The hero of Jordan

The hero of Jordan
Mr Ihab al-Kasaesbeh, cousin of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, standing outside the town hall of Ay village in the Karak governate, where many have gathered to pay respects to the slain pilot, whose image adorns a banner

Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, 26, grew up surrounded by beauty.

His home village Ay in the Karak governate, southern Jordan, is perched on a lush, peaceful hillside, 611km away from the barren desert of Raqqa, Syria, where he met a fiery end when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burned him alive last month.

His death, while painful to his loved ones, is also a fulfilment of his lifelong aspiration - to die defending his country.

"Each time he said his prayers, Muath prayed that he would die defending his country," says 28-year-old Ihab al-Kasaesbeh, one of Mr Muath's cousins.

"We agree with what our government and Muath are doing, fighting ISIS. They (ISIS) don't belong to Islam.

"They are terrorists. Killing people without any reason."

Adds Mr Ihab, his eyes welling: "I am very proud of Muath. He is a martyr."

It is now more than a week since ISIS released the video of Mr Muath's gruesome death.

People continue to stream into Ay village to pay their respects to the young man whom the country now hails as a hero, moved by the horror of his death and the pain of his family.

Inside the village's public hall, which is reserved for men, the mood is sombre. Men in kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headwear, and young Jordanian military personnel sat in rows of chairs.

"We have many people coming here (Ay) from the Middle East, not just Jordan. People came from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya," says Mr Ihab. "Many Christians from Jordan also came."

The Karak governate is a showcase of religious harmony.

"Karak is a place which is a good example of how Muslims and Christians live peacefully together," says Jordanian journalist Adnan Borini.

The task of speaking to the public fell heavy on the shoulders of Mr Muath's father, Mr Safi al-Kasaesbeh, a retired education professor.

When he entered the public hall, everyone stood up to kiss the cheek of the tall, dignified man.

"I am very proud of Muath because what he did was for his country, his tribe and his family," he says.

The Kasaesbehs are a high-ranking tribe known for its loyalty to the Jordanian monarchy and are a backbone of the military.

"We are very sad because of the way ISIS killed Muath. This is not from Islam, where you are not allowed to kill prisoners.

"Prophet Muhammad has said that till the end of time, even dogs and cats cannot be burned, what more a human being.

"Burning people is not written in any holy book."

Mr Muath, the middle child among eight siblings, was known as a humble, religious man who prayed five times a day, according to his cousin Ihab, a bank manager. Mr Muath was a top student.

When he was 18, he won a government scholarship to study medicine in Russia but turned it down as his childhood dream was to be an air force pilot.

After graduating from the King Hussein Air College, he joined the Royal Jordanian Air Force before qualifying as an operational pilot in 2012.

According to Mr Ihab, King Abdullah II posthumously promoted Mr Muath to the rank of Captain from First-Lieutenant when he visited the family.

A short distance away from the public hall stands Mr Muath's family home. Elegantly dressed women in Western-styled trench coats are seen entering to pay their respects to his mother Issaf.

"Muath's mother just returned from the hospital. She is too fragile to speak to anyone," says a female relative.

According to journalist Adnan, Madam Issaf received a message from the mother of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Khdeir, who was burned to death by an Israeli extremist in July last year, asking her not to watch the video of Mr Muath's death.

In the message posted on Facebook, the teenager's mother said: "When I heard Muath was burned, I felt he was my son Mohammed. I could not watch his (Mohammed) burnt body.

"You do the same. Remember Muath as the youthful guy and the most handsome man in your life."

This article was first published on February 15.
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