Mosque building out of control in Jordan, says former Islamist

A Jordanian political activist questioned in a post on Facebook the rationale behind the building of mosques in Jordan—about 150 a year—while rural areas are in dire need of basic infrastructure and health care units.

 Jordanians coming out of a mosque after prayer [Jordan Times]. 

Jordanians coming out of a mosque after prayer [Jordan Times]. 

Ahmad Al Akayleh, a former member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition group, wrote about his experience when he worked on a project in a village near the Jordanian capital Amman—an experience that left him with a sense of bewilderment at the relatively big number of mosques in a village that has no basic services.

“I worked in a village on the outskirts of Amman on a project that involved the building of a mixed primary school with a Kuwaiti grant. The local population has been asking for the school for nearly 10 years. The only available means of transportation was made possible by a sense of magnanimity shared by the locals. The lack of regularly running transportation made dependence on car sharing a necessity. It is very normal for car owners in the village to stop on the way to pick up people and drive them to where they want to go. Whenever I hitch a lift with any of them, I ask them about the village and people’s concerns. Invariably, everyone talks about the government’s lack of concern—there is not a single medical centre to meet the health care needs in the village. There is no library and the youth centre that exists is a centre in name only…..The streets of the village are pitted with holes 100 metres apart and big enough for a car to fall into and break in half. The infrastructure in the village is very, very bad. As in every village in Jordan, the youths depart in the morning in what looks like a mass migration, leaving behind the elderly who spend the day smoking until the sun sets."

"What is strange about this village is that it has 13 mosques; I prayed in five of them. There were seven worshippers at the most in addition to the imam. What is even stranger is that in addition to the plan to build the promised school there is a plan to build two more mosques—each with an opulence that does not match the surrounding environment. Of course, the mosques will be built with donations which the locals are taking part in raising."

"I have been wondering about the religious discourse that feeds into the public’s mind, separating people from their needs and daily troubling concerns, making them withdraw from reality and adopt practices that feed this religious sentiment which only serves to sedate people. Instead of urging people to spend their money on building a mosque, wouldn’t it be better for the village and its people if local imams called on them to donate money for the building of a library or the funding of a project for the unemployed or even for the paving of a main road or the founding of a cooperative hospital?"

"Besides, it is a serious matter for a human being to feel a disparity between his abode and the house of God. Harmony between religion and the surrounding environment is a distinct feature of Islam…what comfort will a human being seek in the presence of this incongruity between his condition and that of the house of God…what interaction between religion and reality are we talking about if the mosque does not match its surroundings? Instead, it stands as a strange thing—a colourful, towering stone building in the midst of crumbling mud houses." 

"Those who say they defend religion against people who want to reduce its influence in humans’ lives, aren’t they doing the same thing? They are standing on the opposite end of the rope and stripping religion of its influence in people’s lives; they are similar, so isn’t what they are doing [excessive mosque building] another form of secularism?"

"It is ironical that the actions of the followers of religion are at variance with their main role as envisaged by religion—that of building the earth and making human life easy. The irony is they confine religious behaviour to the framework of worship without seeing how their religiosity could make their lives into something worthwhile. Wouldn’t it be better for the state to ally itself with an effective religious narrative that could buttress its efforts to fulfil people’s needs instead of utilizing religious institutions in the service of reinforcing its legitimacy.”

Jordan with a population of six million has over 6,200 mosques. The Jordanian government spends over 50 million Jordanian dinars (US$70 million) on its mosques annually, including renovation work, upkeep, salaries and the construction of about 150 new mosques a year, according to the website of the English-language daily Jordan Times.