Tag Archives: Religion

“Jerusalem: Clarifying Palestinian and Israeli Identity” by Maureen Lincke

This past week, I had the privilege to travel to Jerusalem over fall break. For the first time, one of the central conflicts of this region was given a physical place and my understanding of the conflict was clarified, which then subtly changed my perception of this place politically defined as the Middle East. The first day, we took a tour with a group based in Hebron called Youth Against Settlements who are against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We were shown through one of the more volatile checkpoints into the city center, where Palestinian families and business owners have been pushed out by the IDF forces there to protect Israeli settlers. Our tour guide was a Palestinian sports journalist who guided us through the politics shaping the violence, and explained the unjust treatment of Palestinians by the IDF forces in Hebron.

The tour was important on a level that is difficult to describe to one not familiar with life in Hebron or the West Bank, but it can be related to the necessity of hearing underrepresented stories. Although I loved Jerusalem, the Jewish story was very accessible and I was given a picture of the conflict that was heavily weighted towards the state of Israel. In order to understand the occupation and ongoing struggle of the Palestinians to be recognized as autonomous people, this tour was a necessary part of my visit. The group I toured with was friendly and peaceful and very open to holding conversations with us about their lives and the reality of life as a Palestinian in Hebron, for which I was enormously grateful. They cared about our safety and well-being and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Bethlehem or Jerusalem.

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Despite the politics, and my own guilt that my Jordanian and Palestinian friends from Amman can’t visit Jerusalem, the city was very beautiful. The history is tangible, especially in the old city, where we spent hours walking through hundreds of small shops that have been there for generations. At Razzouk Tattoo, the Razzouk family has been tattooing in the same small parlor since the year 1300 and we saw design blocks that were just as old. Although the rest of our trip was wonderful and we were collectively enchanted by Jerusalem, I was struck by how isolated the Israeli cities are from cities in the West Bank, which furthered the importance of our visit to Hebron. Jerusalem is only an hour away from Hebron, but the stark difference in infrastructure and dress makes Jerusalem seem almost European, and it becomes clear what story has been historically emphasized to tourists in Israel.

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My time in Jerusalem changed my understanding of what it means to be Palestinian. Because the Palestinians are denied many rights, including claim to a physical country of their own with cohesive infrastructure, it can be difficult to grasp who the Palestinians are, as an ethnicity as well as body with a unique and common nationality. In the face of an ill-defined border, bureaucracy surrounding citizenship and rights to travel are determined by much more arbitrary rules that easily become racist and exclusionary in nature when applied by the IDF. Despite my limited knowledge of the conflict, my time in Hebron made it clear that an institutional change was necessary to ease the tension that permeates every part of the city that I visited. No city that lives under such violent pressure will be able to culturally thrive, and it becomes necessary to work with local groups such as Youth Against Settlement to find a path to creating a livable environment.

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Filed under 2017, Fall 2017, Introduction, Jordan

Religion, Art, and Books in Jordan

Summer 2014 brought Mark Hoover exploration and surprises in Amman, Jordan. Coming from the University of Pennsylvania, Mark discovered a new perspective on religion, historical art, and which books to add to his personal library.

St. George / Al-Khader Church

Inside St. George / Al-Khader Church

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Al-Khader Church Sign in English and Arabic

When I announced to my host family that after visiting the place where Jesus was baptized I would visit the town of Salt, I received an interesting assignment. I was to burn a candle in the church of Kidr (Moses’ mentor in the Quran) there and say a prayer for them. Strange, a Muslim family was asking me to burn a candle (a Christian practice) in a Christian church dedicated to a Muslim figure. I knew that Middle Eastern Muslims often conflate Kidr with St. George, and had even heard stories of Muslims showing up at festivities in churches on St. George’s day in Syria. I assumed that something similar was going on.

It was, only more intensely. In the story I had heard from Syria, the priests officiating the St. George day celebrations were somewhat bemused by the Muslims showing up, thinking that Kidr was the focus of the day. In Salt the clergy clearly went a step further and used the Muslim conflation of the two to their advantage. While the iconography in the church clearly indicated that it was dedicated to St. George, the sign advertised it as “Al-Khadr Church” in both English and Arabic. Either it was an instance of shrewd taking advantage of (harmless) inter-religious misunderstanding, or of syncretism, the Christians of Salt absorbing the Muslim conflation of St. George and Kidr till it became part of their own Christian veneration. It was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Fresco scene in Azraq

Fresco scene in Azraq

During the Eid al-Fitr break, a classmate and I went to visit Azraq, an oasis in the Jordanian desert known for the old “castles” around it. The last of these we visited was actually a Roman-style bath house for one of the ‘Umayyad Caliphs in Damascus. Its interior was completely covered in frescoes like the one pictured. Clearly the Caliph had a rather sensual artistic taste when bathing in the middle of the desert. Fresco scenes much more salacious than the one shown imply that they themselves were only depictions of what he himself got up to there.

The most interesting thing about the frescos was how un-Arab they were. Sometimes the tell-tale Arabic script remained, but apart from that everything about them was Byzantine. I had read before that when the Arabs conquered the Middle East, they brought no artistic culture with them, and thus, before they developed one of their own, informed by Islamic values, they simply adopted the art of their subjects. The frescos were a powerful real-life demonstration of this.

Books acquired in Jordan

Books acquired in Jordan

This picture shows my collection of Arabic books at the end of my stay in Jordan. Apart from the Bible (the big blue one in the middle), I acquired all of them in Jordan.

My book buying spree started small with the purchase of the books lying horizontally: a Quran, a medieval Arabic equivalent to Aesop’s Fables, and Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (the tiny book vertically next to these is a miniature Quran the shop owner gave me as a present when purchasing those three).

I received the small blue book as a present by the pastor of the church I attended in Jordan. It was written by the pastor of the church I attended back when I lived in Lebanon. Small world.

That would have been it, but then my host father mentioned a poem, the Alafiyeh Ibn Malik, which described the rules of Arabic grammar and which religious scholars had to memorize. Of course I needed to buy it too (it’s the small pink one next to the miniature Quran), and with it I bought a commentary on it (second from the left) and another work of similar stature (the third from left).

In the last two days, my teachers mentioned two books I “needed” to have. This time an important collection of hadith (first from the left) and the some pre-Islamic poetry (fourth from the left) were my target. While I was there, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn (a short Quran commentary, fifth from the left) found its way into my possession as well.

This spree of book-buying, which make packing on the return journey much harder, was a wonderful excursion into the world of Arabic classics. Now I just need to read them.

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Filed under 2014, Jordan