Christmas in a diverse Jordanian society

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (Photo: Jordan News)
Words like “religious tolerance” and “coexistence” suggest a lack of real diversity and natural social integration, as if people were barely putting up with each other’s differences, while laboring to accept individuals from various cultural backgrounds. اضافة اعلان

That is not who we are in Jordan.

People taking pictures with the Fuheis Christmas tree on Friday, December 24, 2021. (Photos: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)

I do not recall having to “coexist” with my Christian childhood friends or my Armenian and Christian coworkers from Jordan and abroad, let alone think of them as members of a culture that is alien to me. I never had to “tolerate” my Christian neighbors, and from the smiles on their faces and the warmth in their hearts I do not think they are struggling to tolerate me.

Throughout my childhood, I celebrated every Christmas at my friends’ house; they were two girls and the eldest was my “best friend”. In return, they came over to feast with us in Ramadan and during Eid festivities as honorary members of our nuclear family. They came to the daily “iftars” as well as the large banquets featuring seasonal relatives one only met at once-a-year events. We were that close.

I once went to a midnight mass at a church in Jabal Luweibdeh with the eldest of my two friends, and she came to attend taraweeh prayers with me at a nearby mosque. To her credit, she never once complained about the long hours we spent there, while I was the one impatiently waiting for it to come to an end.

Most of all, we certainly did not think of these life events as something odd or out of the norm. This is probably the first time I am sharing these stories with anyone as they have not made it into anecdotes about “religious tolerance and acceptance” before; that is how normal they have always been.

We loved one another so much we thought of each other as “people” with interesting cultural backgrounds and were always eager to explore the other person’s relationship with life in general, not just faith.

At no time were we ever fixated on faith in an unhealthy or divisive manner. But we both had issues with some aspects of our faith or, to be more accurate, with a breed of religious people from both our faiths that hijacked religion and interpreted it in cruel and closed-minded ways – and we secretly vented them to each other. Although my friend’s skepticism was more honed than mine (since she was more of a conformist than I was), we both had our moments of rebellion, especially when we felt discriminated against as young women.

At sleepovers, I often stood before my friend’s bedroom door where she had a wooden plaque that read “God is Love”. I cannot begin to tell you about the impact of these words on my psyche as a child, and later on as an independent woman. Those words have guided my actions and intentions for a lifetime, and have helped me keep an open mind and an open heart especially when divisiveness and hate became a world phenomenon post 9/11.

You might think this is a one-off; that not many Jordanians have experiences at this level of closeness and friendship. Untrue. I have seen similar stories later on in life at university and beyond, and with equal intensity. Come to think of it, the common denominator has always been women; men do not seem too inclined.

In all cases, like in any diverse society, not all people have to have the same experience replicated across the board to make it worth pondering. What matters here is: This happened in Jordan and there are similar stories of love and friendship that occur every day – in the obscurity of daily life.

Speaking of diversity, as a former reporter, I had the honor of walking into the homes of people from all sorts of backgrounds, in Amman and across Jordan. They were Muslim, Christian, Circassian, Armenian, Chechen, originally from Aqaba or Irbid, originally from Nablus or Jerusalem, born in Syria, descendants of Moroccan grandparents, half-Egyptian, half-Russian, half-American, half-Indian, children of Iraqi immigrants, and Bedouin men and women. I can tell in all honesty that no two houses (or tents) were the same, no two dishes were cooked to the exact same recipe, and no two families had the same backstory.

Jordan’s diversity cannot be seen with the naked eye; it is subtle and all encompassing. Our diversity is part of our DNA; we do not overanalyze it or think twice about it as it is a natural part of our mosaic of life. Our unbelievable level of variety lends Jordanians this unparalleled ability to open our arms to other nations, welcome refugees into our communities and our hearts, and allows us to be hospitable and warm toward tourists, visitors, and foreigners who decide to make Jordan their home.

Our wide range is the secret behind our resilience and ability to adapt to situations that are soul crushing at times. This is what separates us from other nations in the region (and the world). We do not pretend to “coexist” as a public relations stunt or a propaganda endgame. What we have for each other is real.

On a more political note, let us examine Jordan’s ability to assimilate people from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds as key to stabilizing the region. Let us also remember late King Hussein’s leadership and defining role in integrating the varied Jordanian communities, by repeating messages of unity as the longest mantra during his reign. What comes to us naturally today is the result of true mindful and far-sighted vision and leadership.

At the opposite end, go to YouTube and other social media sites and see for yourself the amount of hatred from Muslims in other parts of the region toward Christianity, some of whom are citizens of countries that have signed the recent Abraham Accords. If you can read Arabic, try to get over the shocking comments on videos with Arab Christians in them, and the onslaught of obscenities and phrases that do not belong in a civilized society.

With Jordan being the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, let us celebrate the diverse Jordanian nation that leads by example as the birthplace of true human love and spiritual refinement.

Merry Christmas to every Jordanian, from every walk of life, of every faith. May we continue to carry each other into a brighter future, and may we one day become the hand of justice that removes the thorn of hatred from the hearts of those misinterpreting their monolithic religions in our troubled region.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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