The last two decades have witnessed a spectacular proliferation of new, modern mosques all across the Islamic world. But it was not in one of the great Muslim cities of antiquity where this trend began, but in the unassuming capital of one of the Middle East’s most unassuming nations: Amman, Jordan. Throughout the 20th century Amman saw the construction of three great mosques: the Masjid Husseini; the Masjid Abu Darweesh; and the Masjid Abdullah I. The Masjid Husseini, while not strictly modern in the architectural sense, is nevertheless considered to be the first great mosque of the modern era. The Masjid Abdullah I, the city’s largest and newest, kicked off the gargantuan national mosque construction craze of the 1990s and 2000s.
The region now incorporated in the modern nation of Jordan is one of the great geographic anomalies of Islamic history. Located at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine, it is for all intents and purposes located at the dead center of the Muslim world. And yet until the 20th century it played virtually no role in the history of Islam. Despite its location, and the fact that most of the region’s inhabitants were converted to Islam during a very early period, at no time did Jordan ever host a major Islamic dynasty, though virtually every one of its neighbors did.
That isn’t to say that Jordan was a backwater. The cities of Jordan were major trade centers, and the pilgrimage routes from Palestine and Syria to Mecca passed through the area. Both the Umayyads and Abbasids settled heavily in Jordan, as did a number of their successors, including the Ottomans. The region became a major battleground between the Arabs and Ottomans during World War I, and it was about this time that both local Arab states as well as various European powers finally began taking a serious interest in the region.
In 1921, the area known as Transjordan, because it lay on the far side of the Jordan River, became a quasi-independent nation under the protection of Great Britain, with its capital at Amman. Abdullah I, the son of Hussein ibn Ali of Mecca, was appointed the new territory’s first ruler. Abdullah, the founder of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan, immediately embarked on a process of modernization for the nation and its capital. One of his first projects was the demolition of the city’s thirteen century old main mosque originally constructed by the Rashidun Caliph Umar, which he replaced with the Masjid Husseini in 1924.
Amman began to experience enormous growth in the 1950s, when hundreds of thousands of refugees began arriving from Palestine. It was at this time that Amman started to take shape as a true metropolis. In 1962, the Masjid Abu Darweesh was completed, the city’s first true modern mosque in the architectural sense. Three decades later, the magnificent blue-domed Masjid Abdullah I, was built. It was this new building, more than anything else, that triggered the global competition to construct the world’s most spectacular national mosques that is still going on today.
The Masjid Husseini, not to be confused with the Masjid King Hussein, was the first major mosque in the Islamic world to be built after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Though completed in 1924 and technically a ‘modern’ mosque, it is architecturally traditional, and has stylistic elements which recall early Islamic styles. The Masjid Husseini is noted for its wide, pinkish-hued façade flanked by pre-Ottoman style minarets. The mosque notably lacks a dome. The Masjid Husseini is located close to the gold market in the old city of Amman, and is open to Muslims only. There is no cost of admission.
The Masjid Abu Darweesh, completed in 1962, is more along the lines of a true modern mosque, with much more unique features, especially in regards to its color scheme. The bulk of the main prayer hall building, as well as the outer walls, consist of alternating stripes of black and white bricks, making it appear as if someone had taken a roadway and turned it into a building, but in a good way. The dome also consists of black and white brickwork in a diamond-shaped pattern, like a giant Russian easter egg. The multi-layered crown of the minaret is similarly decorated. The Masjid Abu Darweesh certainly wins the award for Amman’s most unusual and unique looking mosque. It is open to Muslims only. There is no cost of admission.
The Masjid Abdullah I is by far the largest and most modern of all of Amman’s mosques. Built in the 1980s, it was a major inspiration for new mosque construction, from Morocco to Indonesia. Also known as the Blue Mosque of Amman, the Masjid Abdullah I has a massive blue dome that is somewhat flatish and has sort of a space-age look to it. The concrete construction of the twin minarets, a complete departure from anything traditional in appearance, adds to the futuristic appearance. The Masjid Abdullah I is open daily from 8:00am-2:30pm (closed at midday and on Friday afternoons). It is open to both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.visitjordan.com (official tourism website of Jordan)
Beyond its trio of marvelous 20th century mosques, Amman has little in the way of major early Islamic sites. However, there are some interesting and historical places, largely tied to the Umayyad era, including the ruins of an Umayyad Palace, currently being excavated.