Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jordan Challenge 27: Visit a Mosque

One of the most interesting things about living in Jordan is experiencing the degree to which Islam is interwoven into the daily lives of the people of the country.  I hear the call to prayer from two different mosques five times every day, and Arabic language is full of references to Allah, from the phrase  "insha'allah" (if God wills it) which is the standard reply to any proposal or plan, to "al-hamdollilah" (praise God) which is a common reply in greetings. I've been told that most Arab countries have a major mosque that is routinely open to non-Muslims, and in Amman, that mosque is the beautiful blue-domed King Abdullah mosque.  When I told Paul that visiting  it had been on my list of Jordan challenges since I arrived here,  he readily agreed that we should go.  And so, on his last day here we ventured out into the pouring rain for a final field trip.

It took Paul and I a minute to figure this one out.  It's a digital display of the times of the daily call to prayer (it's pegged to sunrise and sunset, so it changes)

I knew that I would need to cover my head, and was planning to use the scarf I was wearing but when we arrived we found that they had a room full of abaya gowns with hoods for non-Muslim women to wear, so I put one on, we took off our shoes and in we went.  The key feature of the King Abdullah mosque is its huge blue dome, which on the inside is also blue, with gold lines running down to the base of the dome, and said to represent rays lighting the 99 names of Allah.

Wearing the hooded abaya lent to me by the mosque for while I was inside

Paul didn't have to cover his head and clothes, but we both needed to take our shoes off.
Like all mosques, it does not have pictures or statues of the Prophet Mohammad or any people or animals because, at least as I understand it, that could become a form of idol worship.  Instead, the interior is decorated with beautiful geometric patterns.  This is one of the things that makes it feel very different than Christian houses of worship; the other is the lack of objects, or even chairs, since worshippers will kneel on the floor facing Mecca.

For most of the time, we were alone in the mosque and had a great opportunity to look at the beautiful ceiling and patterns throughout the interior.

The mosque was built in the late 1980s by King Hussein, father of the current King Abdullah II, in honor of his grandfather, Abdullah I.  It served as the National Mosque until 2006 when it was replaced by the King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque.  But it is still huge, with the main chamber able to hold 3000 worshippers, and though that was a bit difficult to imagine on our visit, when it was just Paul and I and a European tour bus, it must be quite a sight when it's filled to capacity
A view of the King Abdullah Mosque from outside.

One final noteworthy detail about the mosque is immediately evident from the courtyard outside -- the close proximity to the Coptic Church right across the street. Although Jordan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, I have found the Islamic Jordanians very respectful of Christians (who make up 5-10% of the population) and their holidays and traditions.  Although the weekend here is Friday and Saturday, many employers swap Sunday for one of the weekend days so Christian employees can attend church. Christmas, though generally not celebrated by Muslims is given off as a holiday, and my students and Jordanian friends thoughtfully went out of their way to offer me Christmas greetings and gifts to be sure I would enjoy the holiday they did not share.  I've found it interesting as an American educator to note that schools here make more concessions for their Christian populations than we do for our Muslim, Jewish and other religious minority students. In a world where we tend to have our eyes and ears trained to constant talk of "extremists", the siting of the King Abdullah Mosque next to the Coptic Christian Church is just a small reminder that peaceful co-existence is a mainly a matter of mutual respect.
The view of the Coptic Church steeple from inside the courtyard of the King Abdullah Mosque.

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