Life is not easy in Jordan these days.
- The economy is struggling to grow and create enough jobs under the weight of 1.3 million Syrian refugees, in addition to masses of Iraqi refugees who flooded into Jordan during two wars and an insurgency.
- The government is trying to house, clothe, feed, educate and provide jobs and health care for millions of people who are not actually citizens of Jordan amidst far too little international aid (aside from the U.S. which has been both generous and consistent).
- Widespread and angry demonstrations recently brought tens of thousands of Jordanians onto the streets to protest large proposed tax increases the government felt it needed to cover the refugee costs and adhere to IMF-mandated reforms.
- The Jordanian military and security services have been aggressively fighting ISIS and other radical Islamist groups for years and working overtime (quite successfully, thank God) to keep terrorism from erupting across the country.
- Jordanians are an incredibly hospitable people, but they feel increasingly frustrated by the economic and social burdens of all the refugees.
- That said, Jordanians don’t want to become a chaotic mess like Syria or Iraq or Yemen and thus find themselves in a terrible bind on how to move forward.
As I’ve written before, King Abdullah II has not only proven himself to be a wise and resilient captain navigating his country through stormy waters. He has done so in part by making Jordan a model of moderation in the Middle East, a close ally of the U.S. and the West, and a safe harbor for Christians and other minorities where they can feel respected and free to practice their faith without fear of Islamist attacks.
That’s why I was encouraged to see His Majesty awarded with the Templeton Prize for his efforts to advance moderation and a respectful interfaith community. This article in Christianity Today does an excellent job telling the story.
I love this country dearly and I’d be grateful if you would keep the King and the people of Jordan in your prayers, including the Christian community there. I count a number of Jordanian Evangelical leaders as friends and truly faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Please also pray for the newly-appointed Prime Minister and government as they try to implement reforms that can grow the economy and improve the lives of every Jordanian. Thanks so much.
For his lifelong commitment to religious peace, King Abdullah II of Jordan recently became the second Muslim ever to win the prestigious, $1.4 million Templeton Prize. And Jordan’s Christian minority is celebrating with him.
“I believe in our king,” said Imad Shehadeh, president of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, following Wednesday’s announcement. “He is a kind, wise, loving, humble, and effective leader.”
Established in 1973, the Templeton Prize is awarded for exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” First given to Mother Teresa, previous winners range from Billy Graham to the Dalai Lama. More recently, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and Jean Vanier of L’Arche have won the prize.
But this year, Abdullah was honored as a ruler who has done more promote inter-Islamic and interfaith harmony than any other living political leader, Templeton said.
Islam is the official religion of Jordan, and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion for minorities such as the roughly 2 percent of the population that’s Christian (mostly Greek Orthodox). The Protestant community has commended their king’s efforts for religious unity, though some wish his commitment went even further.
Since assuming the throne in 1999, the 56-year-old son of the beloved King Hussein has rallied scholars against declaring apostasy against fellow Muslims. In 2006, he sponsored the Common Word initiative, inviting Christians worldwide to join Muslims in their joint commandments to love God and love their neighbor. Abdullah is responsible for launching World Interfaith Harmony Week in 2010, generally acknowledged as the first and only UN declaration to cite belief in God.
“Our world needs to confront challenges to our shared humanity and values,” said Abdullah, in videotaped remarks accepting the prize. “They are the very ground of the coexistence and harmony our future depends on.”
For Christians, Abdullah has been a key partner in the Middle East. His Hashemite family has been custodian of Muslim and Christian religious sites in the Holy Land since 1924.
Abdullah provided personal funds to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2016 and donated land to build churches at the traditional east bank site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. The Muslim king has also supported efforts to safeguard Christians and their historic churches against the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The Templeton Award recognized also Jordan’s history of welcoming refugees. Whether early waves of Palestinians or more recently Iraqis and Syrians, tens of thousands of Christians have found asylum in the country.
“Jordan is very tolerant society and is protective of all its citizens,” said Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Christian Palestinian journalist who has lived in Jordan for 20 years. “It provides a comfortable and secure haven for Christians and others, despite their small percentage.”
Despite their small presence in Jordan’s population overall, Kuttab said Christians are well-represented in political and economic circles. Nine of 130 parliament seats are reserved for Christians, though according to the US International Freedom Report, they may not run for the remaining 121. Four Christians served in last year’s 29-member cabinet.
Other Christians are more cautious in their praise, shifting focus from religious rights to the political. An evangelical researcher and political consultant, Philip Madanat notes the king has diminished the role of Islamists. Yet if Christians are tempted to gloat, Madanat warns that a lack of political opposition will strengthen the security hand of the state.
The regime—though less so the king—is also irked by secular political development, he said. Madanat cited the difficulties faced by the Civil Alliance, a nascent party seeking registration, which includes the former deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher, a Christian. “Christians are good,” Madanat said, “as long as they stay within their accustomed alliances.”
Christians believe too readily that the Hashemites, Jordan’s ruling family since the British Mandate of 1921, are the only refuge from radical Islam, he also said.
As king, Abdullah is the 41st direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad. Promoting religious harmony is part of the king’s legacy, Madanat believes, but also his international legitimacy.
“The king’s objective is to portray himself as an advocate of tolerant Islam,” Madanat said. “But he is reforming without upsetting society.”
Still, the top-down initiatives do not sufficiently influence the street, he said, though seminars do try to reach the youth. Abdullah has also paved the way for a contested curriculum reform in Jordanian schools, removing verses that speak ill of non-Muslims and adding references to Christian contributions in the Islamic era.
Heather Dill, granddaughter to John Templeton and president of the foundation, positively celebrated these reforms. “King Abdullah offers the world the true definition of a spiritual entrepreneur,” she said, “who holds both the belief and free expression of religion as among humankind’s most important callings.”
Madanat has reservations about tolerance, lest a Western-style multiculturalism creep into Jordan, contradicting his biblical worldview. But he agreed with Dill in regard to freedom of belief, as persecution of converts to Christianity tends to be social rather than official. Jordan also tests a Christian before allowing conversion to Islam, to make sure he is sincere.
Jordan ranks number 21 on Open Door’s World Watch List of Christian persecution. The country assigns personal status to religious courts, which do not recognize conversion from Islam, and may revoke the family rights of apostates.
Even so, Shehadeh advises Christians to be thankful for the privileges Jordan affords their community, and to be patient in seeking rights they find lacking. Under Abdullah, the religion field was removed from official IDs in 2016, though it remains in government records.
King Abdullah II will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize in a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 13.
“Our king has been the first to protect Christians, and deserves this prize,” Shehadeh said. “Congratulations to his majesty.”
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