Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
There are a number of Christians, mostly Palestinians but also some long–established East Bank families, in the north-west of the country. Altogether, they constitute between 2.2 and 6 per cent of the population. Most are Greek Orthodox but there are members of most other Orthodox and Uniate churches and a community of about 60,000 Armenians. There are also substantial numbers of Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria. Christian services in Jordan are conducted in a variety of languages.
The Christian Holy Land includes part of Jordan, and Christianity in the area pre-dates the arrival of Islam. Although Islam came to dominance in the region, its recognition of Christians as ‘people of the book’ laid a solid groundwork for peaceful co-existence. This has certainly not always been the practice, but in modern Jordan acceptance of Christianity in the midst of the Muslim majority has been the norm.
Since its founding, the Kingdom of Jordan has demonstrated tolerance for the Christian minority, even as its percentage of the population fell over the course of the 20th century due to relatively lower birth rates than those among Muslims. In the mid-1990s, Jordan introduced Christian education in state-run schools.
The Jordanian government remains overwhelmingly tolerant of the Christian minority, which is allowed to worship publicly. However, Christians are prohibited by law from proselytizing to Muslims. The government does not recognize Christians who have converted from Islam, and for such legal purposes as property and family law, continues to consider them as Muslims. Christian converts do not face prosecution for apostasy but can encounter threats and abuse from their families.
Nine of 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are reserved for Christians. Christians also routinely serve as cabinet ministers and are well represented among the senior ranks of the military. Christians’ economic influence also far outweighs their numbers, since some Christians are highly influential in the country’s finance sector. Christian pupils are not subjected to Islamic teachings in state-run schools, and Christian-Islamic relations in the country are mostly good.
Nevertheless, there have been sporadic incidents of violence against Christians in Jordan. In 2008, a Christian choir group was attacked in Amman and there were attempted attacks on Christian churches in 2008 and 2009. In 2013, some Christian gravestones at a cemetery in Amman were vandalized. In 2016, Nahed Hattar, a writer from a Christian background, was shot dead outside of a court in Amman where he was due to be tried in connection with a controversial cartoon he published, criticizing the interpretation of Islam promoted by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
In 2009, the government appointed the Council of Church Leaders, formed of leaders of 11 recognized Christian denominations, as the body responsible for advising the government on Christian affairs. Unrecognized denominations are also required to deal with the government through the Council, and their adherents must resort to courts run by one of the larger denominations for adjudication on personal status matters.
After the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the advance of ISIS in Iraq, thousands more Iraqi and Syrian Christians arrived in Jordan. Some have reported experiencing harassment and discrimination in Jordan.