Al-Salt – Jordan’s religious haven

Fatima Abbadi Al-Salt

An ancient metropolis

Photographer Fatima Abbadi was born in Abu Dhabi, but has spent the last 10 years studying the city of Al-Salt in Jordan, which was founded in 300 B.C. and has a population of 90,000. Al-Salt is a cosmopolitan city where the Arabian and the European cultures thrive together thanks to a harmonious relationship.

No walls, no divide

Thanks to its eclectic style, the city was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But not only Eastern and Western architecture and fashions can be found thriving side by side: “The Muslim majority and the Christian population live here next to each other without segregation,” says Ismael Abder-rahman Gil, a researcher who helped Abbadi with the project.

From St. George to al-Khidr

As Gil explains, the Christians of Al-Salt have played a crucial role in the cultural, economic, and political development of the city. The histories of the two religions are so intertwined in Al-Salt that they often even share the same space: Depicted above is Saint George’s church with a Christian altar surrounded by inscriptions from the Quran and scenes from the Bible.

A place for everyone

The holy site was built in 1682 after a shepherd had a vision in which Saint George told him to build a church after protecting him from the beasts threatening his cattle. “To this day, the site is frequented by many Christians and many Muslims in Al-Salt who light candles in reverence to the Saint,” says Abder-rahman Gil. Latin, Anglican, and Orthodox churches also feature in the city.

A 2,000-year-old history

The relationship between Jordan and Christianity is very old and begins with the baptism of Jesus at the banks of the Jordan River. Many Christian communities settled in Jordan as early as the 1st century and have enjoyed the freedom of public worship to this day. Christians are even represented in the country’s parliament and hold official state functions.

Demonstrations and proclamations

Despite hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence and reigning King Abdullah II’s assurance that “Arab Christians are an integral part of my region’s past, present, and future,” tensions have risen lately between Muslims and Christians in Jordan, triggering protests. “What makes Al-Salt special is that the relationship between the two religions has not changed here at all,” says Abbadi.

The great get-together

“During Christmas, for example, Muslims are the first to open houses to Christians and celebrate with them — and this also works vice versa,” says Abbadi. In the recent elections, a Christian woman won a major position in the city council, too. Christians account for 35 percent of the Al-Salt population, a stark contrast to the 4 percent in terms of the overall Jordanian population.

Respect — a recipe for peace

Abbadi’s Al-Salt photo series ranges from capturing traditional agricultural life to the current Westernization of the city and its people, yet she is confident that the relationship between Muslims and Christians will not change: “All the people who live in Al-Salt have a long personal history. We all respect each other here and treat everyone as if we were one big family.”