowledge, thoughts, and reflections on Ramadan.  This will obviously be from the perspective of an outsider as I am not Muslim.  However, I have been living in the Middle East for 3 years now and have visited a number of times before moving here.  So I think I have a unique perspective that many non-Muslims do not have.  Take my thoughts for what they are worth.  I welcome all questions and comments from both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Basics

Amman, Jordan between dawn and sunrise, 1-Ramadan 2011/1432

The fajr call to prayer just sounded 15 or 20 minutes ago here in Amman, Jordan.  This is the call to prayer that officially marks the beginning of dawn each day.  This is the moment that light breaks over the horizon (not officially sunrise) and during Ramadan marks the beginning of the daily fast.  Practicing Muslims rise early (or possibly stay up all night) to eat a pre-fast meal (called suhoor in Arabic) before the fajr prayers.  The fast during Ramadan is during daylight hours from dawn to sundown.  The fasting includes abstaining from all food and drink during those hours.  It also includes no smoking, no sex, no chewing gum, and for the most devout no swallowing of spit.  (You will see a lot of spitting in public during Ramadan!)  It has been blazing hot of late here in Jordan, so refraining from water will be particularly difficult.

The fast is broken with an iftar meal at the sounding of the maghrib (sunset) call to prayer.  Interestingly the word iftar is derived from the same root as the word for breakfast (fatoor), so it’s breakfast for dinner for Muslims throughout the month of Ramadan.  The fast is traditionally broken by eating dates and drinking juice followed by sometimes lavish meals.  During the month of Ramadan you can see street vendors here in Amman selling plastic bags of juice concentrate throughout the day to be used later at iftar.

Who is expected to fast and special considerations

King Abdullah I Mosque after fajr prayers 1-Ramadan 2011/1432. Amman, Jordan.

Every  healthy adult Muslim is expected to observe the fast.  Exemptions are made for the ill, pregnant and nursing mothers, travelers and young children.  It’s not clear to me when children are expected to begin fasting.  I have heard everything from age 7 to age 12.  The younger ones in that range are generally not expected to practice the full fast, but to begin preparing themselves to partake more fully in later years.  Non-Muslims (here in Jordan) are not expected to fast, but are forbidden by law to eat, drink, or smoke in public during the month of Ramadan.  Of course, this means in the street – but also most other public venues.  Restaurants, cafes  and food courts at the mall are all closed during daytime hours.  Only a few restaurants and cafes with “touristic” licenses can be found open.  Public consumption of food and drink outside of these places or private homes can be punishable with tickets or even imprisonment.  I have never heard of either of these things actually happening, but have heard of non-muslim friends being warned by the police!

The schedule of life can seem a bit topsy-turvy to the outsider.  Businesses tend to hold non-standard working hours during Ramadan.  Some close during the heat of midday.  Many open late and close early. This is especially true when Ramadan falls in fall/winter months and people need to make it home to prepare for the iftar meal.  Driving in Amman in the pre-iftar hours can be more maddening than usual – and trying to find a taxi can be nearly impossible.  And then for an hour or two the city is like a ghost-town as nearly everyone is somewhere breaking the fast.  The half-hour before and hour after maghrib prayer-time is sctually the best time to drive anywhere in the city during Ramadan – you’ll have the streets nearly to yourself.

Ramadan isn’t just about fasting

And then after everyone has broken the fast the city comes alive.  People are out and about visiting, shopping, even working.  Businesses are often open late into the night.  Cafes and restaurants that would normally close stay open well past midnight – some until just before dawn.  People often stay up all night eating and drinking as they would normally during the day.  Some Muslim friends have complained that they gain more weight during the month of fasting than during regular months!

Generous Ramadan! The typical Ramadan greeting.

The atmosphere of Ramadan is festive.   It’s not only a time for fasting, but also for visiting extended family and celebrating.  People hang strands of lights, some shaped like stars and crescent moons, and other decorations much like people would for Christmas in the West.  The standard greeting during the month is “Ramadan Kareem”  or “Generous Ramadan.”  The response is “Allahu Akram” or “God is more generous!”  Indeed, the month is marked by generosity.  At the end of Ramadan parents give gifts to their children, uncles give money and toys to their nieces and nephews, and brothers do the same for their sisters, particularly the unmarried ones.  People give cash gifts to the garbage men who work on their street, and many people buy extra food for the needy.  Businesses and wealthy patrons sponsor iftar meals for the poor.  In general it is accepted that charitable giving during Ramadan accrues a double blessing and many people make their annual zakat (alms) giving during this time.

If you have a Muslim friend, neighbor, or co-worker be sure to greet them for Ramadan (Ramadan Kareem!) and take the time to visit them.  This is not advised during daylight hours, but it is more polite to drop-by after the iftar meal is completed.  It may seem very late for a visit to a non-Muslim, but for fasting Muslims … the night is yet young!  A gift of high-quality dates is always appreciated and a Ramadan greeting card is a nice touch.  Your visit will certainly be appreciated and who knows, perhaps you will be invited back to share an iftar meal later in the month!

Next up: Ramadan Origins

Other Ramadan Related Posts here at Pilgrim without a Shrine:

Ramadan in Jordan 2011, an Outsider’s Perspective: Ramadan Origins (part 2)

Ramadan in Jordan 2011, an Outsider’s Perspective: Ramadan Goals in Muslim Words (part 3)

Ramadan Breakfast at Hashem’s in Amman, Jordan

Haircut at Fawzi’s Saloon, a Ramadan Tradition 

Eid Mubarak!

Beginfast or Commensfast Anyone?

Ooops, I forgot Weekend Headlines from Jordan #4

Successful Ramadan Trip to the Saloon

Jordan Headlines #3

Looking for a Ramadan Special at the Local Saloon

15 June 2011 Total Lunar Eclipse from Amman, Jordan

Here in Amman a couple of days ago we had the pleasure of seeing one of God’s great wonders – a total lunar eclipse.  My kids and I went up to the roof and watched it as long as we could.  However, this was the 4th longest recorded eclipse – so with little ones we turned in for the evening before it finished.  (Shhh …. I actually snuck back out to watch it later too.)

I don’t really think there is much to say about the pictures.  They speak for themselves.  The only thing I would say is that watching the moon and stars with my children recaptures some of the wonder I felt as a child marveling at the night sky.  I had the privilege of growing up in a very rural section of the USA – so there was not much ambient light at night and the evening sky was almost always spectacular.  It is fun to see the curiosity and wonder grow in my son as he asks questions about how the universe works.

While watching the eclipse we noticed all the different features visible on the moon’s surface.  I told my son to go get his copy of the “Dangerous Book for Boys

” as it would surely tell us the names of the different locales.  Sure enough, the Dangerous Book did not disappoint.  Today my son helped my put together this map of the moon using a photograph from the eclipse and the Dangerous Book.  Hopefully you will find it useful and enjoy the pics.

Places on the moon.

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Easter, another reason Jordan is not going the way of the rest of the Middle East

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.

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