Jordanian Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
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Jordanian Americans

Olivia Miller and Norman Prady


Jordanian Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Jordan, a kingdom near the Mediterranean Sea in the area of southwest Asia known as the Middle East. Its neighbors are Israel and the semiautonomous Palestinian territories to the west, Syria to the north, Iraq to the northeast, and Saudi Arabia to the east and south. Amman, the largest city, is the capital. Most of Jordan is a plateau averaging about 900 meters above sea level. The eastern part of the country is largely desert. The western part has a less arid climate because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, which lies between Jordan and Israel. Jordan is the site of the city of Petra, an archeological treasure that was the religious center for the Nabataeans, an ancient nomadic Arab people. Jordan's land area is approximately 35,000 square miles (almost 92,000 square kilometers), about the size of Indiana.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, Jordan's population in 2012 was about 6,500,000. Ninety-eight percent of the people were Arab, and the remaining 2 percent included Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians, Mandeans, and tiny minorities of non-Arabs originating elsewhere, among them Shishans—also known as Chechens—and Kurds. Of the Arabs living in Jordan, more than half are Palestinian people who began migrating to Jordan in significant numbers in 1947 after the United Nations General Assembly called for the formation of the State of Israel. Palestinians tend to live in the western part of the country, near Israel. Another third of population are Jordanian Bedouins, a nomadic people who migrated to the area in large numbers between the fourteenth and eighteenth century. While significant portions of the Bedouin population have assimilated into Jordanian society and adopted a sedentary lifestyle, those who have maintained the group's traditional culture live in the desert in the southern and eastern portions of the country. The 2007 CIA World Factbook also recorded a substantial number (450,000 to 1 million) of refugees from Iraq living in Jordan. About 92 percent of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims. Nearly 8 percent are Christian, and less than 1 percent are Shia Muslim. Since 1999, when King Abdullah II introduced free-trade policies, creating an economic boom, Jordan has become one of the Middle East's more competitive economies, though it is not as wealthy as Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Despite recent advances, Jordan's economy continues to be impeded by chronic water scarcity, lack of raw materials, reliance on oil imports, a high national debt, and political instability throughout the region.

Jordanians began immigrating to the United States after World War II, when the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel increased tensions in the area. The first Jordanians to arrive tended to settle in large cities, especially Chicago and New York City. The number of immigrants climbed substantially in the subsequent decades, primarily as a result of wars in the Middle East. Although Jordanian immigrants tended to be well educated, those who arrived in the large waves of the 1960s and 1970s often had to accept retail or factory work below their level of schooling, and many returned home after the wars. After the 1980s most Jordanian immigrants came to the United States to pursue an education. Higher percentages of these immigrants have remained in the United States, where they have found professional jobs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) one-year estimates, 72,730 Jordanians lived in the United States in 2011. This total appears low when compared to the Homeland Security data indicating that more than 80,000 Jordanians obtained permanent resident status between 1990 and 2010 alone. One likely reason for the discrepancy is that Jordanians responding to the ACS may self-identify as Palestinian rather than Jordanian. The 2010 ACS estimates for 2006 to 2010 indicate that the majority of Jordanian immigrants settled in California. Other states with large Jordanian American populations included Texas, Illinois, and New York. Smaller communities can also be found in Michigan, New Jersey, Florida, and Ohio.


Early History As an independent nation, Jordan is relatively young. The land it occupies, however, was inhabited by the earliest humans. The archaeological record indicates that people who survived by hunting and gathering lived in the area during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras. During the Neolithic period, which began about 10,000 BCE, agriculture, written language, organized religion, political structures, Page 580  |  Top of Articleand specified gender roles developed. By 8000 BCE agriculture enabled these peoples to settle, and they eventually created city states in the region. The cities of Bayda and Jericho grew up during this time. After the Bronze Age (which ended in about 1200 BCE), Amorites, Western Semites, Hyksos, and Hittites successively invaded the area.

After that time the area was under the control of various political and military powers—Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Jews, Greeks, Nabataeans, and Romans, to name a few—until 1516, when the Ottoman Turks incorporated the region into their empire. Around the tenth century BCE, kingdoms began taking shape on the east bank of the Dead Sea in what is present-day Jordan. Most notable among these were Ammon, Edom, and Moab. There are numerous references in the Old Testament to strife between the Israelites and the Moabites. The Bible calls the region the Transjordan, meaning “beyond the Jordan River.” In the sixth century BCE, the region was controlled by the Persians, and two centuries later the Macedonian Greek dynasty of the Seleucids assumed power there. Although historians believe that an Egyptian settlement at Petra may have existed as far back as the sixteenth century BCE, the “lost city” of Petra that is a UNESCO World Heritage site came into being during the rule of the Nabataean Kingdom, which flourished in Jordan for more than 250 years (168 BCE–106 CE) before it was annexed by Rome in the early second century. Numerous semiautonomous city-states existed in the Transjordan for centuries until the area came under the Muslim control of the Umayyad Caliphate in the seventh century. The region prospered for almost a century of centralized Umayyad rule but was largely neglected by the Abbasids, who controlled it from 750 to 1258, and likewise by the Ottomans, who ruled from 1516 until World War I (between the reigns of the Abbasids and the Ottomans, a series of conquerors invaded the area, including the Ayyubids and the Mameluks).

Despite this fair measure of benign neglect, there was consistent tension between the Ottomans and the various Bedouin communities in the area throughout the Ottoman occupation of Transjordan. The nomadic life of the Bedouins, who had begun significant migration to Transjordan two centuries prior to Ottoman occupation, made it difficult for the Ottomans to establish power over them and incorporate them into the Ottoman tax-base. For centuries the Ottomans tried to impose a sedentary lifestyle on the Bedouins, to little avail. For example, in an effort to restrict Bedouin movement, Abdulhamid II, the Ottoman sultan who ruled from 1842 to 1918, went so far as to recruit loyal Muslims from the Balkans and Caucasus to relocate to areas of the Arabian Peninsula with high concentrations of Bedouins. Few of these transplants stayed long in their new homes.

Modern Era During World War I the peoples of Transjordan fought for independence from the Ottomans alongside numerous other groups in the Middle East. The Ottomans had allied themselves with the Germans, and the British supported the massive uprising against the Ottomans known as the Great Arab Revolt. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Transjordan came under the influence of the British, who refused to grant the people a sovereign state. Great Britain formally gained the right to oversee the affairs of the region with the September 1922 League of Nations-ratified British Mandate for Palestine, which divided the region into Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan. With British consent the Hashemite family, a ruling clan in the Middle East whose power dates back to the early sixth century, was allowed to govern Transjordan. In 1946 the United Nations recognized Transjordan's sovereignty, and three years later King Abdullah renamed it the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, in which the power of a hereditary king is balanced with a constitution that guarantees certain rights to the citizens.

In 1947, after World War II, the United Nations agreed to partition the British Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state, with a special administration to oversee Jerusalem. The State of Israel was established in 1948, and the Arab-Israeli War broke out immediately. Fighting alongside other members of the Arab League (an alliance formed in 1944 that also included Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon), Jordan occupied two disputed territories: the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is home to holy sites of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other Abrahamic religions. Jordan formally annexed the territories in 1950 but lost them to Israel during the Six-Day War. Control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem continued to be a point of contention between Israel and Jordan until 1988, when Jordan ceased its attempts to regain the territory.

King Hussein succeeded to Jordan's throne in 1952 following the abdication of his ailing father, King Abdullah. A teenager when he ascended to power, Hussein found himself ruling a country in which fewer than a third of the people were literate. He made education a priority, and by the 1980s the literacy rate had doubled. Jordanians' standard of living improved during this period, in part because of their increased educational levels and in part as a result of generous aid from other Arab nations during the oil boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Although Palestinians and Jordanians had a common enemy in Israel, these two major population groups did not coexist well in Jordan. In 1970, after tension had simmered for years, King Hussein issued a ten-point edict limiting the freedoms of Palestinians in Jordan. Later that year he called for the forcible expulsion of all Palestinian resistance groups in the country. In September (now known as Black September), the rebels attempted a coup, and civil war broke out between the Palestinians (represented Page 581  |  Top of Articleby the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO) under Yasser Arafat and Hussein's Jordanian forces. Thousands of people, most of them Palestinians, were killed. Hussein had defeated the rebels and expelled the PLO to Lebanon by July 1971, but in 1974, under pressure from other Arab leaders, he agreed to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian peoples. To prevent further insurrection, Hussein granted additional concessions, offering a number of Palestinian government posts and agreeing to let Palestinians hold positions of power in the private sector. Since the conflict Jordan's policy toward other Arab nations generally has been moderate and flexible, with Arab unity as a priority.

Foreign aid to Jordan declined in the 1980s, and the country experienced economic troubles, with the national debt skyrocketing. In 1989 the Jordanian government began debt-rescheduling negotiations with its neighbors. The August 1990 Persian Gulf crisis over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait aggravated Jordan's already serious problems. In 1994 King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel, the neighbor against whom he had fought three costly wars over more than fifty years. Debt, poverty, and unemployment remained ongoing challenges, and water shortages, including disputes with Israel over water use, led to significant difficulties in the late 1990s. Hussein died on February 7, 1999, following a seven-month battle with cancer. His oldest son, Abdullah II, a thirty-seven-year-old army officer who had been educated in the United States, succeeded him.

Jordan's economy has averaged 6 percent annual growth during Abdullah II's rule, a substantial increase from the latter half of the 1990s. Investment from the West, as well as from Jordan's Persian Gulf neighbors, has increased markedly. Abdullah was able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States, the first such U.S. treaty with an Arab nation. His humanitarian work has been notable: in 2000 he began a campaign called Decent Housing for Decent Living to provide Jordanian citizens and Palestinian refugees with homes and access to hospitals and schools. He met with Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 to discuss ways in which Muslims and Christians could work toward peaceful coexistence. In 2010 Abdullah II was named the fourth most influential Muslim in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.

In the early 2010s Jordan's population was divided between Palestinians, native Jordanians, and around 200,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war who have flooded into the country. For a time friction among these groups shielded the government from the unified opposition that had emerged in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia during the Arab Spring of 2011. That changed in 2012 when efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's strongest opposition voice, led to an alliance between the Brotherhood, Salafist extremists, workers' unions, and a secular movement known as Hirak. Circumstances were aggravated in October, when Abdullah dissolved Parliament, imposed electoral reforms, and jailed dozens of activists on charges of seeking to overthrow the government, a crime that carries the death penalty. He also instituted laws that censored Jordan's thriving online news industry, requiring news sites to register with the government and to leave reader comments on servers for six months to be reviewed by the government's intelligence agency. The new decrees permitted lawsuits against readers who posted comments and against editors for the content of those comments.

At about the same time, financial aid from neighboring Gulf States ended, and Jordan quickly developed a $3 billion deficit. In response Abdullah II reduced fuel subsidies, raising gas prices. Thousands took to the streets in protest, and the government rescinded its action. When the deficit continued to rise, Abdullah announced that fuel prices would increase again, this time by as much as 50 percent, and the people demonstrated again. The police used tear gas on rioters who burned images of King Abdullah as they chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime”—an echo of the Arab Spring of Jordan's neighbors.


Whereas other Arab Americans, most notably those from Syria and Lebanon, have been arriving in the United States since about 1850, the relatively small Jordanian immigration did not begin until 1948, after the creation of the Jewish Israeli state. Accurate numbers of early immigrants from Jordan are difficult to ascertain because they came in two distinct groups—Palestinians from the western portion of the country (many of whom had recently migrated to Jordan when the British Mandate for Palestine expired on May 14, 1948) and Jordanians from the eastern part of the country. Up through the 1990 U.S. Census, anyone arriving in the United States with a passport from Jordan was marked as “Jordanian/Palestinian.” After they had begun their lives in the United States, however, many of these immigrants self-identified as Palestinian rather than Jordanian when responding to questionnaires for the Census Bureau and other data collection agencies.

Approximately 1,000 Jordanians lived in the United States at the end of the 1940s. This first small wave settled primarily in Chicago and New York City and took what work they could find in factories and in retail businesses. Immigrants who came in the 1950s joined these established communities or settled in California. By the end of the decade, the Jordanian American community in California was larger than those in Chicago and New York. Many pursued advanced degrees in medicine, engineering, and business and returned to Jordan within four to eight years of their arrival in the United States. Although Jordan is a predominately Muslim country, the overwhelming majority of the immigrants to the United States (more than 90 percent) during this time were Eastern Orthodox Christians.

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According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 5,762 new Jordanian immigrants arrived in the 1950s. In the 1960s this number almost doubled when 11,727 Jordanians immigrated, and the numbers soared again in the 1970s, with 27,535 arrivals. This spike in numbers was a result of two Arab-Israeli Wars—the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973—and the Jordanian Civil War (1970–1971). Jordanians fleeing wartime conditions found temporary asylum in the United States and returned home when they felt it was safe to do so.

According to the Department of Homeland Security's Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011, approximately 2,500 Jordanians obtained legal permanent resident status each year of the 1980s. Again many came to pursue an education. This wave of immigrants, whose departure from Jordan was provoked by economic necessity, as diminished foreign aid and the large budget deficit took their tolls, included more Muslims than the prior waves had. Most Jordanians who came in the 1980s hoped to find professional jobs at higher salaries than they received in Jordan. These immigrants brought their families and were more likely to stay than the people who had come in previous decades.

Between 1990 and 2010 the average number of Jordanian immigrants climbed to 4,000 per year, according to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011. The First Gulf War, in 1991, and tensions that lingered in the area drove the increase. Many of the immigrants during this period were Christians seeking to escape religious friction within Jordan. Others were members of the international business community who chose to leave jobs in the Middle East because of ongoing violence there. Like those who came before them, members of the most recent wave of Jordanian immigrants were well educated and sought professional positions. The largest numbers of Jordanian Americans reside in California.


Arabic, which shares its Semitic roots with Hebrew, Aramaic, and certain Ethiopic languages, is Jordan's official language. Most Jordanians read and write in Standard (as opposed to Classical, or Quranic) Arabic and converse in their local dialects. The majority speak a dialect that is also common in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Residents whose native language is not Arabic (for example, Circassians or Armenians) are usually also proficient in Arabic. Before the arrival of Palestinian refugees in the wake of the wars with Israel, the Levantine Bedawi Arabic dialect was the language of Jordan. It remains the language of the army and is used in many television programs for Bedouin people or to promote Bedouin culture.

Many Jordanians among the middle and upper classes speak English, so Jordan's radio and Page 583  |  Top of Articletelevision stations offer some English programming. A daily English newspaper is published in Amman, and a weekly newspaper offers a French section. Additionally, some Jordanians who have business or cultural connections in Europe speak French and German, and Jordanian television offers some daily programming in French.

Jordanian Americans have access to national newspapers published in Arabic. Local Arabic newspapers are published in some U.S. communities with large Arab populations, such as metropolitan Detroit. Jordanian Americans tend to become proficient in English but also to continue speaking Arabic at home and in their communities. According to the 2011 ACS one-year estimates, just 20 percent of Jordanian Americans speak only English in their homes. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed indicated that they spoke “a language other than English”—in this case, presumably Arabic—at home, and 28 percent reported that they spoke English “less than well.”

Greetings and Popular Expressions In Arabic the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is called Urdoun. Ahlan wa sahlan means “welcome,” and marhab means “hello.” Mat el malak, ash el malak, or “The king is dead; long live the king,” is an expression that was heard frequently after the death of Hussein and the swearing in of King Abdullah to signify both grief and optimism. Inshallah, or “God willing,” is often used to state intention, whereas the term bismallah, “in the name of God,” accompanies many daily deeds, such as eating, drinking, and driving.


Jordan's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the country's official religion is Sunni Islam, and the government supports Sunni institutions. The monarch and the monarch's successors must be Muslims and sons of Muslims.

The religious affiliations of Jordanian Americans contrast sharply with those of homeland Jordanians. Jordan's government states that the country is 92 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian, whereas the Jordanian American community has a 92 percent majority who are Christian, with the remaining 8 percent Muslim. The largest group of Jordanian American Christians belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the second-largest to the Roman Catholic Church, and the remainder to a variety of Protestant and evangelical churches. Jordanian American Christians and Muslims often share their church buildings and mosques with compatible congregations from other Arab groups and with institutions bolstering Jordanian or Arab identity and cultural continuity.


As comparative newcomers to the United States, Jordanian Americans tend to be much less Americanized than groups with longer histories here. Guided by family and friends, these new Americans understandably find comfort in neighborhoods established by others from their home country. In such surroundings they continue their familiar social activities, shopping habits, and religious practices. Jordanian Americans fluent in English have greater communication and interaction with the larger community, as do those whose educational levels are higher and whose jobs have demanded that they adapt. People from urban areas of Jordan have adjusted more quickly to American city life than those from rural Jordan, and younger Jordanian Americans have often assimilated more quickly than their parents.

Traditions and Customs Although Jordan is modern and Western-oriented, Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation of the country's customs, laws, and practices. For instance, because the Muslim holy day is Friday, the work week for Jordanian government offices and most businesses is Saturday through Thursday. Along with religion, hospitality is an important value that dictates many typical Jordanian behaviors.

Elements of Jordanian American life provide cultural continuity with the homeland. Among these are events offering music and dancing, which are typically provided by larger, mixed-Arab groups. The events range from stage presentations to shows on the radio or cable television in many major metropolitan areas of the United States. Additionally, some cable networks show Arab movies. Ongoing exposure to traditional entertainment is especially comforting to new immigrants and supportive for longer-term residents.

Cuisine Much of Jordanian cuisine is based on traditional Bedouin cooking. A good example is mensef, a national dish that has altered little over the years. Usually, a whole sheep is roasted. Large chunks of the roasted meat are served with rice on a tortilla-like bread called shraaq. Toppings consist of a yogurt-based sauce, chopped parsley, and fried nuts. Mensef is usually eaten with the fingers. The guests of honor at a feast are presented with the softly cooked eyes of the sheep, which are considered a delicacy.

A Jordanian meal usually begins with several varieties of mezze, or hors d'oeuvres, such as humus (chickpea, tahini, and garlic spread), fuul (a paste of fava beans, garlic, and lemon), kube (deep-fried herbed minced meat and cracked wheat), tabouleh (cracked wheat salad with tomatoes onions, and parsley), and felafel (deep-fried chickpea balls). Lentils, adas in Arabic, are a common ingredient in Jordanian dishes, and there are many recipes for shorabat 'adas, lentil soup. Magloube is a dish consisting of meat, fish, or vegetable stew served with rice. One typical magloube recipe calls for alternating layers of chicken, fried eggplant, and rice. Magloube is often served with a lettuce and tomato salad and plain yogurt. Musakhan is a chicken dish with onions, olive oil, and pine nuts, baked in the oven on a thick loaf of Arabic bread. Page 584  |  Top of ArticleMahshi Waraq 'inab are grape leaves stuffed with rice, minced meat, and spices. Also popular in Jordan and among Jordanian Americans is the famous Middle Eastern shish kebab, consisting of chunks of lamb or marinated chicken speared on a wooden stick and cooked over a charcoal fire with tomatoes and onions. Shwarma, spit-cooked sliced lamb, is served on flatbread with vegetables as a sandwich.

Jordanian foods are seasoned with garlic, lemon, and spices typical of the Mediterranean, including cumin, coriander, and especially saffron. Arabic unleavened bread, or khobz, is eaten with almost everything. A meal finishes with dessert or fresh fruits and Arabic coffee, without which no meeting, formal or informal, is complete. Arabic coffee is normally served continuously during social occasions. A guest may signal that no more is wanted by slightly tilting the cup when handing it back; otherwise it will be refilled. The local Jordanian alcohol, arak, is an anise-flavored beverage that is served mixed with water over ice. Traditionally, lunch is the main meal in Jordan, while breakfast and supper are light.

Jordanian cuisine is popular among Americans in large urban centers. Restaurants such as the Petra House in Portland, Oregon, and the Bedouin Tent and the Bedouin Express in Brooklyn have drawn large crowds and have established a reputation for serving delicious and affordable meals.

Traditional Dress As late as the 1980s, the style of any Middle Eastern costume conveyed the wearer's ethnic and regional identity as well as the identity of its maker. Jordanian men traditionally wore an ankle-length, cool, loose-fitting garment with a high neck and long sleeves called a kandoura or dishdash. The headdress, a taqia or qahfa, was a skullcap covered by a long cloth, usually white, called a gutra, secured by a wool rope, known as al iqal or al ghizam. The headdress was wound around the crown to protect the head and neck from the blistering sun. The bisht, a sleeveless flowing black or beige cloak trimmed with gold (the material depended on the social status of the wearer), was the preferred outfit for ceremonial occasions. Many people throughout the Arabian Peninsula still wear traditional dress, with minor variations, because it is suitable for the desert climate. In the United States, however, Jordanian men typically wear Western clothing rather than the kandoura and qahfa.

Bedouin men typically carried weaponry of some kind. The khanjar, a curving double-edged blade, six to eight inches long, with a hilt of local horn overlaid with silver, was once necessary for defense and has since become a status symbol. The khanjar's curving wooden scabbard is more extensively decorated: the upper part is usually covered with engraved silver, and the lower section consists of strips of leather overlaid with silver and adorned with silver rings and wire, often in a geometric pattern. The tip is capped with silver. Some khanjar scabbards are also trimmed with gold. Other popular weapons were a single-edged dagger with a tapered blade and a straight carved wooden scabbard overlaid with silver at both ends; and the yirz, an axe combining a three-foot shaft with a four-inch steel head. The saif, a double-edged sword; and the scimitar-like qattara are usually only seen in museums or in ceremonial dances. Silver and copper were used to decorate containers for gunpowder and long-barreled pistols. Bedouin men also carried less deadly items such as beautifully decorated silver purses, pipes, toothpicks, ear-cleaning spoons, and tweezers, all hanging from silver chains. Modern rifles and cartridge belts slung around the waist were eventually added to the customary dress of the Bedouin. Jordanian men in the United States do not engage in these practices.

Jordanian women dress in accordance with social positions and Islamic injunctions. As with men, traditional dress among women is still very popular. Bedouin women, for practical and financial reasons, wear wool and cotton garments, whereas urban women favor silks, brocades, satins, and chiffons. Women's clothing is often intricately ornamented. In rural and other less populated areas, the burqa (a full-length garment that includes a veil of coarse black silk with a central stiffened rib resting on the nose, leaving only the eyes clearly visible) is still worn in the street, particularly by older women and women of the lower and lower-middle classes. Other Muslim women wear the more fitted but still all-enveloping black abaya, a robe-like dress made from lightweight cloth embroidered with tapestried threads. The kandoura, a loose, full-sleeved dress reaching to the midcalf, exquisitely embellished on the cuffs and collar, is usually made of colorful material, with its quality and design varying with the economic status of the wearer. Older Bedu, or Bedouin women of the village, and sometimes the younger ones, still make and wear the traditional dress, a long black thobe, its hems, yokes, and sleeves decorated with tiny embroidered stitches that form complex and colorful patterns. Women may heavily decorate their eyes and hands, as these are often the only visible parts of their bodies. They accentuate their eyes with kohl and apply henna to their palms, and sometimes the soles of their feet, in intricate designs. Many Jordanian women in larger urban areas such as Amman, as well as those who have immigrated to the United States, compromise between Eastern and Western dress, opting for Western slacks or jeans and long-sleeved tops rather than kandouras but in many cases wearing headscarves that reveal the face.

Many tribal women still carry their savings around their necks, wrists, or ankles in the form of jewelry. These pieces have at various times included intricately designed necklaces of beads and coins; elaborate forehead decorations of coins and chains; ornate looped or dangling earrings, including inverted pyramids with embossed geometric designs; heavy bossed bracelets covering much of the lower arm; elaborate, Page 585  |  Top of Articlehinged anklets; and rings for fingers, toes, and noses, sometimes inset with bone or horn and studded with stone, glass, or coral. Many fine examples of silver Bedouin jewelry can still be found in markets and museums. Jordanian American women are fond of jewelry, although they rarely display it extravagantly in public, and they use Western-style purses to carry personal items.

Dances and Songs Bedouin musical traditions are important in Jordan. The most popular of the Jordanian Bedouin singers is Omar Al-Abdallat, who has achieved fame with a number of patriotic songs and has a wide audience throughout the region. Jordan also has a vibrant popular music scene, boasting a number of successful rap artists and heavy metal and indie bands. The leading rapper in the country is Tareq Abu Kwaik, who has named his solo musical venture El Far3i. Heavy metal has encountered great resistance from mainstream Jordanians. The genre is linked to Satanism in the popular imagination, and shows are often closed down by police. Some heavy metal artists have chosen to leave the country in order to freely pursue their careers. First-generation Jordanian Americans are more likely to listen to traditional music than are later generations, who typically prefer Western-style popular music and are not likely to keep tabs on the contemporary music scene in Jordan.

Holidays Although Islam is the state religion in Jordan, Christians are encouraged to celebrate religious holidays openly, and Christmas is a holiday on the national calendar. Malls and shops have Christmas trees and other holiday decorations, Christians attend Christmas mass and exchange gifts, and restaurants offer lunch and dinner specials featuring dishes that celebrate the season. Easter is not recognized in Jordan, though many Christians are lobbying the government to declare it an official public holiday. Jordanian Christians celebrate Easter by attending a liturgy and having a large midday meal with friends and family. Jordanian American Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter in much the same way as Americans do. Both Jordanian and Jordanian American Muslims observe the major holidays on the Muslim calendar, adhering to the traditions that are common to Sunni Muslims. Holidays include Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice of Ibrahim/Abraham), Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast of Ramadan), Isra wal Mi'raj (the Ascension of Mohammad), and Mawlid al-Nabi (Mohammad's birthday). Jordanian Americans also celebrate Western secular holidays such as Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. This is especially true if they have children, who participate in festivities at school.

Jordanians observe Independence Day on May 25, Labor Day on May 1, Army Day on June 10, and King Abdullah's accession to the throne on June 9. Each year the Eastern Orthodox Church in Jordan recognizes Independence Day by offering special prayers for the king. Universities and other organizations hold symposiums and round tables to honor Jordan's history. At night the larger cities have fireworks shows. Jordanians celebrate King Abdullah II's accession to the throne with a large gathering in Amman, where thousands of citizens converge to pledge their support to the monarch and promise to maintain national security and stability by honoring their fellow citizens' human rights. While Jordanian Americans are more likely to observe religious holidays than national holidays, organizations such as the Jordanian American Association of New York celebrate national holidays by holding formal ceremonies at which dignitaries from the Jordanian Embassy address crowds. Jordanian music and food are presented at such events.

The religious affiliations of Jordanian Americans contrast sharply with those of homeland Jordanians. Jordan's government states that the country is 92 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian, whereas the Jordanian American community has a 92 percent majority who are Christian, with the remaining 8 percent Muslim.

Health Care Issues and Practices The Jordanian diet is seasonal; it contains high amounts of fiber and not much meat. Jordanian Americans consume more meat and other high-fat foods, as well as more processed food. Consequently they experience higher rates of certain cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases than their compatriots at home.

Despite having limited access to fresh water, Jordanians are among the healthiest people in the Middle East, and the country's health care facilities are known to be clean, efficiently run, and affordable. A 2008 report in the Jordan Times indicated that the country took in more than $1 billion annually in medical tourism revenues—fees from nationals of other countries who preferred treatment in Jordan. Medical Tourism magazine listed that number at $650 million. Jordan's medical schools are widely regarded to be among the best in the region. Life expectancy in the country, for both men and women, is close to eighty years of age, and infant mortality rates are considerably lower than the region's average. One notable exception to this is that cancer rates in Jordan are higher than average, with more than 4,000 new cases reported per year since 2007. A 2010 report on, an online Middle East business publication, recorded some medical experts as projecting that the annual number of new cancer cases could climb as high as 19,000 by 2050. The report suggested that the primary causes of these high cancer rates were smoking and poor diet.

In February 1999 the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, in collaboration with two

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Common Jordanian proverbs include the following:

  • When elephants begin to dance, smaller creatures should stay away.
  • The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on.
  • Eat whatever you like, but dress as others do.
  • The hand of God is with the group.
  • He that plants thorns must never expect to gather roses.
  • If I am a prince and you are a prince, who will lead the donkeys?
  • If begging should unfortunately be thy lot, knock at the large gates only.
  • Judge a man by the reputation of his enemies.
  • A kind word can attract even the snake from his nest.
  • Knowledge acquired as a child is more lasting than an engraving on stone.
  • The man who can't dance says the band can't play.
  • Older than you by a day, wiser than you by a year.
  • Silence is the door of consent.
  • Trust in God, but tie your camel.
  • The wound of words is worse than the wound of swords.
  • All sunshine makes the desert.
  • The ass went seeking for horns and lost his ears.
  • Beware of one who flatters unduly, for he will also censure unjustly.
  • Dawn does not come twice to awaken a man.
  • Death is a black camel that lies down at every door. Sooner or later you must ride the camel.

Jordanian hospitals, identified a new form of nerve and muscle-wasting hereditary disease that strikes a particular tribal population of Jordanians. The disease causes selective weakness and wasting of the nerves controlling the muscles of the hands and feet while not necessarily affecting the arms and legs. The researchers were able to isolate the gene on chromosome nine that causes the crippling motor neuropathy, which is unique to people of the ancient Roman-Greek Jordanian city of Jerash and is transmitted among those who intermarry. The disorder is recessive, meaning both parents may carry the gene and still not pass it to their children, although the risk is greater in this case than if only one parent is a carrier. The disease's victims have been strictly Arab Jordanians, all from the Jerash area, and have included no Palestinians.

There is a minimal amount of health-related data on Jordanian Americans. According to the 2011 ACS one-year estimates, more than 80 percent of Jordanian Americans have some form of health insurance in the United States, with more than 46 percent on private policies.

Death and Burial Rituals Jordanian Americans have modified their homeland custom of quick burials to conform to common U.S. practices. They generally use the facilities and services of a funeral director instead of having a home-based rite. Jordanian American Christians might display the body for several days while family and friends visit and offer their sympathies. Jordanian American Muslims, however, do not display the body. Well-wishers usually send food to the home of the deceased person's immediate family every day until the burial. Following the burial, family and friends gather for a meal and to share memories. Visiting might continue for forty days afterward.


Jordanians' upbringing emphasizes generosity, warmth, openness, and friendliness. The ideals of tribal unity and respect for the family form the core of Jordanian society. Jordanian Americans typically live in tight-knit nuclear families and have frequent contact with members of their extended families. Children are taught to respect the authority of everyone older than them, and they respond to directives from uncles and aunts as they would to those of their parents. Adult children are expected to help take care of elderly parents, who tend to move in with one of their children when they are no longer able to live independently. Public care for the elderly is not an acceptable option for most Jordanian American families.

Jordanian Americans are expected to choose a Jordanian spouse of similar religious and economic background. Marriages are not arranged, but children are expected to follow their parents' advice when selecting a partner. It is not uncommon for a Jordanian American male to go to Jordan in search of a bride. According to Jordanian tradition brought to the United States, the bride, groom, and both families plan the wedding, and the groom and his family pay for it. Divorce is uncommon among Jordanian Americans. If a couple has marital problems, parents and relatives from both families intervene with the goal of preserving the marriage. If children are involved, the culture Page 587  |  Top of Articledictates that the wife and husband resolve their problems for the children's benefit.

Gender Roles As with many other Arab nations, Jordan's traditional patriarchal culture has experienced a continuing campaign for women's rights. Since the 1960s increasing numbers of women have entered the workforce. As women's educational levels have risen, they have begun to delay marriage and tend to have fewer children, partly because of the economic strain of supporting a large family. Still, marriage and childbearing continue as the basis of women's status.

In 1988 Nadia Hijab, a Palestinian policy analyst, published a study of employed Jordanian women (most of whom were single). She found that opportunity and need trumped cultural attitudes in the decision to seek employment. In the mid-1980s, when unemployment surged, Jordan's leaders pressured women to return to their homes. Publicly and privately, Jordanians hotly debated the issue. Letters to newspapers took sides both for and against women's employment. Hijab found that by 1985 pressure on women to stay out of the workforce had acquired an almost “official” status. Then-prime minister Zaid ar Rifai stated that employed women should stop working if they paid more than half of their salaries to foreign maids who sent the currency abroad.

In the 1990s Jordanian women began to organize to change their nation's attitudes. In 1992 they established a policy forum, the Jordan National Committee for Women (JNCW), to involve women in national development and economic activities, promote enhanced legal status among women, and increase their participation in decision making. In the late 1990s the United Nations Development Fund for Women collaborated with the JNCW in a meeting in Amman to discuss how to eliminate violence against women in Muslim society. Jordanian women began to lead women's movements in other Arab countries. In 1999 Queen Noor (the widow of King Hussein and queen dowager of Jordan) spoke out against “crimes of honor,” specifically the murders of women by husbands whom they had allegedly dishonored through immodest or otherwise unacceptable behavior. In 2003 a constitutional amendment implemented a gender quota system in the Parliament. This step demonstrated Jordan's sincerity in creating gender equality.

In general, Jordanian American women adhere to traditional Jordanian values in their living arrangements, considering the male as head of the household. According to the 2011 ACS one-year estimates, almost 70 percent of the 22,799 Jordanian American women older than fifteen years of age were either currently married or widowed. Only 3 percent of the 21,364 Jordanian women eighteen and older were raising children without a spouse. In addition, just 3 percent of the female adults lived alone, and 0.3 percent lived with another person out of wedlock. The 2011 ACS indicated that 8,136 Jordanian American women between sixteen and sixty-five—almost half of the female population in that age range—were employed. More than 80 percent of those employed women held jobs in management, science, business, sales, or some form of office work. Jordanian American women who work are still expected to do the majority of the domestic work.

Education According to the Jordan Times, Jordan's literacy rate in 2011 was greater than 93 percent. This figure is consistent with a 2006 report from the World Health Organization that estimated the country's literacy rate at slightly more than 90 percent. Enrollment in the primary grades increased from 71 percent in 1994 to 98 percent in 2006. During the same period enrollment in the secondary grades increased from 63 percent to 97 percent. Enrollment in higher education has fluctuated, involving between 79 and 85 percent of the population, with women constituting nearly half of enrollment. The first nine years of education are compulsory and free; the next three are free but not compulsory. In 2011 the Ministry of Education implemented a program to rehabilitate student dropouts. That year almost 1,800 students who had left school returned to class at one of forty-seven centers in Jordan established to provide vocational and academic training to people who had not completed secondary education.

Jordanian American families place a premium on education. Parents are very active in their children's schools, regardless of their own levels of education. They value education not only because it improves children's future prospects but also because it brings honor to the family. According to the 2011 ACS one-year estimates, nearly 90 percent of Jordanian Americans had obtained a high school degree, and almost 40 percent of the Jordanian American population twenty-five years and older had earned a bachelor's degree. Before 2000 Jordanian Americans were earning bachelor's degrees at slightly higher rates than the average for Arab immigrants in the United States. This trend changed in the first decade of the twenty-first century, however, as the 2011 ACS reported that 45 percent of the Arab American population twenty-five years and older had earned a bachelor's degree.


Jordanian Americans are well represented in the American labor force. According to the 2011 ACS one-year estimates, 50,555 Jordanian Americans aged sixteen and older (almost 70 percent of the entire Jordanian American community) held jobs in the United States. More than 40 percent of these work in management, science, business, or the arts, and another 30 percent work in sales or office positions. Nearly 10 percent are self-employed. Families earned an average annual income of nearly $80,000. These high numbers can be explained to some degree by the fact that many Jordanians come to the United States to pursue advanced degrees in medicine and engineering.

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The U.S. government first established diplomatic relations with Jordan in 1949 and began providing limited military aid to the country in 1950. The United States became Jordan's principal source of assistance in 1957 after the British cut financial ties with its former protectorate. During the 1970 to 1971 Jordanian Civil War, the United States supported King Hussein against the Palestinian insurgents without intervening directly. Tension between Jordan and the United States arose when King Hussein made frequent requests for weapons to quell widespread demonstrations during the 1980s. Protest came from university students clamoring for more civil rights and from citizens enraged over skyrocketing gas prices. During this time the U.S and Jordan managed to remain on largely cordial terms, however, with the U.S. government providing specialized training for Jordan's military and high-ranking officers. The United States considered Hussein one of the most moderate Middle Eastern leaders and often relied on him to assist in peace negotiations in the region. Shortly before his death he was instrumental in developing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Jordan and Egypt remain the only Arab nations to sign peace treaties with Israel, making Jordan one of the few voices of moderation in the Middle East.

Whereas members of the early waves of Jordanian immigrants tended to return to Jordan after earning degrees and obtaining some professional training abroad, since the economic troubles of the late 1980s and 1990s more Jordanian immigrants have pursued careers in the United States.


When Jordanians began arriving in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, their new country was undergoing far-reaching social change. Old and newer civil rights laws have helped immigrants feel they do not have to submerge their ethnic identity to fully participate in American society. As a result, Jordanian Americans and members of other groups have felt increasingly secure in taking part in local and national political activity, both inside and outside their own groups' interests.

Jordanian expatriates follow contemporary events in Jordan closely and have tended to support their families back in Jordan and local political groups with cash remittances. In the early 2010s Jordan was beset by a number of political issues. Although the country has a history of religious tolerance, fundamentalist groups such as the Islamic Action Front and various radical Salafi movements have gained traction there, partly as a consequence of the country's floundering economy and partly because of considerable sectarian tension in neighboring Syria. A November 2012 report in Al Bawaba, an Arab online business journal, indicated that remittances increased by 5.5 percent during the first 10 months of 2012, topping out at more than $3 billion. In March 2013 a group of Jordanian American professionals and intellectuals petitioned President Barack Obama to increase political and economic aid to Jordan in order to help the country continue transitioning toward a democratic state. The petitioners also urged the government “to use its influence and prestige around the world to end the bloody conflict in Syria and support the Syrian people's aspirations of peace, freedom, and democracy.”


Activism Lily Bandak is a renowned photographer who founded an organization to help disabled workers in Arab nations. Born in Amman, Jordan, Bandak has lived in the United States since 1960. She has served as the personal photographer of Mrs. (Jehan) Anwar Sadat, King Hussein, and Queen Noor and has also photographed Yasser Arafat. In 1978 the government of Egypt invited her to document the people and monuments of that country and compiled the photographs in the book Images of Egypt. She was the first photographer to have work accepted into the permanent collection of the White House. In 1984 Bandak was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 1994 she set up the Bandak Foundation, which encourages people with disabilities to enter the workforce and participate fully in society.

Journalism Daoud Kuttab (1955–) is a Palestinian who immigrated to the United States from Jordan and obtained American citizenship. In 2008 he created the Community Media Network, which is registered in Jordan. In 1997 he moved to Amman and established the Arab world's first Internet radio station, AmmanNet. ( ).

Literature Diana Abu-Jaber (1960–), a second-generation Jordanian American, won the Oregon Book Award for her first novel, Arabian Jazz (1993), which was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her novel Crescent (2003) won the Pen Center Award for Literary Fiction, and her most recent book Birds of Paradise (2011) won the National Arab American Book Award.

The poet and scholar Lisa Suhair Majaj (1960–), a Palestinian American raised in Jordan, received the 1995 prize for the best published poem of the year from the New England Poetry Club. Her volume Geographies of Light (2009) won the Del Sol Press Annual Poetry Prize.

The poet and activist Suheir Hammad (1973–) was born in Amman and immigrated to the United States when she was five. She was a featured narrator in the documentaries Lest We Forget (2003) and The Fourth World War (2004) and starred in the feature film Salt of This Sea(2008). Her volumes of poetry include Born Palestinian, Born Black (1996), ZaatarDiva (2005), and Breaking Poems (2008).

Science Omar Yaghi (1965–), born in Amman, is the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Page 589  |  Top of ArticleChemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. His research laboratories produce compounds with clean energy and carbon dioxide storage applications.

Sports Justin Abdelkadar (1987–), whose paternal grandfather emigrated from Jordan, played forward for the Detroit Red Wings hockey team beginning in 2009. Drew Haddad, (1978–), an American football player of Jordanian descent, was drafted in 2000 to play wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. He also played for the Indianapolis Colts, and he finished his career with the San Diego Chargers.


Full Text: 

Jordan Times

An independent, English-language political newspaper published daily except on Friday in Jordan by the Jordan Press Foundation. Many Jordanian Americans read the paper.

Samir Barhoum, Editor in Chief
Phone: (962) 6-5600-800, extension 2392


Full Text: 

Bandak Arab African Foundation

A nonprofit organization in the United States that urges Middle Eastern governments, particularly Jordan's, to help people with disabilities in the workforce.

345 New London Road
Newark, Delaware 19711
Phone: (302) 737-4055

Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

The U.S. Embassy of Jordan seeks to foster relations between the kingdom and the United States by processing passports and visas for people from the United States who wish to visit Jordan, providing news coverage to Jordanian Americans and others with an interest in Jordan, and acting as a liaison between the two countries.

3504 International Drive NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Phone: (202) 966-2664
Fax: (202) 966-3110

Sisterhood Is Global Institute

Established in 1998, the institute seeks to deepen the understanding of women's human rights at the local, national, regional, and global levels and to strengthen the capacity of women to exercise their rights. With members in seventy countries, the institute currently maintains a network of more than 1,300 individuals and organizations. It has a regional office in Jordan that was inaugurated by Princess Basma Bint Talal.

4343 Montgomery Avenue
Suite 201
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

Justin Abdelkader, #8 of the Detroit Red Wings, is Jordanian on his paternal side. Justin Abdelkader, #8 of the Detroit Red Wings, is Jordanian on his paternal side. DAVE REGINEK / NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Phone: (301) 654-2774
Fax: (301) 654-2775


Hijab, Nadia. Womanpower: The Arab Debate on Women at Work. Cambridge Middle East Library Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs from the Earliest Time to the Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1956.

Jureidini, Paul A., and R. D. McLaurin. Jordan: The Impact of Social Changes on the Role of the Tribes. Washington Papers, No. 108, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University. New York: Praeger, 1984.

Massad, Joseph M. Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Metz, Helen Chapin. Jordan: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1991.

Tobin, Sara. “Ramadan Blues: Debates in Pop Music and Popular Islam in Amman, Jordan.” Digest of Middle East Studies 21, no. 2 (2013).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300104