By Paula Hancocks
At one o’clock on the dot, dozens of children burst through the door of Khasiki Sultan soup kitchen, clutching their pots and pans.
Sent by their families, they jostle for position in front of steaming vats of chicken and soup, waiting for their pots to be filled with food for iftar — the breaking of the fast at sunset.
This is a daily ritual in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, and for hundreds of families it’s not just for Ramadan. The al Aqsa Waqf has been filling the bowls of needy families for 450 years, aided by private donations.
The soup kitchen was built in the 1550s by the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Khasiki Sultan. With an orphanage and school attached, it boasts many former students in Jerusalem, including Dr Yusuf Natsheh. Now a historian with the al Aqsa Waqf, he has written extensively about the Takiyat Khasiki Sultan.
He tells CNN, “In the early 16th century, I assume more than 550 people used to get soup twice daily, and sometimes meat and rice depending on the occasion. Giving in Islam and especially giving food to the needy is a well-known custom all over the Islamic world.”
The core of the building has not changed much in almost five centuries, but extensions have been built. Most notably, more chimneys have been constructed in the kitchen as it was believed to have been unbearable to work there hundreds of years ago as the smoke could not escape.
The kitchen today is filled with children. The chef says each child represents a family — in all 80 families were fed. The beautiful and historic architecture is no doubt lost on the children, but visiting adults show their appreciation.
One Sheikh has just finished praying at the al Aqsa mosque and comes to collect food before returning to his home in the West Bank. He says this food is like a blessing. “I have been coming here for a year and I thank the people who work here and the kindness between Muslims.”
Dr Natsheh says, “There is a social dimension that people were attached to this place and still certain people of Jerusalem will chat about the sweet taste of that soup at that time that they got for free, so it’s part of Jerusalem’s history.”
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY