The roots of the Hashemite Family reach back to the Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael. In the 5th century AD, an Arab leader named Qusai Bin Kilab, of the tribe of Quraysh, descendants of Ishmael, assumed power in the city of Mecca. Even before the Islamic era, Mecca was a center of international trade and the spiritual capital of the region. Qusai was the first of many Hashemites to rule the holy city. He forged an annual pact between warring tribes to ease the passage of pilgrims and protect caravans, a contract which was the first of its kind and marked a new era for both the city and Arab society.
The Hashemite name is derived from Hashem, a grandson of Qusai and the great-grandfather of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). The Hashemites of Jordan are thus direct descendants of the Prophet through his daughter, Fatima, and her husband, Ali.
The Abbasids, Islamic caliphs from the 8th to 13th century AD, were also of Hashemite lineage. During the Abbasid Empire, the Hashemites were revered as tribal chiefs in the Arabian Peninsula, known for resolving disputes and mediating between clans. When the Abbasid Empire collapsed, the Hashemite family remained as tribal leaders in their home region of the Hijaz (the east coast of the Red Sea) and as emirs in the holy city of Mecca, which they ruled into the 20th century.
Sharif Hussein and the Arab Revolt
Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, well known as the leader of the Great Arab Revolt and the Sharif of Mecca, was born in Ottoman Istanbul in 1853. Though well acquainted with imperial politics, Sharif Hussein spent a significant portion of his life among the bedouin Arabs of the Hijaz, immersing himself in the political life of Arabia. In 1908, the Ottomans, recognising his influence in the region, appointed him Emir (Prince) of Mecca.
As Ottoman policies grew more oppressive after the coup of the “Young Turks,” Sharif Hussein earned support among Arabs by opposing Istanbul's totalistic policies in the Hijaz. Some historians say that, even then, he was preparing for Arab independence. Indeed, the idea that the Arabic-speaking people were a nation, deserving of independent recognition, is often thought to have originated with Sharif Hussein.
In 1916, Sharif Hussein allied the Arabs with British forces, leading, along with his sons, Abdullah and Faisal, numerous tribes from the Hijaz in a revolt that liberated the Levant from Ottoman control. Bearing the Hashemite name and tradition of the Aal Al Bayt, Sharif Hussein was the central figure in the revolt, earning the title, “King of the Arabs.” After this victory, however, European powers failed to honour their commitment to support Arab sovereignty and instead, installed colonial rule throughout the Levant.
Sharif Hussein died in Amman in 1931.
King Abdullah I and the Founding of Jordan
The first king and founder of the state of Jordan was born in 1882 in Mecca. Like his father, Abdullah began life as a representative of the Ottoman court but his prestigious education and exposure to Arab tribal customs soon made him aware of the growing nationalist sentiment among his people.
In the Arab Revolt, Abdullah led several Arab battalions against the Ottoman Turks. Afterwards, he left the Hijaz and settled in Maan, where he was received as a leader and sharif. While the European governments were dividing the region among themselves, Abdullah was building support and unity among the tribes and townspeople of Jordan.
The future king led a modest existence, often staying with leaders of different sects and sectors of society, developing relationships with them. He spent much of his time amongst the local bedouin tribes. In 1921, he organised his first government in Amman, thus establishing the Emirate of Transjordan.
For the next thirty years, Emir Abdullah concentrated his efforts on state-building. In 1928, the Prince oversaw the country’s first legislative council and the drafting of a constitution. One year later, he held the first parliamentary elections. On 22 March 1946, Transjordan secured its independence, and Abdullah was crowned king later that year.
As King Abdullah I was centralising government in Jordan, the situation in Palestine was deteriorating into a full-scale war between the Arabs and the Zionist movement over the final territorial disposition of Mandate Palestine. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War erupted, King Abdullah I joined the Arab forces, and Jordan’s Arab Legion defended the holy city of Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine, defeating Jewish forces in Bab Al Wad, Latroun and East Jerusalem. The war ended in July 1948, and a truce was signed between the Arab countries and Israel. Two years later, Jordan and the West Bank were united into a single state.
King Abdullah I regularly attended Friday prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. On 20 July 1951, he was assassinated on the stairs of Al Aqsa Mosque. His grandson, Hussein, was with him at the time. A bullet struck the young man but was deflected by a medal which his grandfather had pinned to his chest earlier that day.
After the death of King Abdullah I, his son, Talal ascended the throne. Due to ill health, King Talal soon abdicated in favor of Hussein, his eldest son. Although King Talal’s reign was short, he introduced a liberalised constitution for the Kingdom that made the government more responsible to the parliament and paved the way for future political development.
King Talal Bin Abdullah died in 1972.
When he was proclaimed king of Jordan, Talal’s son, Hussein, was only 17 years of age, and legally unable to assume royal powers. His first months were guided by a Regency Council, until he was formally crowned on 2 May 1953, at the age of 18.
Hussein Bin Talal was born in Amman on 14 November 1935 to then Prince Talal and Princess Zein Al Sharaf Bint Jamil. Princess Zein, later named queen, was also a Hashemite. In the footsteps of his predecessors, Hussein reaped the benefits of an outstanding education. After finishing primary school in Amman, he studied at Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt, and Harrow School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK.
King Hussein is considered the architect of modern Jordan. He was widely regarded as a man of the people. Today, he is remembered with reverence, as a statesman who guided Jordan safely through the strife and conflict of the late 20th century, making it the oasis of stability it is today.
King Hussein often said that Jordan's people were its greatest asset, and he worked assiduously to improve their standard of living and the opportunities available to them.
Early in his reign, he concentrated on establishing an economic and industrial infrastructure and increasing access to essential services. He was a strident promoter of education, building schools throughout the Kingdom and promoting the idea of education for every child. During his reign, primary school enrollment skyrocketed, and literacy rose from 33 per cent in 1960 to 85.5 per cent in 1996.
Throughout his 47-year reign, King Hussein strove to achieve Middle East peace. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, he was instrumental in drafting United Nations Resolution 242, which called on Israel to withdraw from all the Arab lands it had occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for peace. This resolution has served as the benchmark for all subsequent peace negotiations. In 1991, King Hussein also played a pivotal role in convening the Madrid Peace Conference while providing an "umbrella" for Palestinians to negotiate their future as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
In 1994, under his leadership, Jordan became the second Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel, a controversial but necessary step towards creating stability and advancing peace within the region.
King Hussein set Jordan down a path of political liberalization in 1989 and the Kingdom held elections that autumn. Jordanians have returned to the polls four times since then. In 1990, King Hussein appointed a royal commission, representing the entire spectrum of Jordanian political thought to draft a National Charter. That charter stands today, along with the Jordanian Constitution, as a guideline for democratic institutionalisation and political pluralism in the country. King Hussein’s commitment to democracy, civil liberties and human rights helped shape Jordan as a model state for reform and development in the region.
On the date of his passing on 7 February 1999, King Hussein was the longest serving executive head of state in the world. Hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries joined Jordanians in mourning his passing, a testament to his renown and the respect he earned as a leader committed to the progress of his people and to peace and security for the peoples of the Middle East and beyond.
King Hussein was succeeded by his eldest son, Abdullah, who was crowned on 9 June 1999.