Before departing for my recent trip to Jordan in the Middle East, I was repeatedly asked if I feared for my safety. Such questions are not new to me. Since my daughter has lived in Jordan for the past three years, I have repeatedly been asked variations of, “How do you sleep at night when your daughter lives in such an unsafe [usually meant “Muslim”] country?”
These questions, however, sadly misunderstand both Jordan and Islam. The biggest threat to my safety in Jordan’s capital city, as in any big city in which traffic overwhelm roads, was drivers! Although I had some near scrapes, I survived my many dicey encounters with Jordan’s erratic drivers unscathed.
While surrounded by countries in civil upheaval or civil war or just plain war, Jordan itself is a remarkable oasis of peace. When you think of Jordan, you should think of tranquility, beauty, Roman and Greek antiquity (and older), Islam, and Christianity. And—have I made my point?—peace.
Think, instead, of Wadi Rum, Jordan’s severely romantic desert landscape (where Matt Damon’s “The Martian” was filmed).
Think of Petra, the towering and sprawling remains of one of the ancient world’s most amazing cities (and you don’t need to just think of Petra, you saw it in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
Think of the Dead Sea, in which you can magically float, if not walk, on water. Think of Jordan’s verdant and craggy north, replete with pine trees and hot springs and Roman ruins. Think likewise of rich Roman mosaics preserved for two thousand years under the floors of some of the earliest Christian churches. And think of centuries and thousands of Christians pilgrimaging to the sites of Jesus’s baptism, the beheading of John the Baptist, and the valley where Moses died.
I took some friends to the site of Jesus’s baptism on the River Jordan. An Egyptian man, traveling with his elderly and infirm father, surprised us all when upon gathering at the river he and his father emerged wearing white robes marked by a cross (we had assumed based on skin color and nationality that they were Muslims). The younger man, we learned, was accompanying his Coptic-Christian father on his personal pilgrimage to Jordan’s Christian sites. The son gingerly helped his fragile father into the tranquil waters in which Jesus was immersed two thousand years ago. A Muslim couple from Bosnia videoed the “baptism.” Two of us—one Muslim, one Christian—reached out our hands to gently help the old man out of the water. All of us—Muslims from Macedonia and Morocco and Jordan, as well as Christians from the USA and Australia and Jordan—witnessed the son’s tender fulfillment of the old man’s dreams.
While no dove descended from God above, a sense of peace swept through our remarkably mixed group below. Differences in nationality and religion simply melted away.
Jordanians, 92% of whom are Muslims, are among the friendliest and kindest people I have ever met in my life. Complete strangers offered their kind assistance unbidden when we seemed lost and confused, short of cash, thirsty, or in pain.
On my second trip to Jordan, my daughter and I entered a crowded, very local restaurant; our fair skin, blonde hair and Western wear were conspicuous. As we stood looking longingly for a seat, two Jordanians signaled from the farthest corner for us to come over and join them at their table. Through broken English and my daughter’s emerging Arabic, they helped us order and showed us how to eat the delicious Yemeni dishes. As we stood to leave, our new friends insisted on paying the bill.
Sadly, we have come to accept violence in our own country, while knowing little of peaceful, Muslim-majority countries like Jordan. More people were shot and killed in Chicago in one weekend than died violent deaths in Jordan in an entire year. Makes me want to ask every American I see, “Do you feel safe in America?”
In Jordan, Muslims and their Arab-speaking Christian neighbors live together in peace. Muslim and Christian children attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, and play together. Jordanian children do not learn, as ours do in the West, that the other is stranger and maybe even enemy. Muslim and Christian adults work together, live in the same neighborhoods, and play together. In Jordan, Muslims and Christians are friends living together in peace. The way the world should be.
Jordan’s model of peaceful co-existence and peaceful existence, hemmed in as it is on all sides by violence, is a light in our increasingly dark world.