Introduction / History
The Kingdom of Jordan is a small country in the Middle East, bordered by Israel and the Palestinian areas to the West, Syria to the North, Iraq to the East and Saudi Arabia to the South and South-East. Most of the country is desert and the population is centered in urban areas in the western part of the country. There is an estimated 15,000-20,000 Deaf persons in Jordan who would rely on sign language to have access to Scriptures (which is not to say they all know Jordanian Sign Language, since many isolated Deaf people in rural areas might not have a real language at all, using only home signs.)
The official language of Jordan is Arabic, which refers to Modern Standard Arabic, not the language that most people speak, which is very different and is referred to as "dialect". Both Arabic and English are required subjects in schools.
In Arab culture, disabilities, including hearing loss, have traditionally been seen as shameful even though most Arabs believe that anything that occurs can be attributed to the will of God. In some verses of the Qur'an, disability is associated with sin. Because of this stigma, the existence of disability in a family used to be (and in some areas, still is) denied and felt to be a disgrace to the whole family.
A change in attitude, especially over the last 25 years, has made it possible for care and rehabilitation services to be set up. Better education for the deaf, as well as acceptance of their sign language as a real language, plays an important role in providing these services. Jordan has 13 schools for the Deaf (2006) with around 850 children enrolled. The Deaf schools, together with Deaf clubs in the major cities, form communities in which the sign language is transmitted.
Jordanian Sign Language appears to be closely related to that of Lebanon and Syria. A dissertation, an introductory grammar and several linguistic articles about Jordanian Sign Language have been published. And there are some articles that deal with lexical comparisons between various Arabic sign languages.
In Jordan, around 5% of the population is registered as being Christian. There is some receptivity among the Deaf from this group but few of them have ever had access to the gospel in a way they can understand. Obviously there is not this same receptivity among those from a Muslim background. However, all Deaf people seem more open to ideas presented in sign language (including the gospel) than most hearing Muslims would be to a written version of the gospel.
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