Why Christianity’s holiest shrine is guarded by two Muslim families. The intractable nature of Christian rivalries has led to a rather curious, unique arrangement that dates to the 12th century: Two Muslim families were entrusted by a presumably weary Arab potentate to be the gatekeepers of the church. The Joudeh family keeps the key, while the Nuseibeh family opens up 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 — an old, cast-iron object that’s a foot long — considered his family’s hereditary task to be a metaphor for religious tolerance.
“For me, the source of coexistence for Islamic and Christian religions is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he said.
His counterpart, Wajeeh Nuseibeh, 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.”