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People with Disabilities: Social Life in Jordan

Author: Saleh ALoraibi

Published: 2010-04-27 : (Rev. 2015-12-13)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Visiting individuals when they have health problems is a must for friends relatives and neighbors.

Main Digest

In a Jordanian community, happy and sad events play important roles in the social lives of the people (Simister and Yunis 1999).

'Happy' events may include marriage, births and successful recovery from surgery, illness or accidents. 'Sad' occasions may include funerals, illness and injury. Exchanging visits with family, relatives, friends and neighbors is the main social activity for people, especially those living in rural areas. Traditional leisure activities within the community include visiting, eating, drinking (tea or coffee), playing cards and talking. However, since new technology has been introduced the social family gathering is being replaced by watching television, searching internet and videos.

Visiting individuals when they have health problems is a must for friends, relatives and neighbors (Abu-Rida 1998). Abu-Rida suggested that visiting friends and neighbors when they are ill is a religious obligation. However, al-Dawalibi (1998) argues that social relationships between Arab people, including the visiting of ill people, dates back to pre-Islamic times.

Apart from the home, the other important place for socializing among Muslims is the place of worship (the mosque) which exists in every populated area in Jordan. In Muslim countries the mosque is not only for praying but also for socializing and making friends (Hathout 1995). Islamic teaching requires that each Muslim pray five times a day, preferably in the mosque. Prayer (salah) is to be performed with mental concentration and physical movement to attain spiritual uplift. Although it can be performed alone, it is preferable to perform it with another or in a group. To perform salah, a Muslim has to perform his or her ablutions (wudhu') to make sure that hygiene of body, clothing, and place are attained before performing salah..

The Quran is the principle religious book in Islam and is the spoken word of Allah (God). It is divided into 30 parts containing 114 chapters (or sura). Sunnah is complementary to the Quran and refers to anything connected with the Prophet Muhammad, including his sayings and his actions and descriptions of his way of life. The Hadith comprises a further collection of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Women are prevented by neither the Quran nor the Sunnah from entering mosques but, regulated by either local rules or by habit, mosques have in many cases been closed to women (Hathout 1995). Women have therefore resorted to praying in their homes. Prayer involves several positions, including standing, bowing and prostration (going down on the knees, then placing the forehead on the floor). However, if a Muslim is traveling or sick, he or she is allowed to pray while sitting or sleeping. These customs imply that it may be difficult for people with disabilities ( PWD) who have physical disabilities or are incontinent to prayer in mosques and this may contribute to their social isolation. This social isolation can be greater for men than for women, since women already pray at home.

The mosque is administered by the religious leader (the Imam) whose role is similar to that of the vicar or priest in the Christian church. The Imam leads prayers five times a day and preaches every Friday (Friday Khutbah). In Jordan most men visit the mosque to listen to the weekly Friday sermon. The Friday sermons are also televised and may discuss religious matters as well as social topics. The Friday sermon is an important platform for educating the Muslim community and for reminding people of their roles as Muslims, including being conscious of their brief life in this world and updating them on current issues affecting Islam and Muslims (Hathout 1995).

The Friday sermon could be used as a community support for PWD by disseminating information about disability and the prevention of disease or the introduction of new ideas to the community. In Jordan this may be more appropriate than disseminating information by pamphlet since a high percentage (about 17 per cent) of people in Bedouin and rural areas are illiterate (Abu-Jaber 1991). However, the content of the Friday Khutbah is under the control of the government and therefore any arrangements about its content would need to be arranged with the government.

Another community facility that could be used to introduce new ideas or to disseminate information about disability is the school. In all cities and most villages in Jordan there are schools; school teachers are often the only source of information in rural areas and are highly appreciated by the community. Involving schoolteachers in any community development for PWD may be advantageous for both service providers and recipients.

In larger urban areas, for example Amman, social and sports clubs exist which are similar to those in more developed countries. However, these clubs are not accessible to everybody because they are private and relatively expensive. Their existence implies that PWD living in cities may have more chances to socialize than PWD living in rural areas. However, the use of sports and social clubs will be limited to those who can afford them.

In Bedouin areas and remote villages the madafa or aldywan is still the main place for people to socialize. This can be a large hall or a room in the tribal leader's house and is similar to the village hall in Britain. Attendance at the madafa is restricted to men and all men have to participate in community activities while the women in the village exchange visits and gather in each other's houses over a cup of tea or coffee or a meal. In the madafa the Sheik or the village leader (the mukhtar) holds an influential position. Men usually meet in the madafa to discuss matters related to the tribe and the support needed for everyone in the community. This support may include financial aid or help in solving a social problem within the community. The source of any financial support will be from within the community. The tribal leader is important in terms of care for patients in the community or the introduction of new ideas of community support. This is because the tribal leader holds an influential position and is consulted about all matters by the people in that community. Providers of community services and health professionals who work with PWD must acknowledge this important role when disseminating information or proposing new ideas in the community. Any ideas or interventions proposed without the agreement of the tribal leader will not work and will be rejected by the people.

All activities in either the mosque or in the madafa take place in a sitting position on the floor with shoes removed. An individual using a wheelchair or adaptive footwear or who is unable to sit on the floor may be unable to participate and socialize. A male with disabilities who is unable to participate in community responsibilities may find him socially isolated.


Abu-Jaber K (1991). The Hashemite of Jordan. In Ismail N (ed) Politics and Government in the Middle East and North Africa , 3rd ed. Miami Florida: International University Press

Abu Rida, M (1998). Norms and values . In Bouhdiba A and M Al-Dawalibi. The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture [IT edition]. Paris: UNESCO Publishing

Al-Dawalibi M (1998). The emancipation of women: A continuing priority. In Bouhdiba A and M Al-Dawalibi. The different aspects of Islamic culture [IT edition]. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

Hathout H (1995). Reading the Muslim Mind .Plainfield IN: American Trust Publications

Simister J and A Yunis (1999). Cultural and its impact on rehabilitation program: a Palestinian perspective. In Leavitt RL (ed)  Cross-Cultural Rehabilitation: An international perspective for rehabilitation professionals . London: WB Saunders.

Dr. Saleh AL-Oraibi, PhD, MCSP Associate professor, Kathmandu University Medical School, Physiotherapy Department/ Fellow of Swiss Association for the Support of Physiotherapy in Nepal (ASPN)

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