Who Is Queen Noor of Jordan?
Queen Noor of Jordan was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby in Washington, D.C. During her early career, she worked in international urban planning in the United States, Australia, Iran and around the Arab world. She married King Hussein in 1978, and became known for her philanthropic work including advocacy for children, promoting peace and the removal of land mines, protecting the environment from climate change and advocating for cross-cultural understanding. In recognition of her efforts, Queen Noor has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates in international relations, law and humane letters. She has also published two books, Hussein of Jordan and Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, which became a New York Times No. 1 best seller published in 17 languages.
Queen Noor of Jordan was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby on August 23, 1951, in Washington, D.C. Her father, Najeeb Elias Halaby, was born in Dallas, Texas of Syrian descent, and distinguished himself as a U.S. Navy test pilot and lawyer who became head of the Federal Aviation Administration under President John F. Kennedy. He was also the CEO of Pan American World Airways. Her mother, Doris Carlquist, was born in Leavenworth, Washington, of Swedish descent, and studied political science at the University of Washington. Lisa grew up in family of privilege where public service was valued. She attended exclusive private schools including the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C., The Chapin School in New York City and Concord Academy in Massachusetts before enrolling in the first co-educational class at Princeton University in 1969.
In 1972, after taking a break from academics to waitress, ski, and study photography in Aspen, Colorado, Lisa returned to Princeton and took up her study of architecture and urban planning with a renewed vigor and drive. After her graduation in 1973, she flew to Australia and worked for an architectural firm that specialized in the design of new towns. At this time, her steadily growing interest in Arab culture took shape in the form of a job offer from Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks—a British architectural firm that had been commissioned to re-plan the city of Teheran—which she immediately accepted.
Marriage to King Hussein of Jordan
Lisa returned to the United States in 1976, where she planned to obtain a master's degree in journalism, entertaining the idea of pursuing a career in television production. In the meantime, her father had just accepted an offer from the Jordanian government to help redesign their airlines, forming the company Arab Air Services. He offered Lisa a job and she accepted, foregoing the Columbia School of Journalism to become the Director of Facilities Planning and Design for the airline he founded. She assisted in the design of the Arab Air University, to be built in the Jordanian capital, as well as a housing company for Royal Jordanian Airlines employees.
During this time, Lisa attended several important social events in Jordan, and had the opportunity to meet King Hussein at the opening of Queen Alia International Airport in 1977. The King, who was still mourning the loss of his third wife, Alia, who had died that year in a helicopter crash, took great interest in the airport which was named in her honor. After their first meeting, King Hussein and Halaby became friends, and by 1978, their friendship had evolved into a romance. Lisa later recalled to Dominick Dunne of Vanity Fair: "We courted on a motorcycle. It was the only way we could get off by ourselves." After a six-week courtship, King Hussein proposed to Lisa on May 13, 1978.
On June 15, 1978, Lisa Najeeb Halaby became the first American-born queen of an Arab country, taking the name Noor al-Hussein or "Light of Hussein." She and King Hussein married in a traditional Islamic ceremony at the Zaharan Palace, where Queen Noor was the only woman present. Although the Jordanian people expressed discomfort about King Hussein's choice of a non Arab-Muslim bride, they soon warmed to the union when they witnessed Queen Noor's genuine interest and commitment to Jordan and her conversion to the Islamic religion.
Queen of Jordan
Queen Noor's throne came with a myriad of challenges, multiplied by her status as a foreigner with an extremely liberal background. She immediately took on the responsibilities of managing the royal household, as well as bringing up three small children from Hussein's former marriage to Alia. She was also in constant need of bodyguards because King Hussein had survived more than 25 assassination attempts.
The queen enthusiastically embraced and excelled in her official duties, concentrating on the improvement of Jordan's educational system. Addressing the issue of Jordan's most talented youth leaving to study abroad, Queen Noor helped to establish the Jubilee School, a three-year coeducational high school for gifted students.
She also devoted energy and funds to preserving and celebrating Jordan's cultural heritage, helping to establish the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, an annual event featuring dance, poetry and music, which attracted thousands of tourists. In addition, she formed the Arab Children's Congress, and annual program for Arab children of all nationalities that emphasizes their common heritage.
Queen Noor also set out to address the issue of women's rights. Although she advocated increased educational and employment opportunities for women, founding the Women and Development Project, she remained sensitive to the interests of those reluctant to work outside the home for religious reasons. She told The New York Times, "I believe in expanding the options open to women, at the same time not telling them that they are not fulfilling themselves if they don't have a job."
In 1985, she collected all of her development initiatives under the umbrella of the Noor Al Hussein Foundation (NHF). She also served on several international boards devoted to the promotion of peace, positive educational and cultural development, and preservation of wildlife and natural resources.
Queen Noor's involvement in the political arena has been decidedly behind the scenes due to her American birth although she had relinquished her United States citizenship when she married King Hussein. However, in 1984, when King Hussein criticized American policy in the Middle East and the United States' one-sided support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Noor stood by his side in support.
During a speech at the World Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., Noor said, "If a lasting peace in the Middle East is ever to be realized, it is time for the United States to bring its practices in line with an active and unambiguous exercise of the principles that govern its democracy." She has received criticism from some Americans for her allegiance to Jordanian interests, as well as Islamic fundamentalists for overstepping the traditional boundaries of her role as queen.
In 1992, King Hussein was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to remove the cancer from his ureter and left kidney. In 1998, the King was back at the Mayo Clinic receiving treatment for lymphatic cancer. After receiving ongoing treatment, including a bone marrow transplant which his body rejected, King Hussein died at the Royal Suite of the Al Hussein Medical Center on February 7, 1999. Less than two weeks before his death, he bypassed his brother Prince Hassan and appointed his eldest son, Abdullah, to be his heir to the throne.
Queen Noor handled her husband's death with her characteristic grace and courage, consoling the distraught nation. However, as a young widowed queen, she had to redefine her role and position in the Arab world.
King Hussein Foundation International
After the death of King Hussein, Noor founded the King Hussein Foundation and the King Hussein Foundation International (KHFI) in 1999. KHFI includes several organizations that are devoted to carrying on King Hussein's legacy by promoting peace throughout Jordan and the Middle East. Since 2001, the foundation has awarded the King Hussein Leadership Prize to individuals, groups, or institutions that demonstrate inspiring leadership in their efforts to promote sustainable development, human rights, tolerance, social equity and peace. As chair of the organizations, Queen Noor has invested in launching other programs and awarding recognition to those who have made steps towards creating peace.
Part of that initiative was the annual Media and Humanity Program, which launched in 2007 and encourages the reconciliation of different cultures, particularly those focused on Muslim or Middle Eastern culture. Queen Noor has also understood the importance of social media in giving women a voice, one of the underrepresented groups that she focuses on. "Twitter and Facebook have been a catalyst for organizing people on the ground, identifying human rights abuses and provide a voice, especially for women, that would not have otherwise been heard," Queen Noor said in an interview with The Telegraph.
Other Initiatives and Impact
Queen Noor has made environmental priorities an essential component of her work to promote human security and conflict resolution. She is a Patron of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Founding and Emeritus President of BirdLife International, Trustee Emeritus of Conservation International, a member of the Ocean Elders and has received a variety of awards and other honors for her activism.
A long-time advocate for a just Arab-Israeli peace and for Palestinian refugees, Queen Noor is a Director of Refugees International and an outspoken voice for the protection of civilians in conflict and displaced persons around the world. Her focus includes advocacy for Iraqis who have been displaced after the 2003 Iraq conflict and for the millions of Syrians displaced since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011. She has also been an expert advisor to the United Nations focusing on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Central Asia and on behalf of Colombia’s displaced.
She is a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons, created at the 1996 G8 summit to promote reconciliation and conflict resolution after the Balkans war and now is the leading provider of DNA-assisted identifications to countries worldwide dealing with natural catastrophes, human rights abuses and conflict.
Since 1998, Queen Noor has been an advisor to and global advocate for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, working with governments in Central and Southeast Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America to join the treaty and supporting NGOs and land mine survivors struggling to recover and reclaim their lives. She is also a founding leader of Global Zero, an international movement working for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. She represented Global Zero at the 2009 UN Security Council meeting and was an advisor to the 2010 documentary film, Countdown to Zero about the escalating global nuclear arms threat.
She is also involved with a number of other international organizations advancing global peace-building and conflict recovery. She is President of the United World Colleges, a network of 16 equal-opportunity international IB colleges around the world which foster cross-cultural understanding and global peace; and a Trustee of the Aspen Institute and advisor to Search For Common Ground and Trust Women, the Thomson Reuters Foundation annual conference aiming to put the rule of law behind women's rights.
Family and Title
Queen Noor and King Hussein had four children together: Prince Hamzah, born in 1980; Prince Hashim, born in 1981; Princess Iman, born in 1983; and Princess Raiyah, born in 1986. In regard to the importance of her title and the trappings of royalty, Noor told The Washington Post, "What is important about me is independent of all that. What is important of everybody in life is independent of all that. And what is important about my husband was also independent of that."
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