Christians in Jordan

De Volder

Christians in Jordan

Can the Christian communities in Jordan escape the violent fate of their neighbors?

Christians in the Middle East might be facing the greatest threats they have known in centuries.  The number of Christians in the area is decreasing, and Christians are now facing violence and even extinction in areas where they have lived for centuries. Jordan seems to be a rare exception to this violence against Christians, and is even seen as an island of peace and as an example of religious coexistence. Still it is hard to imagine that Jordan’s Christians are totally unaffected by all that is happening around them. Is the situation of Christians in Jordan really as good as its reputation makes it out to be? Do they still feel safe, and why should they?

The first chapter of this article describes different historical factors that have made Christianity in Jordan what it is today. The main factors described here are the early divisions of Christianity, the rise of Islam and its dhimma system, the Crusades and its influence until today, the Ottoman Empire and its millet system and the tanẓīmāt, and finally the formation of the modern nation states. The first factor, the divisions of Christianity, is meant to give an idea of why there are different Christian groups in Jordan today, and also why there is a difference between Christianity as we know it in the West and Christianity in the (Middle) East. Only the original divisions are discussed here, which means that there are now many groups present that are not discussed here, because of the limitations in length that this article had. The factors described in this chapter have all played an important role for Christians trough the ages, and they are crucial in understanding their current position. The dhimma system for example has played an important role since the rise of Islam, and still plays a role today.

The second chapter talks about Christianity in modern Jordan. Some field experience was needed here as an addition to the available literature. The chapter looks at who Jordan’s Christians are and what their status is in Jordan. It shows that Christians are an important and generally respected minority, despite having to deal with some legal issues. Discrimination against native Christians is very limited, but converts are not allowed to exist and thus face greater issues.

Finally, the third chapter discusses the current situation of Christians in Jordan. The main question of this part is which reasons Jordanian Christian have to leave or stay in Jordan. Or in other words: what makes Jordan different from the other countries, that they would be able to stay safe? The reasons for them to leave are the same as in the other countries. The reasons for them to stay however show the exceptionalism of Jordan. Scientific literature regarding this research question turned out to be very scarce. Thus, the –very limited- fieldwork I conducted during my internship, combined with my personal experience in Jordan, were crucial in order to write this part. Existing literature was then used to support these findings. Three factors that support the idea of Jordan’s exceptional situation are discussed: firstly Christians in Jordan have a strong bond to the Royal Family. They both need each other, and the King is very devoted to Christian-Muslim relations. A second factor is that nationalism and identity in Jordan are based on tribalism, not on religion. Thirdly, Christians in Jordan are visibly protected by the state. The safety services in Jordan are well trained and very present.

The results of my research show that Christians in Jordan have it well. They are treated as equal citizens. They have reasons to be afraid, but they are also right to assume that their situation is different. I believe that Christians have a future in Jordan and will not await the same fate as Christian communities in the surrounding countries. 



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