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  • Writer's pictureMaria Khan

Jordan Reflections

My exploration of Jordan began with a visit to the cities of Jerash and Ajloun, which are

located about 70 km north of Amman in northwestern Jordan. We passed by the Jordan

Valley as we left Amman and travelled northward. The Jordan Valley is the entire region to

the west and east of the Jordan River. Israel-Palestine are to the west of the Jordan River,

while the whole of Jordan lies to the east of the Jordan River. The Jordan Valley is a very

fertile place, a spectacular feature of the valley being several mountain ranges running

throughout northwestern Jordan bounded by the Yarmouk River to the north. The vast

expanse of hills on all sides, steep valleys sloping down from the foothills of the mountains

and settlements all around the valley make a most breathtaking sight.




In the Days of the Roman Empire


The cities of Ajloun and Jerash are located on foothills of the scenic Gilead mountain range.

The history of this region is equally impressive. It dates more than 2000 years back to the

times when Greeks and Romans ruled over the Levant. The region was known as the Roman

Decapolis, which consisted of ten Hellenistic cities on the southeastern end of the Roman

empire. I saw three of these cities including Jerash (Gerasa), Amman (Philadelphia) and

Umm Qais (Gadara). The remaining cities are located either in present-day Syria or in Israel-

Palestine. These cities were very powerful trading centres of the Roman empire with the

southern Nabatean kingdom. The majestic ruins from the Roman period can be seen in

Jerash in the form of theatres, citadels and colonnaded streets around which shops and

public structures were built. They are 2,000-year-old structures that have survived

earthquakes and other natural disasters. One is reminded of the sophisticated urban

planning of the economic hubs of the past as one beholds these magnificent remains.




Jesus Preached in Jordan


During the Roman period in the first century AD, according to Biblical scholars, Jesus visited

parts of the Decapolis to preach to the Jews residing there. It is also believed that he was

baptized by John on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and today it is a famous

pilgrimage spot for Christians from around the world. After his baptism, Jesus began his

ministry, or started preaching the faith to people. (Luke 4:18-19). According to Matthew

4:23–25 the Decapolis was one of the areas from which Jesus drew a multitude of disciples.

After his death, some of Jesus’ disciples fled from Jerusalem and took shelter from

persecution in places east of the Jordan River. They practiced their rituals in underground

churches. But after the conversion of Constantine in 324 AD, there was no obstacle to the

spread of Christianity and many churches can be found in the region from this period

onward. Some Christian families still reside in the cities of Jerash and Ajloun, with few

historic churches belonging to the 5 th and 6 th centuries AD being evidence of ancient

Christian communities.


This entire region, including Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, was considered part of

the larger region called Levant, or Bilad al-Sham, or Greater Syria. It was the 1916 Sykes-

Picot agreement that divided the Levant between Britain and France, both sides agreeing to

restrict their influence to specific areas within the Levant and not interfere in the territories

under the control of the other side. This led to the creation of present-day nations of

Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.



The Holy Land


I had the most unique experience as I was journeying through the roads leading to Jerash

and nearby Ajloun. As our car manoeuvered uphill and downhill, we passed by a number of

hills including the Jerash and Gilead hills, rolling down before us on either side of the path

we were traversing. The scene that lay before me has been etched in my mind forever. Vast

lush green hills stretching as far as the eye could see, open skies looking down upon the

lands below, spectacular rock formations on the mountains and in some places a river

streaming through adding to the beauty of the region. Golden rays of the sun illuminated

the sloping hills and the innumerable tiny houses clustered on them. The picturesque sight

seemed like a stunning description of Paradise given in the Quran, “gardens underneath

which rivers flow.” I was speechless and mesmerized. Suddenly, a thought came to my

mind. It struck me that this is indeed the holy land! The holy land is not just Jerusalem or the

complex that houses the Masjid al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. This entire region shares

the landscape, climate, geography and the prophetic history that collectively makes it the

holy land, الأرض المقدس.


The Quran even says: “Holy is He who took His servant by night from the sacred place of

worship [at Makkah] to the remote house of worship [at Jerusalem] -- the neighbourhood of

which We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. Surely, it is He who

is All Hearing, and All Seeing.” (16.1)

Here, the Quran speaks of the “precincts” or the “neighbourhood” of Jerusalem, which is

just 30 km west of Jordan. The neighbourhood of Jerusalem should, therefore, consist of the

entire region close to Jerusalem, which includes present-day Jordan. A striking specialty of

Jordan is its dense olive groves with multiple olive presses lining both sides of the roads as

you approach the northern part of the country. The Quran uses the words تين و زيتون. Here

زيتون or “olive” is, in the opinion of some commentators, an implicit reference to Jerusalem,

because it is known for cultivation of olives since ancient times. This is another similarity

that Jordan shares with Jerusalem, considering that olives are grown abundantly in both

places.







Islamic Significance of the Holy Land


To the west of the Jordan River lie the territories of Israel-Palestine where Jerusalem,

Bethlehem, Hebron, Nazareth and other such sites directly associated with Jesus and

prophets who came before Jesus. Moreover, the present Masjid al-Aqsa is located in the

compound where the Prophet is believed to have offered prayers after his Night Journey

(الإسراء) from Makkah. This compound also houses the Dome of the Rock from which the

Prophet ascended to the seven heavens, an event known as the Miraj (المعراج). This entire

compound or sanctuary is called Haram al-Sharif. This adds to the sacredness of the region

to the west of the Jordan River. However, being in Jordan, which is historically Transjordan,

or the east of the Jordan River, I realized that this place shares the pre-prophetic Graeco-

Roman history with the west side. Added to this, there are places on both sides known to be

visited by prophets and pious people from the past. The Gilead hills, specifically, have been

mentioned several times in the Old Testament as the site associated with a number of Israeli


prophets, including Prophet Jacob. Prophet Moses too is supposed to have stepped foot on

the lands of Jordan with the Children of Israel, after their exodus from Egypt. One of their

temporary halting places was in Wadi Musa and the general area around Petra, before they

went up north to enter the Promised Land. And as far as Islamic history is concerned,

modern-day Jordan is one of those places where many companions of the Prophet travelled

to after the death of the Prophet ﷺ. Some of these companions were Muadh ibn Jabal,

Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Dirar ibn al-Azwar, Shurahbil ibn Hasnah and Amir ibn Abi

Waqqas, رضي الله عنهم. I visited the places where Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and Muadh ibn

Jabal have been buried. I also offered prayer at the mosques attached to their graves. I

spent some quiet moments in these newly constructed complexes that contain tombs and

mosques of the Prophet’s companions. I marvelled at the courage and inner strength God

had granted these pious souls that helped them emerge from their dwellings, go thousands

of kilometers up north and meet with new people, the Romans and Sassanids, far advanced

than them intellectually, culturally, economically and militarily. I was overwhelmed and

prayed to God to grant me similar strength to humbly be part of this spiritual prophetic

mission.


When I entered the space where Muadh ibn Jabal is buried and his tomb is located, I had a

strange feeling. The grave built over the site he is buried is an imposing rectangular

structure covered with green cloth. For a moment, I felt I was in the company of Hazarat

Muadh ibn Jabal. The Prophet ﷺ had said that Muadh will lead the scholars into Paradise.


He was one of the most learned of the Sahaba, among of those involved in the collection

and compilation of the Quran during the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab.

The Prophet had even sent him to Yemen to teach the faith to new converts. Similarly, Abu

Bakr and Umar had sent him northward to the Sham to educate people about Islam.

Considering the depth of his knowledge, when I entered the site where he was buried, I was

momentarily held in awe of the knowledge God had granted to the person buried there.

Muadh ibn Jabal gave these words of advice to his son before his death: “A person is always

between two deeds: one for which he gets immediate reward, and the other for he will be

rewarded in the world Hereafter.” His son, Abdul Rahman ibn Muadh, is also buried next to

him.


An Interesting Fact about Israel-Palestine and Jordan

Geologically, Jerusalem and Jordan lie at the intersection of the African and Arabian tectonic plates. Both these plates were connected in the ancient past, but have been shifting away from one another. It is this movement of the two plates that has resulted in the formation of the Jordan Valley. Jerusalem is located on the western side of the boundary of the African and Arabian plates, while Jordan is located on the eastern side of this boundary. This is why, there is geological and geographical similarity between Jerusalem and parts of Jordan. The African and Arabian plates are slowly moving apart from each other. This movement has widened the separation between the two plates. The region that is now Israel-Palestine was located closer to the region that is now Jordan in the past. But the two regions have slowly moved apart over time. While the rate of separation is very slow, it is continuous.







The “Fifth” Gospel


As my stay in Jordan is nearing an end, there is a thought that has been on my mind for

quite some time. In the 19 th century, an American traveller visited the Lake Tiberias, or the

Sea of Galilee. The Lake, located northeast of Israel, is today a sacred spot for Christian

pilgrims due to its connection with Jesus. It is said that Jesus preached along the shores of

Lake Tiberias and performed several miracles, including the famous miracle of walking on

water. When the American tourist saw the Sea of Galilee from close, he had a very powerful

experience which he described as “the fifth Gospel”. The Bible is composed of four books:

Mark, Luke, Matthew and John. For the Christian traveller, journeying to the place where

Jesus preached the word of God was equivalent to being influenced by a Book of Gospel,

though unwritten.


I had a comparable experience when I travelled around in various parts of Jordan. Initially, I

had planned to visit Jerusalem during the Eid break here in Amman. But due to issues

related to visa, I couldn’t go outside Jordan and my tour to Jerusalem was cancelled. I had

no option but to stay back in Jordan during the one-week vacation. I used this as an

opportunity to travel around the country. This combination of events led me to re-discover

a land that, I believe, hasn’t been fully appreciated for its sacred historical past, spiritual

reminders of pious people who lived, passed by or are buried here, and God’s enormous

signs scattered all over the region’s extraordinary landscape. According to Islamic literature,

a prophet is supposed to have passed by one of the regions of Jordan and today a mosque

has been built there in his memory. We visited this spot named after Prophet Yoshua bin

Nun. When we asked the tour guide about the significance of the place, he said: “مطل على

فلسطين.”


He meant that the significance of the place is that it overlooks Palestine or is facing

Palestine, although the virtue of the place was in the life of the Prophet Yoshua, who is

supposed to have led the Children of Israel after Moses and spent some days in this part of

the world with the believers whom he had been made responsible for by God Almighty.

I couldn’t visit Jerusalem, or Bayt al-Maqdis, the site endowed with immense holiness in this

part of the world. Due to the overpowering sacredness attached to Jerusalem, its

neighbouring regions and the stories they narrate have been eclipsed in comparison. But I

can say that revisiting Jordan’s past was, for me, on par with the experience of going to

Jerusalem. There is no wonder why the Quran says that We have blessed the lands in the

“neighbourhood of Jerusalem”. It is indeed something to wonder about, because this is a

very special description that the Quran uses a number of times specifically for this region.

To understand why this land is blessed, one must undertake a journey east of the Jordan

River.



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