Proud to hold keys of Muslim-Christian coexistence
As a Muslim and the current custodian of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I consider the church a second home. Inside this holy shrine, I cherish many pleasant childhood memories, escorted there by my father.
Also there, I learnt the true meaning of Muslim-Christian coexistence, which is deeply rooted in Palestinian history and culture.
I believe in Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary. I would not be a true Muslim also if I did not believe that he had the power to give life to the dead and eyes to those who couldn’t see.
I also believe in the Bible as a revelation from God to Jesus.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in 333 by the Roman emperor Constantine, seven years after his mother, Queen Helena, marked the place of Golgotha during a visit to the Holy Land. The church is considered the oldest and holiest in Christianity. Tradition also has it that it was built on the rock where Jesus was crucified.
The church’s name relates to the resurrection of Christ from death on the third day after crucifixion, according to the Christian belief. Every year, millions of Christians converge on the church for blessing and worship.
Despite years of struggle with the Crusaders, Muslim leader Saladin believed in Christian- Muslim coexistence. He did not wish to make the Holy Land off-limits to Christian pilgrims. And, in a display of tolerance, he offered free passage through it to all genuine pilgrims.
The wise leader also sought to follow the steps of Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab in granting Christians safety to their churches so they could live in peace. He ordered the keys to the church be retained by the Hashemite noble family Joudeh al-Husseini al-Ghodayya, descendants of the Prophet Mohammad.
At the time, the family was part of the Nobles in the Holy Land. Its members commanded top positions in the city and its shrines. The idea behind handing the keys to my ancestors was to protect the church from harm and to remind any successor who thinks of ruining the church that the keys are with the Nobles of Jerusalem, who were highly influential Muslims.
Aref al-Aref, a Jerusalem-based historian, wrote in his book the History of Jerusalem that “The Joudeh al-Husseini were entrusted with the Keys to the Church of Holy Sepulchre since the 12th century under Salah Elddin in 1187AD. The family is still performing this honourable task in accordance with 165 Royal Decrees, known as faramans, issued by the successive sultans who ruled Jerusalem, which are in the family’s custody.”
I, Adeeb Joudeh al-Husseini, being the current custodian, am assiduous on opening the church daily at 4am and closing it at 8pm. Another family, the Nusseibehs, is the church’s doorkeeper. It is responsible for opening and closing the gate and returning the keys back to Joudeh al-Husseini.
Besides being the custodian of the keys to the Holy Sepulchre, Joudeh al-Husseini is also the Holy Tomb Seal Holder. The family puts its seal on the Holy Wax before the emergence of the Holy Light on Holy Saturday marking the beginning of Easter.
I am very blessed to be part of this Muslim-Christian unity and I look forward to continuing this mission and transferring it to my children.