By Dr. Joe P. Dunn
Charles A. Dana Professor & Chair of the Converse College Department of History & Politics
For ten days in June, I was in Amman, Jordan as a participant in the Council on International Educational Exchange Faculty Development Seminar hosted by the University of Jordan Center for International Studies and America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc. (AMIDEAST). Almost everyone who heard that I was going to Jordan commented, “Be careful,” “Isn’t it dangerous?, “There is a war over there,” or some such comment. When I reconfirmed my plane reservation, the airline representative felt compelled to mention a warning about traveling in the region. “Yes, and I should avoid Oregon, because Atlanta has a high rate of homicides,” I thought. People congratulate me for making it back safely.
Random violence can happen anywhere, but frankly I feel safer in most Arab capitals than in any large American city. Jordan was wonderful-safe, secure, friendly, and beautiful. As a city, one truthfully can’t rank Amman with Jerusalem, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul, or in another sense, Jeddah or Dubai, but I found the Jordanian capital charming and the country is now my favorite Arab nation.
The sightseeing portion of my journey was excellent. The magnificent red and colored rock formations and Nabatean splendor of Petra, highlighted in the Indiana Jones movie, rank among the most beautiful sights that I have seen in my world travels. Jerash boasts some of the best extant Greco-Roman ruins, both Mt. Nebo and the hills of the Jordan Valley are engaging, the mosaics of Madaba are worth note, and the Dead Sea is a budding major tourist attraction.
The admonitions in tourist books to avoid the subjects of religion and politics are absurd. Religion and politics are the lifeblood of the region; they are the topics of most meaningful conversations. I went to the Kingdom to expand my first-hand experience with the breadth and diversity of the practice and political dimensions of Islam. Contrary to some provincial wisdom in the West, monolithic Islam does not exist. The faith has at least as great a diversity of manifestation, interpretation, and individual practice as does Christianity. A religion of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy, Islam in reality plays out in countless differing ways. Based upon history, family, circumstance, and individual preferences, each Christian, within general parameters, works out his or her practice of the faith in a distinct individual manner. So do Muslims.
Regionally, Islam differs greatly among Saudi Arabia (and it varies tremendously within different cities there), the other Gulf states, Egypt, the Maghreb, and Beirut to cite only a few examples. The degree of piousness, commitment, interpretation, and daily practice varies immensely. Generalizat