The Muslim royal who was instrumental in preserving the site of Christ’s baptism in Jordan, has now sent a donation to Christians to fund the preservation of another sacred site.
“His Majesty King Abdullah II has issued a Royal Benefaction (makruma) to provide for the restoration of Jesus’ Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at His Majesty’s personal expense.” The news was announced by Jordanian press agency Petra, which says that the Hashemite Court sent an official letter to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III. It will therefore be a Muslim sovereign and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who will foot part of the bill for the restoration of the niche in the Holy Sepulchre, the place of Jesus’ burial and resurrection in Jerusalem, which has, for centuries, been the most venerated Christian shrine in the world.
The restoration project was announced two weeks ago – the day before Easter for the western world. Restoration work is needed because of the progressive alteration of the mortars as a result of condensed moisture from the breath of thousands of pilgrims and candle smoke. The work is based on a specific project carried out by the National Technical University of Athens which all parties agree on: the work should take eight months, with completion expected at the start of 2017. Until yesterday, funds for restoration would have needed to come from the three denominations, public contributions disbursed by the Greek government and private benefactors.
The announcement from Amman now changes the game and was immediately and warmly welcomed by the head of the largest Christian community in the Holy Land. “His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III said that His Majesty King Abdullah embodies in deed, and not only in word, the shared living of Muslims and Christians all over the world and particularly in the Holy Land,” Petra news agency reports. “Jordan’s role in protecting Christian existence in the Holy Land is clear and undeniable,” the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem continued, “King Abdullah spearheads the efforts of all Jordanians to sow the seeds of love and brotherhood between Muslims and Christians. We are reaping the fruits of these efforts in this age when sectarian wars are burning entire countries as can plainly be seen.”
It is also worth noting that in his statement, Theophilos III explicitly links Jordan’s donation to the Pact of Umar, the agreement reached in 637, when Jerusalem was conquered by the Arabs. On that occasion, Caliph Umar, Muhammad’s second successor, respected the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, leaving it as a Christian place of worship instead of turning it into a mosque. It is thanks to this first important gesture made by the Caliph, that the niche of the Holy Sepulchre has survived as a Christian place of worship in the face of the many vicissitudes Jerusalem has faced throughout its history. Today – at a time when a so-called caliph is desecrating Christian sites in Syria and Iraq – reaffirming the Pact of Umar, is intended as a very clear message to the Muslim world, starting from its history and identity.