Sophronius was the Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634 A.D. until his death, and is venerated as a saint in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The following encounter of Sophronius and Muslim caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab, as well as Christian Muslim relations, was the purpose of a special meeting on March 12 with the leading scholar in interfaith dialogue Dr. Jiries Khoury and a group of 23 young adults in Jerusalem.
In 637, after the conquest of Jerusalem with no bloodshed by Muslim armies, the Muslim caliph (Supreme Leader) Umar ibn al-Khattab came to Jerusalem and toured the city with Sophronius. During the tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the time for the Muslim prayer came. Despite Sophronius’s offer to Umar to pray inside the church, Umar chose to pray outside.
The caliph’s reason for declining to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was fear of future Muslims might say that Umar prayed there and could use it as an excuse to build a mosque there. His decision to pray outside now means that Muslims are not allowed to build a mosque there.
So appreciating the caliph’s intelligence, Sophronius gave the key of the church to him for safeguarding. Unable to refuse it, the caliph gave it to a family of Muslims from Medina and asked them to open the church and close it; the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre still remain with this Muslim family today.
Through learning from the past, the Sabeel young adults reflected on the present and were encouraged to continue building bridges for the future.