MADABA, Jordan – Jordan’s Jesus Christ Mosque represents a cornerstone of the country’s model of coexistence between Islam and Christianity that has developed over centuries.
The house of worship in Madaba, 35 kilometers south of the capital Amman, plays an important role in the nation’s faith, according to Muslim scholars and Christian clergymen.
They said that the shrine, which is the only mosque in the Arab world and perhaps in the entire globe by this name, reflects the common ideals that bind the two religions.
“Actually we reject the word (coexistence) because what binds us, here in Madaba and certainly in the rest of Jordan, is something stronger it is brotherhood and affection that developed and was sustained over centuries,” Malek Shakhanbeh, deputy director of the Madaba Awkaf and Islamic Affairs Department, told EFE.
“We, in Madaba in particular and in Jordan in general, provide a unique model of interfaith harmony, because as Muslims, we consider Jesus Christ as an integral part of our creed and we are ordered by God not to differentiate between messengers,” he added.
Shakhanbeh cited a Koranic verse: “The Messenger has believed in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and the believers believe in Allah, His angels, His scriptures and His messengers. We do not discriminate between any one of His messengers.”
He said that Muslims and Christians in Madaba have been living in harmony for centuries and that they had developed a common social life, with each side attending major events of the other’s.
“In the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, for instance, Christians usually prepare fast-breaking meals for Muslims,” Shakhanbeh said.
He said that Feb. 7 each year has been set as a date for marking the interfaith harmony in the city.
Awkaf added that there was a “very positive” reaction from the Christian community when the Jesus Christ Mosque was built in 2008.
The three-story building has an area of about 1,000 square meters and a 60-meter high minaret and accommodates around 800 people.
It is situated around 200 meters from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
The mosque was built in 2008 by Ghaleb al-Oteibi, a Jordanian businessman living in Ukraine who visits Jordan twice a year to celebrate the Islamic festivities of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.
“To be honest I decided to give this name to the mosque because this messenger has been exposed to injustices by the Jews and he was who told humanity that the next prophet coming after him will be Mohammad,” al-Oteibi told Efe.
“Therefore, I wanted to glorify this prophet.
“We do have cordial ties in Madaba with our Christian brothers, who welcomed the idea.”
Father Firas Aridah, the parish priest of Madaba, shared most of the viewpoints on reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.
“We in this city share the clarity of belief,” he told Efe.
“We are proud that we have diversity in this city that resembles its mosaics.”
Madaba won the title of “the city of mosaics” because almost every house boasts Byzantine tiles.
Many mosaics have been discovered and are displayed in the town’s museum but it is believed that more are hidden waiting for further excavations.
“We live in a country of belief and brotherhood and provide a unique model for interfaith harmony that should have averted other Arab countries much trouble if it has been adopted there,” Aridah said, referring to civil wars in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya.
He added that he had represented Madaba churches at a celebration that was held in November to mark the birthday of Islam’s prophet Mohammad.
Aridah said that there are around 120,000 inhabitants in Madaba, with the number of Christians ranging from 17,000 to 20,000.
He estimated the number of Christians in Jordan at between 210,000 and 220,000, or around six percent of the country’s population.
Father Rifaat Bader, director of the Catholic Media Center in Amman, praised Madaba’s mosque for carrying the name of Jesus Christ.
“We are proud of that because it is indicative of the common strong ideology between the two religions and the emotional proximity between Muslims and Christians,” he told Efe.
“We are also proud that there are common personalities in the Islamic and Christian religions that bind us together.”
Bader said that the Jordanian model of interfaith harmony “was instrumental in fighting extremism and terrorism over the past decades.”
“During his visit to Jordan in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI labeled King Abdullah II as a man of peace and security and Jordan as a state of coexistence and dialogue,” he added.
Adnan al-Assaf, dean of the faculty of Sharia Islamic law at the University of Jordan justified building a mosque that carried the name of Jesus Christ because “he and his mother Mary were two of the most prominent personalities who received much praise in holy Koran.”
“This becomes clear when we know that there is a Surah (chapter) in Koran which carries the name of Mary, which is one of the most beautiful surahs that includes a summary of the Islamic creed,” he said.
“Therefore, there is no problem in naming the mosque after Jesus Christ because there is integration between Islam and Christianity, as both of them are based on toleration, moderation and noble ethics.”
Al-Assaf added that “the interfaith harmony existing in Jordan is a source of pride and an approach that should be adopted by others because it is based on the genuine fundamentals of both religions.”
“We at the Faculty of Sharia usually invite Christian personalities to attend our major events every year,” he said.