Phtos by a student collective, text by Sari Nuseibeh. These photos are selected from a project conducted by students from Al-Quds university in Jerusalem, of which Sari Nuseibeh is the president

Following André Chouraqui’s vision of Jerusalem in last month’s Courier, Al-Quds university president Sari Nuseibeh, whose family holds the keys to the Holy Sepulchre, spins a childhood tale that has lost none of its profound resonance

Sometimes when I am asked how my family–a Muslim family named after “Nussaibah,” a female warrior-companion of the Prophet from Medina–ever came to hold the keys to one of Christianity’s

The story I then spin out is At rest in the garden of the Dome of the Rock. an innocent mixture of fact and fiction, a mosaic of the subjective and the objective, which has been imprinted in my sub-conscious ever since my early childhood. For me, this is the essence of the identity of Jerusalem –a beautiful mosaic of tales spun out from a misty past, rooted in events, whether real or presumed, and constituting the fibre of the hearts and souls of its inhabitants.

One such tale of which I am particularly fond, encapsulating as it does the magical relation between Man and the City, is that of the Caliph Umar’s entry into Jerusalem in 638 A.D. It is a tale that seeped deeply into my consciousness during my childhood, resounding year after year in my ears and mind, but cumulatively gathering with it and impressing upon me a particular moral; one which, because of its association with Islam’s origin in the City, is fundamental to my self-identity as a Muslim Jerusalemite.

The almighty Caliph of Islam, I have been led to believe, being totally overawed by the prospect of entering this sanctified City, would only deign to arrive at its gates unarmed. Leaving his fierce and victorious warriors behind, accompanied only by his aide and one beast of burden, he approaches the City peacefully and by foot, to be cordially received by its Christian Guardian, Bishop Sephronious. On his journey towards the City, the story goes (and I take this also to be a fundamental part of the tale), the Caliph and his man-servant exchange places to ride their single camel.

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