Jordan’s culture is a pleasant jumble of old and new, and Amman (its capital) has rapidly become one of the most sophisticated cities in the Middle East.
Values & Traditions
Jordan can be regarded as a typically Arab country, for its people are very warm, friendly and hospitable. Jordanians are typically happy to forgive foreigners who break the rules of etiquette. However, visitors seen to be making an effort to observe local customs will undoubtedly win favour. Joining local people for a cup of tea or coffee can be a wonderful way to learn more about local culture. If you are invited yet are unable to attend, then it is perfectly acceptable to decline. Place your right hand over your heart and politely make your excuses. Many families, particularly in rural areas, are very traditional and if you visit their house, you may well find it is divided between the men and women. Foreign women are often treated as “honorary” men. Local women in Jordan enjoy considerable freedom when compared with many other countries in the region. Women are entitled to a full education, they can vote, they can drive cars, and they often play significant roles in business and politics. Arranged marriages and dowries are still common.
Almost Jordan’s entire population is Arab. This is an ethnic term, but also marks a pan-national identity, largely because nation-states are relatively new. Many people in Jordan feel a much stronger cultural affinity with Arabs from nearby countries than, say, British people might feel with Belgians. The Bedouins add a deeper layer of meaning by often regarding themselves as the only true, original Arabs. Jordan has tiny ethnic minorities of Circassians and Chechens (who are Muslim), Armenians (Christian) and Kurds (Muslim) – all of whom are closely bound into Jordanian society – as well as Dom gypsies (also Muslim).
Jordan is an ideal destination for those seeking cultural knowledge and spiritual enrichment. Jordan values its ethnically and religiously diverse population, consequently providing for the cultural rights of all its citizens. This spirit of tolerance and appreciation is one of the central elements contributing to the stable and peaceful cultural climate flourishing in Jordan. More than 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims and approximately 6% are Christians. The majority of Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, but there are also Greek Catholics, a small Roman Catholic community, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and a few Protestant denominations. Several small Shi’a and Druze populations can also be found in Jordan.
As Jordan is predominantly an Islamic country, one may explore the principles of Islam through direct interaction with the people of this monotheistic religion. As the capstone of a long tradition beginning with Judaism and Christianity, Muslims believe that Islam completes the revelation of God’s message to humankind. Islam – which in Arabic means “submission” – is an assertion of the unity, completeness, and sovereignty of God. Muslims believe that God, or Allah as He is known in Arabic, revealed his final message to humankind through the Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Qur’an, which is the divine immutable word of God. Islam focuses heavily on the equality of all humans before the one true God, and therefore it is in many ways a return to the original doctrine of the pure monotheism that characterized the early Judeo-Christian tradition. Islamic tradition has crystallized five fundamental observances, or “pillars,” that are as important as faith in defining Islamic identity and strengthening the common bond that ties all Muslims together. They are Confession of Faith, Daily Prayer (five times per day facing the holy city of Mecca), Fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Almsgiving, and Pilgrimage to Mecca.
There persists a perceived difference between people whose origins lie in families who have long resided on the east bank of the River Jordan and people whose families originate on the west bank of the river. All are Jordanian citizens, yet Jordanians of Palestinian origin are estimated to number between half and three quarters of the total population. Roughly seven percent of people in Jordan are expats, including guest workers – many of them Egyptian, Sri Lankan and Filipino – alongside a sizable population of Iraqi refugees.
Daily life and social customs
Jordan is an integral part of the Arab world and thus shares a cultural tradition common to the region. The family is of central importance to Jordanian life. Although their numbers have fallen as many have settled and adopted urban culture, the rural Bedouin population still follows a more traditional way of life, preserving customs passed down for generations. Village life revolves around the extended family, agriculture, and hospitality; modernity exists only in the form of a motorized vehicle for transportation. Urban-dwelling Jordanians, on the other hand, enjoy all aspects of modern, popular culture, from theatrical productions and musical concerts to operas and ballet performances. Most major towns have movie theatres that offer both Arab and foreign films. The country’s cuisine features dishes using beans, olive oil, yogurt, and garlic. Jordan’s most popular dishes is mansaf – lamb or mutton and rice with a yogurt sauce, which is served on holidays and on special family occasions. Daily fare includes “khubz” (flatbread) with vegetable dips, grilled meats, and stews, served with sweet tea or coffee flavoured with cardamom.
A tribe is an extended grouping of families who cultivate a distinctive tradition of history and folklore (mainly oral) and assert ownership of a particular territory. Not all tribes are desert-dwelling – there are many whose background is rural, and others who have become urbanized. Tribal territories, which predate nation-states, often extend across international borders. Some tribes are made up of clans and branches which have taken on tribe-like status; others have banded together in larger, often pan-national, tribal confederations. All these concepts are rather loose, but for a lot of Jordanians, tribal identity is at least as strong as religious or national identity. Within tribal identity, many people make a distinction between two broad social traditions. The Bedouin originate in families who are current or former desert-dwellers: they may once have been nomadic, but are almost all now settled. Some still live in tents in or near the desert, following traditional lifestyles, but many do not: a police officer in Amman or a marketing executive in Aqaba might be as Bedouin as a camel-guide in Wadi Rum. By contrast, the Fellahin originate from a settled, rural, farming tradition, often in the north and west of Jordan. They frequently have strong historic links – often of family or tribe – to rural communities across the borders in Syria and Palestine.