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The Official website of the Nuseibeh Family
Jerusalem and the Holy Land's oldest family
Custodians of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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The Nuseibeh family is the oldest family in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Family roots

Forefathers of the family arrived in Jerusalem with the Islamic conquest in 637 AD. They included two companions of the Prophet Mohammed - Abdullah bin Nuseibeh and Ma'ath bin Jabal, and many others of the Prophet's companions and maternal uncles, descendents of Salma from Bani an-Najjar, a clan of the Khazraj, the wife of Hashim, forefather of the Hashemite Family and mother of its renowned leader Abdul Muttalib, grandfather of the Prophet Mohammed, Peace be Upon Him. The name "Nuseibeh" is that of a female companion of the Prophet Mohammed, Nuseibeh Om Omara al-Maziniyya, who fought with the Prophet in battle and was an early example of women taking leadership roles in Islam. The Nuseibeh family is a clan of the Khazraj tribe of Medina, known in Islam as al-Ansar, for their support and protection of Prophet Mohammed during his exile from Mecca.

The family's relationship with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Muslim conquest of 637 AD ushered in a period of peaceful coexistence and freedom of worship for the followers of the three monotheistic faiths. At the time of the conquest, Christian rulers of Jerusalem banned Jews from entering the city. For centuries, Jews wept the destruction of their temple and endured a great deal of suffering under the Christian rule. The Islamic armies entered Jerusalem without shedding a drop of blood. The Archbishop of Jerusalem, Sophronius, invited Caliph Omar to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity's holiest site. Omar refused fearing that future Muslim generations would claim the church as their own and turn it into a mosque. Omar instead built a mosque few yards away from the church. The Mosque of Omar still stands next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a reminder of the strong Muslim-Christian bond in the Holy Land. Upon entering Jerusalem, Omar signed with the Christians of Jerusalem what became know as the "Covenant of Omar". It guaranteed protection for the Christians to live and worship freely and also protection for the Christian places of worship. Upon the insistence of the Christians, the covenant also promised not to allow Jews back into Jerusalem. This part of the agreement was the only one not fulfilled by the Muslims and Jews were re-admitted into Jerusalem, under Muslim protection. To protect the Christian places of worship, the Caliph Omar entrusted the custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus, Peace be Upon Him, was buried and the site of his accession to Heaven, to 'Ubadah ibn al-Samit, a companion of the Prophet and the first ruler of Palestine and a forefather of the Nuseibeh family. His tomb, as well as that of another ancestor of the Nuseibeh family and companion of the Prophet, Shaddad ibn Aws al-Khazraji, are still intact at the southern corner of the wall enclosing the Noble Sanctuary at the Bab al-Rahma cemetry, near Bab Al-Asba'at, or Lions Gate.

Click here for photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

From these illustrious ancestors, the Nuseibeh family inherited the custody of the Holy Sepulchre. For many centuries, the Nuseibeh's were arbiters of conflict that has arisen between the various Christian denominations within the Church. Many of these are recorded in church records as well as in the registers of the Shari'a Courts of Justice in Jerusalem. The Nuseibeh family is also duly entrusted with stamping and certifying the Holy Sepulchre's Sacred Fire in the Sepulchre at the annual celebrations, which Christian denominations observe on the night before the great feast of Easter Sunday. The elevated marble platform at the main entrance of the Holy Sepulchre on which members of the Nuseibeh family sit and the Cabinets above their seats which belong to them up to this day, have often been described by historians, pilgrims, tourists and visitors, including by Father Felix Fabri in a book written in 1484.

Crusader and post-Crusader period

The crusades of the eleventh century AD resulted in the effective expulsion of the few family members who were not massacred by the crusader armies, from Jerusalem. The crusaders massacred over 70,000 Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians and closed down their places of worship. The crusader period marked an end to the freedom of worship that Jerusalem had enjoyed for over 300 years. As protectors of Christianity's holiest site, the Nuseibeh's ensured such religious freedom was enjoyed until the crusaders destroyed the peace. Family members settled in an area called Boreen, south of Nablus. The return of Islam to Jerusalem 88 years later brought with it once more freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims. During the period in exile in Boreen, Ghanem bin Ali bin Hussein al-Ansari al-Khazraji was born. He became a leader in the Muslim armies. His descendants became known as Bani Ghanem al-Khazraj, the sons of Ghanem. All members of the Nuseibeh family trace their ancestry to him. When Muslim rule was re-established in Jerusalem, followers of the three great faiths were once more allowed to worship and live freely in Jerusalem. Records and manuscripts kept by the various Christian denominations in their monasteries and churches all record the Nuseibeh family's and Bani Ghanem's relationship with the Holy Sepulchre, at least since the time of Sultan Saladin. In 1192, Sultan Saladin and King Richard the Lion Heart signed an agreement allowing Western Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Sepulchre under certain stipulations. Saladin re-entrusted the custody of the doors of the Holy Sepulchre to the Nuseibeh's, represented by now leader and renowned Sheikh of his realm, Ghanem bin Ali bin Hussein al-Ansari al-Khazraji, the Jerusalemite, and all matters pertaining to it. The Nuseibeh's once more provided freedom of worship not only to Orthodox Christians, but also to Western Christians despite the actions of the crusaders who falsely claimed to have represented Christianity.

Sultan Saladin also entrusted Prince Ghanem and his son Prince Burhanalddin bin Ghanem with the Sheikhdom of the Khanqah Seminary (Khanqah al-Salahiyya), established by Saladin in Jerusalem and bearing his name. The post remained with the family for hundreds of years until the Ottoman conquest of Jerusalem in the 16th century A.D. The renowned historian of Jerusalem Mujiruddin al-Hanbali writes that he saw the signature of Sultan Saladin on these investitures. Ghanem also later his descendants, became Sheikhs of the Noble Sanctuary (Al Aqsa Mosque), in addition to holding the Sheikhdom of Saladin's Seminary and holders of the office of Chief Justice (Qadi) and custodians of the Holy Sepulchre. Saladin granted large estates to the Nuseibehs, including 50,000 dunums of land of east Lubban village between Jerusalem and Nablus for benefit of the Dome of the Rock in the Noble Sanctuary, the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and for the family itself. The Nuseibeh family continues to receive tithes on this estate up to the present day. The Nuseibeh family also continues to receive tithes from other Waqf foundations such as Khaski Sultan, Khan al-Sultan and other Waqfs in Jerusalem.

Ayyubid and Mamluk manuscripts discovered accidentally in the ceiling of the Library of the Noble Sanctuary in the 1970's record much of the family's history. Some of these manuscripts have been published by the Goethe Institute in Beirut, Lebanon.

During the later period of the Ottoman rule in Jerusalem, the Nuseibeh family suffered hugely. All but few of the family members were massacred in the 18th century. The Ottomans tried to create a new ruling class from exported families to local ones. However, the Nuseibeh family came out of this period as strong as it has been, one of the Holy Land's leading families and continues to serve the people of this land, regardless of their faith.

This website was last updated on 9th August 2004.
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