Peeking through the bus curtains, I managed to get a glimpse of the mosque (masjid) that I and my classmates were visiting today. King Abdullah I Mosque stood before me, its powder blue domes dotting the horizon, punctuated by a tall, cream-colored tower.
What makes King Abdullah I Mosque unique is that it is not solely composed of prayer halls. King Abdullah II attends the mosque, and so additional rooms were built to accommodate his needs, as well as signify the prominence of the mosque. Our tour guides led us to a massive room reminiscent of a legislative chamber, specifically built for conferences. A plethora of bold red, plushy chairs surrounded a raised stage complete with a podium and framed pictures of King Abdullah II and his father, King Hussein. Next, we had the chance to peek inside a luxurious room, where seats, outfitted in red velvet with gold adornments, were placed at the corners of the room. Apparently, King Abdullah II and his advisors use that room.
After taking off our shoes and setting them on the shoe shelf, we stepped inside the musalla, the prayer hall. It was an immense open space, capable of housing up to 7,000 worshippers. The floor was clad in soft carpet, with wood paneling decorating the walls. An enormous light fixture hung in the center of the room, illuminating the hall in a comforting glow. Colorful stained-glass panes surrounded the fixture. I spotted the minbar at the front of the room, a raised platform where the Imam issues the Friday prayer, Jum’ah. By its side was the mihrab, an indentation in the wall that indicates the direction of prayer, towards Mecca. It was decorated with elaborate golden detailing and tiling, distinguishing it from the beige wall and brown furnishings that surrounded it.
After visiting the musalla, we strolled across the courtyard to see inside the women’s prayer hall. It had the exact same features as the men’s prayer hall, except it was smaller because of the discrepancy in attendance between men and women (it is obligatory for men to attend Friday prayer, whereas women may pray at home). Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk around the entire establishment, walking on an elevated path that circled the mosque. As we did so, we were able to get a better look at the Ottoman-inspired architecture and the limestone facades. What stood out the most to me was the minaret, the tower that I had originally spotted from the bus. From its pinnacle, the muezzin calls out the Adhan, the call to prayer. This is done five times a day and signifies the start of each of the five obligatory prayers. It also articulates Islamic beliefs through the recitation of the Takbir (God is great) and the Shahada (There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God).
Turning away from the minaret, I caught sight of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate across the street, a reminder that the Christian minority who live in Jordan are treated with tolerance and possess religious freedom relative to Christians who live in other Middle Eastern countries.
After touring the mosque, we had the opportunity to shop at a gift shop, where we experienced classic Jordanian hospitality – steaming cups of coffee and a generous discount. The shop was abundant with hidden treasures, mixed in with trinkets designed to attract the attention of tourists, like the Dead Sea skin products that claimed to moisturize, exfoliate, and purify your skin at the same time.
It was eye-opening to visit the King Abdullah I Mosque. I was able to see symbols and sites of Islamic practices that I’ve previously only read and heard about. As a Christian who lives in a predominantly Christian country, it has been a unique experience residing in a country that is predominantly Muslim. I have never been a religious minority until now. Unsurprisingly, I initially felt uncomfortable – but I was not uncomfortable because of Islam itself, but because I realized that I knew so little about it. When you’re a part of the religious majority, it’s easy to overlook other religions. It’s easy to surround yourself with others who are of a similar faith. It’s easy to build up prejudice, misconceptions, and ignorance about the faiths of religious minorities.
In America, I was never forced to learn about another religion out of necessity, but in Jordan, I must. Religion and tradition merge, overlapping in both obscure and clear ways, and the result is that Islam permeates all aspects of society. Living in Jordan has challenged my preconceptions about Islam, and challenged the depictions of Islam in America, depictions that I unconsciously process and adapt to my own thinking. Thanks to my host parents, and trips like these, my understanding of Islam has broadened, and caused me to ruminate on its relationship to me and my faith.