The country of Jordan is a predominately Sunni Muslim country, though there is a significant Christian population. There are also many other minority religious groups spread throughout the country.
Jordan’s constitution allows complete religious freedom, though some religious discrimination cases were recorded, especially for small religious minorities and those attempting to convert out of Islam.
In this article, we will explore the religious landscape of the fascinating country of Jordan.
What is the Religion in Jordan?
Islam is Jordan’s main religion, and Muslims make up around 95 percent of the country’s population, with virtually all Sunni Muslims. There are also small numbers of Ahmadi Muslims and some Shiites. Many of Jordan’s Shia Muslims are refugees from Iraq and Lebanon.
Southern Jordan and cities like Zarqa have the largest percentage of Muslims.
There has been an influx of Syrian and Iraqi migrants moving into Syria throughout the 21st century, with Sunni Muslims as the overwhelming majority. It is estimated that 654,000 Syrian and 66,000 Iraqi refugees live in the country, contributing to the overwhelming Sunni Islam majority.
Jordan also has one of the oldest Christian communities globally that made up 4.2 percent of its population in 2005. This figure is down from 20 percent in 1930 due to Muslim immigrants into the country. More than half of Jordan’s Christians are Greek Orthodox, with the rest being Latin or Greek Rite Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, or Protestants.
A 2015 study estimates that around 6,500 adherents of the Christian religion in Jordan come from a Muslim background, with most being Protestants of some kind. The Anglican Bishop leads Jordan’s Anglicans and Episcopalians in Jerusalem. Other Episcopal churches include Ashrafiyya, Salt, Zarq, the Marks refugee camp, Irbid, Al Husn, and Aqaba. Amman, Irbid, Madaba, Salt, and Karak have higher percentages of Christians than the national average.
Many villages have a mostly mixed Muslim and Christian population that coexist together, such as the northern villages of Kufranja and Raimoun. This coexistence of the two traditional Jordanian religions is overwhelmingly peaceful throughout the country.
Islam in Jordan’s Schools
Jordan’s public-school system is required by law to provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the standard national curriculum. Non-Muslim students are allowed to opt-out, and private schools may be allowed to offer alternative religious education.
The constitution allows many official religious groups to establish their schools as long they “comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to government control in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.”
Religious institutions must receive permission from the Ministry of Education to operate a school, which aims to ensure that the curriculum meets national standards. The ministry does not oversee religious courses that are offered at the religion’s place of worship.
In many cities throughout Jordan, Christian groups including Baptists, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics operate private schools and openly conduct Christianity classes. Both nonreligious and religious private schools are open to members of all religions.
For Muslim students in Jordan’s educational system, knowledge of the Quran is required by law in both public and private schools. However, this is not a requirement for non-Muslim students.
Every student, regardless of religion, must pass an Arabic language exam in their last year of high school. It does not include linguistic mastery of some of the Quran’s verses. Islam is considered an optional subject for secondary education certificate exams for non-Muslims following the standard curriculum or for Muslim students who are following international curricula.
Jordan’s constitution allows complete religious freedom unless it violates the public order or morality.
Around 20,000 to 32,000 adherents of the Druze faith live mostly in northern Jordan. At the same time, about 800 Jordanians are adherents of the Bahai Faith, located in the Addassia village near the Jordan Valley. There is also a tiny number of Zoroastrians.
While Christians and Muslims mostly coexist peacefully throughout Jordan, many religious minorities not recognized by Jordan’s government face restrictions and discrimination.
Jordan’s government has denied official recognition to many religions in the past. Many religious minorities not recognized by the government, like the Bahais, are not allowed to create their schools, places of worship, or cemeteries. Only Christians and Muslims are allowed to have their courts that adjudicate family issues or personal status.
The conversion to Islam among Jordanians is mostly easy and free of legal complications. Still, there are often instances of discrimination and enormous social pressure for Jordanians trying to leave Islam.
While Sharia Law can officiate someone’s conversion to Islam, the conversion out of Islam is often not recognized officially by the government. Jordanians who leave the Muslim faith are considered apostates. While there is no penalty for leaving the faith, there have been instances of annulled or disinherited marriages.
Upon converting from Christianity to Islam, there is often a court meeting between the Sharia Public Prosecution and a government advisory body that contains the heads of Jordan’s sects of Christianity called the Council of Church Leaders. These meetings often meet to ensure that the conversion to Islam is made wholeheartedly, instead of marrying a Muslim for financial gain. Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men until he is converted to Islam.
Jordan’s penal code penalizes insulting the Prophet Muhammed with imprisonment of up to three years. Detention can also occur for viciously insulting any of the Abrahamic faiths, undermining the government, or attacking a fellow citizen’s dignity. There is also a law for imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding 20 Jordanian dinars. These penalties apply to anyone who publishes anything that openly offends religious beliefs.
Christian missionaries are not permitted to evangelize to Jordanian Muslims. Jordan’s authorities may prosecute anyone attempting to proselytize or convert Muslims, which the government labels as “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.” These offenses could lead to imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to 50 Jordanian dinars.
The 1994 Israel- Jordan treaty established peaceful diplomatic relations between the two bordering nations. Jordan has welcomed some Israeli companies to open operations in the country. There is also an influx of Israeli tourists and Jews from other countries that visit Jordan every year.
In the year after the 1994 treaty, an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 Israeli tourists visited the country. A proposal was created to establish a kosher restaurant in the Jordanian capital of Amman to strengthen the relations between the countries further. However, the lack of interest among tourists or Jordanians and the failure to obtain kosher certification led to the enterprise failing.
After the Second Intifada of 2000-2005, the number of Israelis traveling to Jordan dropped sharply due to anti-Israeli sentiments across the Jordanian population. In 2008 Jordanian border guards turned back Israeli tourists who were carrying Jewish religious items. The guards claimed that the things they carried were a security risk and could not be brought across the border. As a result, this soured Israeli tourism to Jordan further. Many Israelis saw this as a ban on Jewish worship in the country.
A similar instance would occur nearly a decade later. In August 2019, Jewish religious items were confiscated from Israeli tourists who were filming themselves dancing with a Torah scroll at Aaron’s Tomb on Mount Hor near Petra. Jordanian officials closed the summit to foreign tour groups that didn’t obtain permission from the Awqaf Ministry.
Part of the 1994 treaty was restoring the 500-acre Tzofar farm fields’ political control in the Arava valley to Jordan. Still, Israel rented the land so Israeli workers from the moshav could continue to cultivate it. This area is not subject to customs or immigration legislation. The treaty preserves this arrangement for 25 years, with automatic renewal unless either country terminates the agreement.
The Island of Peace at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers is under a similar agreement. Both of these agreements were terminated by the Jordanian government in 2019. The Jordanian King stated he wanted Jordan to have “full sovereignty over every inch of those lands.”
Historical Religious Sites
Jordan is traveled extensively for its many sacred religious sites.
- Mount Nebo is a 3,300-foot mountain that is located six miles from the historical religious center of Madaba. The mountain is a holy pilgrimage site for Christians who wish to follow the footsteps of Moses. At the top of the mountain, there is a statue of Moses inscribed with a verse from John 3: “As Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted.” A church and excavated 6th-century mosaics are also on the site.
- The Dead Sea is a wildly popular tourist destination in the country, considered the lowest point on Earth’s dry surface. The water’s massive salt content lets swimmers of the dead see float on the surface like a buoy. The location is also sacred as the setting for the story of Lot in the Old Testament.
- Petra is by far the most popular site in Jordan. Its ruins date back to the Nabataean empire and is the location where Moses struck his staff and water came forth in Arab traditions. The stone ruins of passageways, tombs, and trails make it one of the Middle East’s iconic tourist destinations.
We have explored many different aspects of religion in Jordan.
Let’s go over the central components of Jordanian religion:
- Islam is the official religion of Jordan
- Sunni Islam is overwhelmingly the most popular religious group in Jordan
- There is a sizable Christian community in Jordan, mainly consisting of Greek Orthodox, with the rest being Latin or Greek Rite Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, or Protestants
- Christians and Muslims are intermixed across Jordan’s cities and tend to live together peacefully.
- As Jordan’s primary religion, Islam is taught across Jordan’s public-school systems. However, religions recognized by the government are allowed to establish private schools and teach their religious doctrine.
- For some religious minorities in Jordan, such as the Druze, there have been government discrimination cases, as it has refused to recognize them as a religious group officially.
- Jordan is home to many sacred religious sites, such as Mount Nebo and Petra.
Aside from some religious restrictions and discrimination among minority religious groups, Jordan is mostly a welcoming country to all faiths.
While Sunni Muslims will feel most at home in the country, the peaceful coexistence between different religious groups throughout the country makes Jordan a shining example of religious tolerance and cooperation.