A combination of modernity and rich Islamic heritage has earned Amman the title of the capital of Islamic culture for 2017, succeeding Kuwait, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) announced.
“It is a modern city that is full of knowledge and science and at the same time it has a unique cultural and historical significance. The selection criteria require that the capital be of rich cultural and historic heritage, enjoying the ability to provide distinguished contributions to the Islamic culture and humanity in general,” ISESCO Director General Abdulaziz Twaijri stated.
“The capital of Jordan has this unique harmony between people from various backgrounds and beliefs. It is another point of significance with regard to the cultural status of the city.”
ISESCO and the Jordanian Ministry of Culture will implement a year-long cultural programme aimed at reinforcing pan-Islamic cultural action. Activities including art exhibitions, theatrical and art performances are expected.
Jordanian Minister of Culture Nabih Shuqum applauded the selection, which, he said, was in appreciation of the kingdom’s contributions to the region and its universal call for peace and dialogue.
“The wrongdoings of some groups in the name of Islam have burdened Muslims and shifted their responsibilities from spreading the peaceful message of Islam to defending the religion in the face of accusations. Islam is a religion of mercy and ethics,” Shuqum said.
He recalled that, since its founding, the Hashemite kingdom has played “a major Islamic role” including the restoration of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which started in the 1920s.
Amman has a host of cultural sites and boasts Islamic intellectuals and scientists who have contributed widely to Islamic civilisation; two key requirements for the selection, said Majdi Tal, a journalist who specialises in cultural issues.
“It has many Islamic landmarks such as Ashab al-Kahf — the Cave of the Seven Sleepers — which is a popular attraction and was mentioned in the Holy Quran in a verse named al-Kahf (the Cave). It is outside the village of Al-Raqim, 10km east of Amman,” Tal said.
“There is also the tomb of the venerable companion Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf al-Zuhri, one of the Blessed Ten, to whom Prophet Mohammad promised paradise, in a suburb in Amman and the tombs of the martyrs of Mutah Battle (between the Prophet’s followers and the Byzantine Empire), in addition to many more,” Tal added.
He said the peaceful inter-cultural features of Amman played in its favour.
“Amman is honoured to be selected as the capital of Islamic culture for 2017 because it is well known for its harmonious living between Muslims and Christians and this is an example that many countries should follow. The king has always been a supporter of peaceful living among nations and this is what makes this country great,” Tal said.
More than 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims and approximately 6% are Christians.
What does such a designation mean to the citizens of Amman?
“Of course, it makes us proud that our city has been recognised but, for us, Amman deserves much more because it is a good city that has been through a lot of crises lately, especially the influx of refugees (from Iraq and Syria) and had to adapt itself to hosting such a huge number of people running away from their countries,” said Bashar Arkan, a 27-year-old employee.
“Amman has been hosting people from different backgrounds and they all live in harmony.”
The city has some important Islamic attractions, including the citadel, a historic site at the centre of Amman that hosts various cultural activities in addition to the Jordan Archaeological Museum; the Grand Husseini Mosque built by the late King Abdullah in 1924; and King Abdullah Mosque built in the 1980s and famous for its beautiful blue mosaic dome.
An exhibition that showcases photos from around the Islamic world opened to the public after the announcement of Amman’s selection.
ISESCO selects an Islamic cultural capital in three regions of the world each year. For 2017, in addition to Amman representing the Arab region, Mashhad, Iran, was selected for Asia and Kampala, Uganda, for Africa.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.