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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century


    Jordan is a Middle Eastern country bordered by Syria to the north, Israel to the west, and Saudi Arabia to the south and southeast. It also shares a small border with Iraq to the east. Due in part to its shared border with Israel, Jordan has played a central role in Arab-Israeli relations since the mid-1900s.

    History and Government

    A series of different cultures, including the Roman Empire, the Ummayad caliphate, the Mamluk kingdom, and the Ottoman Empire, controlled the area now known as Jordan until just after World War I ( 1914 – 1918 ). Jordan, historically part of Syria, was created by the British in the aftermath of the World War I. It achieved partial independence in 1928 and full independence in 1946 .

    A Historical Overview.

    Jordan was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until the end of World War I. The Ottomans sided with Germany during the war, and when they were defeated by the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States), the Ottoman Empire collapsed. After the war, the Allies divided the former Ottoman-controlled territories in the Middle East among themselves. The lands that today make up Israel and Jordan came under British control. The British divided the region into two parts. Lands to the west of the Jordan River were called Palestine. Those to the east of the river became Transjordan.

    The modern state of Jordan first emerged in 1921 as the amirate of Trans-jordan. Although the country was still formally under British rule, it gained partial independence in 1928 . During World War II ( 1939 – 1945 ), Transjordan sided with the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) against the Axis Powers (Italy, Japan, and Germany). Jordan achieved full independence from Britain in 1946 after the war had ended and named King Abdullah ibn al-Hussein as its first ruler.

    In 1948 the United Nations divided Palestine into what was supposed to be two states—one for Jews and one for Arabs. Israel immediately declared statehood, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War. The portion of Palestine still under Arab control united with Jordan and seized the eastern part of Jerusalem during the war. Three years later, King Abdullah was assassinated and his son, King Talal ibn Abdullah , assumed the throne. After less than a year in power he abdicated and his son King Hussein ibn Talal took over.

    When an Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1967 , Israeli forces captured eastern Jerusalem and seized territory held by Jordan on the west bank of the Jordan River. Since that time, Israel has occupied the territory known as the West Bank. In the wake of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled across the border to Jordan. In 1988 Jordan formally ended its legal and political ties to the West Bank, and six years later, King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel. When King Hussein died in 1999 , he was succeeded by his son King Abdullah II , who continues to rule.

    The Government Takes Shape.

    In 1928 Transjordan adopted a constitution and a system of government headed by a king and an elected parliament, or National Assembly. The parliament consists of two houses. In the lower house, members are elected by the voters. In the upper house, members are chosen by the king and approved by members of the lower house.

    The country's first elections took place in 1929 . In 1952 Jordan adopted a new constitution under which the king shares executive power with a prime minister and several cabinet members. The king has the power to declare war and make treaties. He may also call the lower house of parliament into session, close its sessions, or suspend its activities.

    Jordan's legal system consists of separate courts for civil and religious matters. Civil courts rule on cases of civil and criminal law, while religious courts deal with such issues as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. A supreme court handles appeals of lower court rulings and interprets the law. Tribal courts hear cases brought by Jordan's nomadic population.

    Politics and Islam

    Political parties first emerged in Jordan during the 1920s and 1930s but were not truly effective. Since 1946 , when Jordan gained full independence, Islamic parties have played a key role.

    The Emergence of Political Parties.

    A number of early secular parties in Jordan sought independence from Britain. They were limited, however, by British influence over the government and a general lack of political experience. Increased Western influence in the Middle East, combined with the creation of Israel, strengthened political activity in Jordan. These factors also contributed to the emergence of more radical political parties in the country.

    The most prominent political party in Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood, is officially registered as a social and religious organization, but it has also been very successful in politics. After declaring its support for King Abdullah I early on, the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to operate freely and continues to support the government. Under the slogan “Islam is the solution,” the group calls for reforms based on Islamic law and values, and it aims to end corruption and Western influence in Jordan. Its main goals are to develop a national education program based on Islamic principles, to promote economic development, to work for a just distribution of wealth, and to advance Muslim unity.

    Political unrest, including some riots, forced King Hussein to declare martial law in 1957 . He also outlawed political activity by secular parties, which led to increased influence for the Muslim Brotherhood. After limited elections were held in 1962 , the government lifted martial law and allowed political parties to operate again. Political turmoil, however, led to another ban on political parties in 1963 . Wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973 kept tensions high and general elections were cancelled in Jordan for more than 20 years.

    In 1989 King Hussein ended military rule and political parties were once again allowed to operate freely. General elections were held later that year, and the Muslim Brotherhood won 40 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. Two years later, the king invited a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood to form a cabinet. Members of the party were chosen to head five important ministries, including education and justice. The Muslim Brotherhood retained much of its political power in the elections of 1993 and 1997 as well.

    Other Influential Islamic Groups.

    Although they have no legal status, other groups that claim significant membership include the Islamic Liberation Party, the Islamic Holy War Party, Hamas, Muhammad's Army, and the Muslim Youth Movement. They are considered threats to public order because they have called for the overthrow of Arab governments in the region in hopes of replacing the current regimes with Islamic governments.

    The Islamic Liberation Party believes that Islam should guide all aspects of life. Its goal is to replace secular governments with Islamic caliphates. The party refuses to participate in social, religious, or charitable activities, which it feels distract from its political aims. The Liberation Party attempted an unsuccessful coup in 1969 . The Islamic Holy War Party, Muhammad's Army, and the Muslim Youth Movement are less popular than the Islamic Liberation Party. Nonetheless, members of these groups have been accused of trying to overthrow the government. Hamas, a Palestinian group that seeks the destruction of the state of Israel, is prohibited from political activity in Jordan.

    A number of nonpolitical, purely religious Islamic groups also operate in Jordan. Sufi orders, which came to Jordan from surrounding countries, stress proper religious conduct and reject materialist values. Their members come from all levels of Jordanian society and have increased the awareness of Islam among average citizens. Another prominent religious group, the Jama'at al-Tabligh, is a religious organization that calls for a return to the Qur'an and early Islamic practices. The group traces its roots to India and followers are required to spend an hour each day, or one day a month, preaching the word of God. See also Arab-Israeli Conflict; Hamas; Muslim Brotherhood.

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