Jordan has removed mention of religion from its national identity cards, in a quiet but potentially historic change for the Kingdom.
The turnaround has been made in a switch to smart IDs, which contain digitised information about the holder to be read by scanners and computers. It’s a move that authorities hope will make citizens’ experience of government bureaucracy smoother.
Although the religion of holders will be stored on every card’s chip, it won’t be visible to anyone seeing the cards.
The Head of Jordan’s Passport Authority, Marwan Qutaishat, said that “religion cannot be expressed with a written word or a beard” –an argument that appeared to make the case for equal rights under the law, and even for more secular principles about the demonstration publicly of religion.
Not everyone, however, was impressed by the move. Some conservative MPs argued that removing religion from IDs violated the country’s constitution, which maintains that Islam is the state religion. Former MP Zakaria El Sheikh said the change was an attempt to “strip the country of its Muslim identity.”
Supporters, however, said the decisions enforced key elements of Jordan’s values and legislation, including the stipulation that all citizens, regardless of religion, are equal under the law.
In Lebanon, a 2009 decision allowed citizens to remove a statement of religion from their identity cards in what was lauded as a positive move. In the conflicts of the country’s past, statements of religion on identity documents had the potential to threaten the lives of holders at risk from sectarian targeting and discrimination.