Al Hussein, Noor 1951- (Queen Noor)
AL HUSSEIN, Noor 1951- (Queen Noor)
PERSONAL: Born Lisa Najeeb Halaby, August 23, 1951, in Washington, DC; immigrated to Jordan; daughter of Najeeb Elias (a pilot, director of the Federal Aviation Administration, and chairman of Pan-American Airways) and Doris (a homemaker; maiden name, Lundquist) Halaby; married Hussein bin Talal (King Hussein of Jordan), June 15, 1978 (died, February 7, 1999); children: Hamzah and Hashim (sons), Iman and Raiyah (daughters). Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, water skiing, sailing, horseback riding, reading, gardening, photography.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Office of Her Majesty Queen Noor, Bab Al Salam Palace, Amman, Jordan; fax: (962-6) 464 7961. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Queen, activist, and architect. Worked as an architect in Australia, Iran, and Jordan; Royal Jordanian Airlines, director of planning; became Queen Noor of Jordan, 1978—. United Nations National Committee for the International Year of the Child, chair, 1979; established Jordan's Royal Endowment for Culture and Education, 1979; convened the first Arab Children's Conference, 1980; affiliated with dozens of organizations, including Seeds of Peace, Refugees International, International Commission on Missing Persons, International Campaign to Ban Land-mines, World Conservation Union, World Wildlife Fund International, United World Colleges, United Nations University International Leadership Academy, McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building, Women Waging Peace, International Alert's Women and Peace Building Campaign, International Commission on Peace and Food, SOSKinderdorf, International Council of the Near East Foundation, Jordan Society, Mentor Foundation, Journal of Lifetime Trust, Global Committee of the Center for Development and Population Activities, King Hussein Foundation. Founder of in-country organizations and projects, including National Task Force for Children, the King Hussein Cancer Center, Jerash Festival for Culture, the Jubilee School, National Handicrafts Development Project, Noor Hussein Foundation, Children's Heritage and Science Museum, and Mobile Life and Science Museum.
AWARDS, HONORS: Global 500 Award, United Nations, for promoting environmental protection and awareness.
(Under name Queen Noor) Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, Talk Miramax Books (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: American-born Lisa Najeeb Halaby became Queen Noor al Hussein when she wed Jordan's King Hussein in 1978. During the two decades of their marriage, Noor earned the respect and love of the Jordanian people, who at first suspected the Westerner. She established dozens of programs supporting the health and welfare of her people, the people of the Middle East, and world populations in need. When her husband died of cancer in 1999, Noor stood strong and led the stricken and grieving Jordanians. She also documented the story of her life as queen in Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life.
Noor was the daughter of a Syrian-American father and Swedish-American mother. Her father was a navy test pilot who became director of the Federal Aviation Administration during the Kennedy administration, then chairman of Pan-American Airways. She enjoyed a privileged childhood, attending private schools in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Massachusetts, and she was a member of the first coeducational class at Princeton University. A progressive activist, she protested the Vietnam War and was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She took a break in her studies to live in Aspen, Colorado, then returned to Princeton to graduate in 1974.
As an architect and urban planner, she first worked in Australia, then in Iran. When the Jordanian government engaged her father to restructure its airline system, he took his daughter along to design a training facility at Arab Air University. She was then offered the position of director of planning and design projects for Royal Jordanian Airlines.
Hussein was mourning the death of his third wife, who had died in a helicopter accident, when he and the young American first met. She was twenty-six, and he, at forty-two, had been king since the age of sixteen. Their friendship developed into love, and when they married in 1978, he renamed her Noor al Hussein, which means "light of Hussein." Noor converted to Islam on the eve of her wedding, but this was considered by many to be an act of expediency, rather than of faith. She was criticized for not following traditional customs, but she ignored such opinion and instead tackled the job of running the royal household and raising the three young children who had lost their mother. The royal couple eventually had four children of their own, and Noor was stepmother to a total of eight other children of the king. King Hussein was the most pro-peace and pro-West voice in the Middle East during the late twentieth century, and at least one dozen assassination attempts were made on his life. Consequently, he and his queen were always surrounded by bodyguards.
The publication of the memoir, scheduled for November 2002, was delayed until March 2003 due to the escalating conflict in the Middle East. In her book, Noor documents her husband's attempts to broker peace, including his meetings with American presidents and Middle Eastern leaders. Booklist's Brad Hooper wrote that "Queen Noor brings a unique perspective to the contemporary history of the region."
In a Newsweek International interview with Richard Ernsberger, Jr., Noor said that she wrote the book after her husband's death because she had been asked by many "to share my perspective on living in two different cultures. Like my husband, I have a conviction that there is much more that binds culture than separates us. I feel a responsibility to highlight our common ground so that both cultures can work together to resolve conflicts peacefully. My husband is the hero of the book; his search for peace is the central theme, and yet it's not meant to be a definitive historical or political account."
Noor and Hussein were jet-setters who also maintained homes in the United States and England. Julie Salamon wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "there are scenes that have the ring of Roman Holiday. On her honeymoon, Queen Noor became so over-whelmed by the trappings of royal life that she slipped out to spend the afternoon with a friend." Salamon noted that "while she is candid about the difficulties of marriage, especially marriage to a monarch, she is discreet. No bedroom talk here, beyond this veiled confession: 'I was also deeply attracted to him.'" "That passion clearly extended to the country that made her its queen," continued Salamon; "if only all American ventures in the Middle East could turn out so well."
"The book is not a royal tell-all," wrote Mary Delach Leonard in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "although there are telling glimpses of world figures: During an Arab summit in Amman, Iraq's Saddam Hussein would eat only food prepared by his own staff. Prince Charles was the only British royal not to turn a cold shoulder to Jordan's royal couple during the first Persian Gulf crisis. And, she writes, Barbara Bush once sent a message through an American official that she considered Queen Noor a traitor."
Palm Beach Post critic Leslie Gray Streeter said that Noor is "best summed up in the last pages of the book by King Hussein, in the text of a letter he wrote to the Jordanian people shortly before his death. 'She, the Jordanian, who belongs to this country with every fiber of her being, holds her head high in the defense and services of this country's interest,' Hussein wrote. 'And she, like me, also endured many anxieties and shocks, but always placed her faith in God and hid her tears behind smiles.' And that, it seems, is the most queenly behavior of all."
Profits from the sale of the book went to the King Hussein Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds health services in the Middle East and education programs that promote peace and democracy. Noor's extensive Web site lists complete information about the nonprofits and other organizations she founded, supports, or with which she is otherwise affiliated.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Noor, Queen, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, Talk Miramax Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 21, 2003, Moni Basu, review of Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, p. E7.
Booklist, March 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Leap of Faith, p. 125.
Boston Herald, March 21, 2003, Rosemary Herbert, review of Leap of Faith, p. 51.
Good Housekeeping, April, 2003, Elise O'Shaughnessy, "The American Queen" (interview), p. 125.
Newsweek International, April 7, 2003, Richard Ernsberger, Jr., interview with Queen Noor.
New York Times Book Review, April 13, 2003, Julie Salamon, review of Leap of Faith, p. 4.
Palm Beach Post, April 27, 2003, Leslie Gray Streeter, review of Leap of Faith, p. 4J.
Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003, review of Leap ofFaith, p. 68.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 2003, Leah Garchik, review of Leap of Faith, p. D10.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 2003, Mary Delach Leonard, review of Leap of Faith, p. E1.
Queen Noor Home Page,http://www.noor.gov.jo/ (May 6, 2003.)*