Why Christianity’s holiest shrine is guarded by two Muslim families

Published: November 3, 2016

Did you know that the key to one of Christianity’s holiest sites is held by  Muslims? It has been the case for centuries.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City is Christianity’s most sacred site. It’s believed that the rock-cut tomb at the heart of the church was where the body of Jesus Christ was once laid.

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For centuries the church has been shared  by six old Christian congregations — Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Egyptian Copts. However, disputes among these sects over the sharing of the church have sparked conflicts and street riots from time to time.

Strong rivalries such as these led to a rather exceptional arrangement that dates to the 12th century — two Muslim families were entrusted by an Arab monarch to be the gatekeepers of the church.

The Joudeh family keeps the key, while the Nuseibeh family opens the church door every morning and locks it in the evening.

In an interview with CNN earlier this year, Adeeb Joudeh, the current keeper of the key said he considers his family’s hereditary task to be a symbol for religious tolerance.

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“For me, the source of coexistence for Islamic and Christian religions is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he said.

Wajeeh Nuseibeh, whose family is entrusted with opening and closing of the church described the vital role of these two Muslim families in Jerusalem to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “Like all brothers, they sometimes have problems,” he said, referring to the feuding Christian sects. “We help them settle their disputes. We are the neutral people in the church. We are the United Nations. We help preserve peace in this holy place.”

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post .

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Rebirth
    Nov 3, 2016 - 4:24PM

    I went here and saw that there were prayers asking for the freedom and independence of Palestine outside the walls of the premises. Sadly, no such prayers are inscribed on any place of worship for Kashmiris who don’t have Arab oil money and any holy site that would make their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights worthy of any attention (spiritual or worldly).Recommend

  • vinsin
    Nov 3, 2016 - 4:25PM

    Muslims also guide Arab Pagans holiest site, Sikhs holiest site, Zoroastrians and Egyptian holiest site also.Recommend

  • AQ13
    Nov 3, 2016 - 10:15PM

    Salahuddin wasnt Arab.He was a KurdRecommend

  • Bol kah lab azad hain
    Nov 3, 2016 - 10:48PM

    So what’s the problem in peacefully coexisting otherwise? Why so much of intolerance in some parts of the world?Recommend

  • Jey
    Nov 5, 2016 - 1:17AM

    Because More than 90%of Kashmiris are living happy in India.. Few of them are Manipulated by the reason of money from its neighbor.Recommend

  • Rustam
    Nov 5, 2016 - 6:24PM

    @AQ13: “two Muslim families were entrusted by an Arab monarch to be the gatekeepers of the church”
    This statement in the article has two misrepresentations. The commander Slahelddin was Muslim Kurd and he was not a monarch.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Nov 5, 2016 - 7:53PM

    Same is for Kurds, Philippines Muslims, Chinese Muslims etc.Recommend

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