Amman’s Restaurant of Mercy opens to all faiths

Sunday 03/07/2016
Volunteers serve food to anyone who enters the Restaurant of Mercy in Amman. (Photo by Nader Daoud)

Amman - An example of compas­sion and coexistence between Muslims and Christians, Amman’s Restaurant of Mercy, which serves hundreds of free meals a day to the needy, adding special iftar meals for Muslims breaking fast during Ramadan.
An initiative founded in Amman’s Jabal Luweibdeh neighbourhood by Catholic Church charity Caritas Jordan, the restaurant provides more than 500 meals a day year round and adapted to receive Mus­lims during Ramadan in 2015.
“It was established to dissemi­nate the message of mercy and it was on the occasion of the launch of the year of mercy announced by Pope Francis,” said Dana Shaheen, head of communications at Caritas Jordan.
Besides iftar, Caritas offers five banquets in the holy season, in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development. Caritas Jordan provides humanitarian assistance to 4,000 Jordanian families, in­cluding food packages and hygiene items, Shaheen said.
Queen Rania, the wife of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, recently visited Caritas Jordan and toured its vari­ous activities, including the Res­taurant of Mercy. The queen talked with staff members and volunteers as they prepared an iftar meal.
“We are proud that the queen vis­ited us,” Shaheen said. “The royal visit gave us inspiration to work even harder and expand our work, especially the Restaurant of Mercy, to other governorates.
“It might be a dream but we will work on it.”
The restaurant opened in Decem­ber 2014 in the presence of Amman Mayor Akel Biltaji, who praised it for promoting coexistence, love, peace and mercy from the heart of Jordan.
Recently, the Reverend Rifat Bader, the director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media, said: “This region is filled with wars and daily killings and we want to light a candle of hope in our societies. This restaurant carries the word ‘Mercy’ and this word is found in all reli­gions.”
More than 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims and approximately 6% are Christians, according to church estimates, although offi­cial and casual estimates are much lower.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five duties of Islam. The month, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, is believed to be when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad.
Abu Mohammed, in his 60s, who was initially shy to talk to The Arab Weekly, expressed in simple words: “We are one people.”
“It is a human deed towards an­other human and religion should not play a part at all. A long time ago, we never dealt with anyone based on their religion. Muslims and Christians always lived in har­mony in Jordan,” he said as he wiped his mouth and prepared to leave but not before thanking God. He vanished quickly into the crowd.
Abu Mohammed is one of the hundreds of people who go to the restaurant on a daily basis for the iftar meal, which is supervised by about 15 volunteers who welcome everyone, even those shy to enter.
“We have seen many people feel­ing hesitant or shy to enter but we try with a smile to ask them in and day after day they became part of the big family and this is our aim to let them feel comfortable,” Shaheen said.
“It is open for everyone. The restaurant sends a message to the whole world that Jordan is a model where Islam and Christianity live in peace and that our country has these deep values that make it dif­ferent from other countries. This is unity at its best.”
Abu Raafat, a shop owner near the famous Paris Square in Jabal Luweibdeh, said the area has al­ways been united and in peace.
“I think the restaurant sends a message to all people that, no mat­ter what your religion is, there are certain things in life that bring us together. Luweibdeh has always been a cradle for culture and we welcome any initiative that helps people in need,” he said.
The restaurant joins hundreds of Mawaid Al Rahman — Arabic for “Banquets of the Gracious” – iftar meals that are open for the public and became popular in the Arab world during Ramadan as people and companies offer free meals to the poor.