The Experience of Middle Eastern Culture Trough the Eyes of a Convert

One of the most memorable experiences that certainly contributed to my sharper world view was my Arabic language course in Amman and my trip through Lebanon this summer. It was not just a language course or a regular trip, but rather a life course that helped me to understand and respect other customs and cultures even more than before.

Amman is the capital of Jordan and like any capital, Amman has not been spared from foreign influence. Over the years, Amman has grown into a beautiful city with different religions and ethnicities living together peacefully. Jordan in general is one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East. Even the King of Jordan, King Hussein, has an English mother who was converted to Islam. Just to illustrate how overarching Islam can work.

Warm hospitality

The first days in Jordan were really difficult, I had get used to the way of life in Arabic countries as a Western European. Despite the many Islamic principles that we share  which made it reasonably easy to participate in society, there were also a few aspects that kept surprising me over and over again. My first day at the airport was one to never forget.

There is a huge Palestinian/Jordanian diaspora in countries like the United States or Canada. During the summer, all these people return back to Jordan or Lebanon to spend time with their family. At the arrival hall, I saw entire families welcoming their cousins, brothers, sisters or grandparents. When I say welcoming, I am not talking about an aunt or uncle who is waiting  out front to then leave as soon as possible because he or she would have to pay too much parking. I am talking about the warm welcoming where entire families are waiting for their relatives with music. Even I, as a complete stranger, almost got emotional as a result. Even though this has nothing to do with the Islamic religion, Arabic hospitality is something very special.

Exploring the country

Once I arrived at my apartment, I decided to explore the city a bit. After all, it can be an advantage to find your way in the city on your own because taxis often make a detour when they notice that you are a foreigner. This is really something that bothered me and unfortunately regularly occurred to both tourists and residents of Jordan themselves. So being attentive is very important!

The first thing I noticed when I went downtown was that there was an incredible mix of Western and traditional Eastern influence. You had huge shopping centers next to a residential area with typical Arabic houses. This image of both influences was further reflected in both religious and non-religious matters. At one side you had various luxury cars such as Porsche or Mercedes, but there were also some old timers in the same exact street, so old and broken that you could not even see the brand of the car. In addition, many religious buildings were also built next to each other. The large mosque of Amman, stands just next to the Catholic Church and the Coptic Church. You could basically say that the mosque is in the minority.

Image result for amman mosque and church

Another thing that I noticed was that there is a totally different understanding of the word “safety”. In Belgium we are surprised when we see soldiers on the street, while you can notice that in Jordan there are several soldiers with heavy guns on every corner of the street. Sometimes it even went so far that I saw tanks in the middle of the streets during my transit in Lebanon. This also immediately ensures that the image of firearms has become more and more normalized in the region.

In Belgium it is almost world news when a teenager is caught with a weapon such as a knife while in Jordan or Lebanon people go to a wedding party with a gun on them. In fact, several people die every year as a result of lost bullets during joys. These are all habits that have nothing to do with the Islamic religion. On the contrary, it is even something that often goes against religion. It is very strongly rooted in culture, as stated earlier.

I could write a whole book about the cultural differences but I want to sum up my experience in a very brief conclusion. I highly recommend visiting Jordan and Lebanon, it opens your mind and it is a memory and experience that you will cherish for life

Written by Stijn Ledegen

Stijn Ledegen

Stijn is a Law student at the Flemish University in Brussels. He is interested in international and European law and politics. Since several weeks, Stijn has been doing research on the religious influence in Europe for the European Parliament. Because of his big love for travelling and exploring , he's in love with cultures and languages.
Besides being a student, Stijn loves sports and often goes to the gym during the weekends. A healthy body with a good mind and a spiritual soul is the perfect match to stay strong and to keep moving forward in a positive way in life!