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JORDAN. The modern state of Jordan first emerged in 1921 as the Emirate of Transjordan. Until the end of World War I this area had been part of greater Syria under Ottoman rule. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 the Allied Powers divided the Middle East into spheres of influence, with Transjordan and Palestine under British mandate and trusteeship. In 1946 Transjordan achieved independence to become the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with Prince Abdullah ibn al-Hussein its first monarch (1921-1951).


In 1948 the United Nations partitioned Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli War began. The portion of Palestine under Arab control at the end of the war merged with Jordan. After King Abdullah’s assassination in 1951 his son, King Talal ibn Abdullah, ruled for nearly a year and then abdicated in favor of his son, King Hussein ibn Talal, who has remained in power since then.

In 1967 Israeli forces occupied the West Bank of Jordan. Following sustained occupation, in July 1988 Jordan formally severed legal and administrative ties with the West Bank, and in 1989 ordered a parliamentary election involving only residents of the East Bank.

Jordan occupies nearly 57,354 square miles, more than two-thirds of it semiarid. Nearly 93 percent of the land under cultivation depends on annual rainfall, and only 8.6 percent receives more than the 7.8 annual inches required for cultivation. Because agriculture’s contribution to the national economy fluctuates with rainfall, Jordan relies on food imports to meet its basic needs.

Continuous population growth has steadily increased this dependence and aggravated the budget deficit. In 1921 Jordan’s population was estimated between 200,000 and 400,000 (a rough estimate because of the mobility of the bedouin segment). By September 1991 it had increased to an estimated 3.5 million, an annual increase rate of 3.4 percent. Rapid population growth in Jordan during the second half of the twentieth century is in part the result of political upheavals in the Middle East. Palestinian refugees settled on the East Bank of Jordan in two waves, first after the partition of Palestine in 1948 and later after the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank. A third influx occurred with the return from Kuwait of more than 300,000 Palestinians and Jordanians during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Islam is the dominant religion in Jordan, and 95 percent of the population are Sunni Muslim. Another I percent of the population consists of Druze and Baha’is; Christians comprise the remaining 4 percent. Before the twentieth century most residents of Jordan were farmers and small merchants residing in villages and towns.

Around the turn of the century, groups such as the Shishans, Circassians, and Armenians came from the Baltic States and the Caucasus to escape political and religious turmoil, maintaining their languages and other ethnic traits. During the same period, individuals or families from neighboring Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt arrived in increasing numbers.

Political parties began to emerge in Jordan after its creation as a modern state in 1921. During the 1920S and 1930s a few national secular political parties called for independence from Britain but failed because of British influence on the government and a lack of political awareness among the native population. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, modern secular and religio-political ideologies entered Jordan from neighboring Arab countries. Jordanian students who had attended higher academic institutions in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon were influenced by these active and organized movements and led them in Jordan. Political awareness was spurred by the continuing threats of Western colonialism. The creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent military and political humiliations of Arab forces radicalized the political atmosphere.

Two basic types of organized Islamic religious movements exist in Jordan. The first focuses on political goals, and the second on religious revival. Among the first, some parties have legal status, but others do not. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood, registered as a socioreligious philanthropic organization, organizes and functions freely because it has openly declared support of the king and Hashemite family rule. By contrast, the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami), the Islamic Holy War Party (Jama’at al-Jihad al-Islami), Hamas, Muhammad’s Army (Jaysh Muhammad), and the Muslim Youth movement (Harakat Shabab al-Nafir al-Islami) have no legal status. These parties, with the exception of Hamas, have called for the overthrow of ruling Arab regimes and their replacement by Islamic governments. The second type of organized religious Islamic movements, which focus only on religious objectives, includes Sufi orders, the Jama’at al-Tabligh and Jama’at al-Sulufiyah.

The most active and dominant Islamic political party is the Muslim Brotherhood, which originated in Egypt and spread into Palestine in 1946 and thence into Jordan. One major factor that contributed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s credibility and visibility was its participation in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Its open support of King Abdullah also helped. The king backed the movement because he shared its Islamic beliefs and values. Royal favor has continued with King Hussein. This harmonious relationship was confirmed when both the regime and the party became targets of criticism and attacks by various Arab regimes and secular Pan-Arab movements, especially in the 1950s, and late 1960s. The Muslim Brotherhood reacted by attacking all secular political parties as the “enemy of God.” In 1954 an assassination attempt on the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser was attributed to followers of the party in Egypt. When many of the leadership were arrested and jailed, some took refuge in Jordan, including the son-inlaw of the movement’s founder Hasan al-Banna’, Said Ramadan, who has maintained an active role.

In 1957 the Jordanian government imposed martial law, and secular political parties were not permitted to function. As a result, for nearly three decades the Muslim Brotherhood was able to build support at all societal levels without much competition. In 1989 martial law was lifted and political freedom granted to all parties, but the Muslim Brotherhood had consolidated its position, especially after 1967.

The impact of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and Israeli occupation of Arab territories fueled the political comeback of various Islamic movements in Jordan. The Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan was “Islam is the solution,” and its members criticized the government but not the king. They pressed for reforms based on the shari’ah and Islamic values to stamp out corruption and eliminate Western influence. The party carried that message to all societal levels with its five-point agenda: (1) to develop a national educational program and curriculum based on and shaped by Islamic teaching and values and compatible with modern times; (2) to develop the Islamic world economically and to ensure a just distribution of wealth; (3) to establish unity among different Islamic governments and coordinate policy and functions to maintain strong links among all Muslims; (4) to establish a social policy encouraging economic charities in order to eradicate poverty, ignorance, and diseases; and (5) to develop and promote Islam as a base for a universal civilization (al-Kilani, 1990, p. 58).

The Muslim Brotherhood’s reform agenda was put to the test when King Hussein asked Mazhar Badran, a leading figure in the movement, to form a cabinet in January 1991. Five Muslim Brotherhood members headed important cabinet ministries, including education, social services, and justice. Among the important reforms introduced by the newly appointed minister of Education, Abdullah al-`Agaliya, were segregation by gender in the workplace and in schools, revisions of textbooks, appointments of Muslim Brotherhood members to key positions in the ministry and, in some cases, replacement of women in strategic positions by men.

Over the past four decades the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has built and operated nearly two hundred private Islamic elementary and secondary schools, as well as Qur’anic teaching centers, funded entirely by private donations. Independent of government support, it has also launched a program to open hospitals and health care clinics nationwide to provide services based on the individual’s ability to pay. Through its control of a broad range of organizations and institutions that provide services to the public, the Muslim Brotherhood is transmitting its religio-political message and widening its support among the masses.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has more political power than its counterparts in many other Arab countries. This was reflected in the national parliamentary election of 1989, which gave the Islamists around 40 percent of the seats in the lower house. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan are highly educated, many holding doctorates from American universities. Furthermore, many of the leaders come from prominent families with tribal backgrounds where patronage plays an important role. The traditional tribal segment of the Jordanian population still dominates the social and political structure of the society.

The parliamentary elections of November 1993 demonstrated the continuing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood, which remained the largest single organized bloc. However, it did not win as many seats as in 1989, reflecting both more restrictive election laws and changes in public views as a result of experiences with Islamists in positions of responsibility. The Muslim Brotherhood has been registered since the 195os as a religious charitable organization. In response to the election law of 1993, the Muslim Brotherhood, in cooperation with other independent Islamist individuals and political groups, created a political party under the name “Islamic National Action Front.” The new Islamic Action Front was licensed in February 1993. This strategy allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to remain politically influential but not directly involved in partisan politics.

Another Islamic movement with a political agenda, the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami), has not been legalized. Its founder, Shaykh Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, was born in Palestine in igio. Educated at al-Azhar during the 1940s, al-Nabhani studied the forces that led to the disintegration of the Islamic empire at the beginning of the twelfth century and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. He identified the key forces as Western influence and domination, and the separation of church and state in the Islamic world (Ubaydat, 1989, p. 245). While pursuing his studies he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, but he withdrew in 1952 to establish the Islamic Liberation Party. After the partition of Palestine in 1948, alNabhani submitted an official request to the Jordanian government to operate legally within the political system, but this was denied. Continual pressure by the government, harsh treatment, and imprisonment forced many party leaders to leave Jordan. Al-Nabhani fled to Syria in 1953 and then to Lebanon, where he lived until his death in 1974.

Ideologically the Islamic Liberation Party maintains that Islam is not only a religion, but that it defines and includes every other aspect of fife. With this view the party urges Muslims to replace current governments with an Islamic caliphate, by force if necessary. The Islamic Liberation Party’s ideology rejects all participation in social, economic, or religious charitable activities because they distract from the main objective-the creation of the Islamic state.

Because the leadership thought that its ideology would appeal to the masses and be accepted rapidly, it sought to expedite its objectives by wresting authority from the hands of corrupt regimes. This led to several unsuccessful attempts to take over regimes: in Jordan in 1969, in Egypt in 1973, and in Iraq in 1973, as well as in Tunisia, Algeria, and Sudan.

Hamas, another secretly organized Islamic religiopolitical movement, developed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. This organization played an important role in the intifadah that began in 1988. It has publicly declared no other political interest than the liberation of Palestine from its Israeli occupiers, nor has it conducted any political activities on the East Bank of Jordan.

Other nonlegal religio-political Islamic groups, less popular than the Islamic Liberation Party, include the Islamic Holy War Party, Muhammad’s Army, and the Islamic Youth Organization. During the past few years these groups were involved, according to the government, in more than one attempt to overthrow the regime in Jordan, and some of their members were arrested. Two prominent members of parliament, elected in 1989, were detained for alleged connections with banned Islamic organizations and were accused of being financially supported by the Islamic regime in Iran. Convicted by a military court on 29 September 1992, they were given twenty-year jail sentences. A few days later, despite his public support of the court decision, King Hussein pardoned several hundred prison inmates including both men, who resumed their seats in parliament. One of them, Layth Shubaylat, has since denied the government accusation and any link to banned Islamic movements. He contends that he was framed by the Jordanian government because he was chairing a parliamentary judicial committee charged with investigating the misuse of public funds and corruption. The committee’s inquiries revealed that high government officials, including previous prime ministers, were involved in unlawful activities (personal interview with Shubaylat, 18 July 1993). Another factor in the case may have been the Islamic National Front’s opposition to Jordanian government participation in the Palestinian peace negotiations that began in Madrid in 1991.

The organized religious Islamic groups that have no political agenda include the Sufi orders and the groups Jama’at al-Tabligh and Jama’at al-Sulufiyah. The orders, which spread into Jordan from various neighboring countries during the past four or five decades, emphasize individual spiritual and religious conduct and relationship to God the creator. All Sufi orders disregard materialistic values, which they believe corrupt people. They call for a return to the straight path of God and religious conduct. Sufi orders that practice in Jordan include the Shadhiliyah al-Yashrutiyah, Kllaniyah, Qadiriyah, Rifa’Iyah, Nagshbandiyah, Burhaniyah, Taymlyah, and Quluuyah. They recruit from all socioeconomic strata in both urban and rural communities. Members gather on a regular basis to recite religious songs and verses from the Qur’an; a major effect of their activities is heightened awareness of Islam.

The Jama’at al-Tabligh (or Tabligh! Jama’at), which began in India, emphasizes spreading God’s word and Islam. Members are required to devote an hour a day or one full day a month to preaching God’s word. The Jama’at al-Sulufiyah calls for a return to the Qur’an and sunnah as well as the practices of the early centuries of Islam. Despite consensus on general objectives, its followers disagree on the means of attaining them. This disagreement has led to much ideological fragmentation of thought in the movement.

Political Islam in Jordan bears certain similarities to its counterparts in neighboring Islamic countries. The political and religious ideologies of the various Islamic movements have been influenced and shaped by Islamic thought and philosophy. All share the same objective: the replacement of the present ruling regime by an Islamic government based on the Qur’an and the shari’ah. The rise, spread, and success of political Islam as reflected in the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is attributed to the same forces that influenced political Islam in other countries in the Middle East.

External as well as internal political, economic, and sociological forces have fed this process. The negative image of Islam in Western societies began with the Crusades and continued with European colonialism in the Middle East between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. This negative image, perpetuated by Orientalists, novelists, journalists, and recently the mass media, was seldom balanced by an account of the positive values of Islam and its contribution to Western civilization. More recently the failure of the West to differentiate between Islam and political Islam has led to the perception that Islam itself is a threat to Western values and national interest. Western governments fail to understand that political Islam includes both moderate and radical groups. Islamic protest movements reject Western ways of life and interference in the internal affairs of Arab Islamic society, but this interference is usually conducted through the vehicle of local authoritarian and corrupt regimes. The hostile Western attitude toward Muslims has stimulated a similar attitude among members of various Islamic movements toward the Western world and further contributed to the rise of political Islam.

On the Jordanian national scene, internal political and sociological forces played an important role in the spread and growth of political Islam. First, the continuing Palestinian-Israeli struggle and the failure of Arab governments to stop further Israeli territorial expansion, particularly after the 1967 war, increased the influence of political Islam in the region at the expense of various Pan-Arab national movements. Second, the economic, political, and sociological impacts of the oil boom of the 197os and 198os were both negative and positive. It widened the gap between the rich and poor and changed the pattern of consumption by the rich, whose way of life was viewed with envy and hostility by the unemployed and the poor. Islamic movements have capitalized on the economic situation and championed the cause of the poor by referring to the unjust distribution of wealth. The oil boom also directed a flow of financial contributions by individuals and governments to various Islamic movements in the region. Third, government corruption, the misuse of public funds, and the inability of the regime to create jobs for the unemployed, especially college graduates, provided fertile ground for Islamic movements to recruit members. Furthermore, broad grassroots support is found among Palestinians in refugee camps in Jordan.

The success or failure of political Islam in Jordan will depend on three factors: changes in Western attitudes toward Islam; a just and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli problem; and political, economic, and social reforms in Jordan.

[See also Hamas; Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami; Jihad Organizations; Muslim Brotherhood, article on Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan; and Tablighi Jama’at.]


Antoun, Richard. Muslim Preacher in the Modern World: A Jordanian Case Study in Comparative Perspective. Princeton, 1989. Government of Jordan, Ministry of Information. Facts about Jordan (Sheet no. 1-9). Amman, September 1991.

Kilani, Musa Zayd al-. Al-harakdt al-Islamiyah ft al-Urdun. Amman, 1990.

Madi, Munib, and Sulayman Musa. Tdrikh al-Urdun ft al-qarn al`ishrin. Amman, 1959.

Muhafazah, `All. Tarikh al-Urdun al-mu’asir. Amman, 1973.

Sa’dani, `Isam al-. “Al-harakah al-wataniyah al-Urduniyah, 19211946.” Ph.D. diss., St. Joseph University, Beirut, 1991.

Satloff, Robert B. They Cannot Stop Our Tongues: Islamic Activism in Jordan. Washington, D.C., 1986.

`Ubaydat, Mahmud Salim. Athar al -jama’at al-Islamiyah al-maydant khilald al-qarn al-`ishrin. Amman, 1989.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/jordan/

  • writerPosted On: July 12, 2014
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