Noor al-Hussein (1951–)

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Noor al-Hussein

Queen Noor al-Hussein (born as Elizabeth [Lisa] Halaby) is the widow of Jordan's long ruling monarch, King Hussein, and a philanthropist and activist.


Noor al-Hussein was born as Elizabeth (Lisa) Halaby on 23 August 1951 in Washington, D.C. Her father, Syrian American Najeeb Elias Halaby, was a former navy test pilot, director of the Federal Aviation Administration in the administration of President John F. Kennedy, and chairman of Pan American World Airways. Her mother, Doris Lundquist, was a homemaker of Swedish descent. Lisa Halaby's childhood was one of privilege. She was

educated in exclusive private schools in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Massachusetts, where she attended the Concord Academy. Halaby became a member of the first coeducational class at Princeton University in 1969, graduating in 1974 with a B.A. in architecture and urban planning.

Upon graduation, she accepted a position with an Australian architectural firm that concentrated on urban development. She later worked with a British architectural firm that had been commissioned to modernize the Iranian metropolis of Tehran. In 1976 the Jordanian government contracted with Najeeb Halaby to help overhaul its airline system. He brought his daughter into the project, and she designed the aviation training facility at Arab Air University in Jordan. Subsequently, she was named director of planning and design projects for Royal Jordanian Airlines.

Jordan's king hussein was mourning the death of his third wife, Queen Alia, who had been killed in a helicopter crash in February 1977. He and Halaby first met during a 1977 airport ceremony. The pair became friends and that friendship soon evolved into a romance. Following a courtship of nearly two months, Hussein proposed, and the couple married on 15 June 1978. Hussein immediately announced that he was conferring the title queen upon her, something he had done for Alia but neither of his first two wives. Halaby, who changed her name to Noor al-Hussein (Arabic: The Light of Hussein) and converted to Islam before the marriage, faced some initial problems being accepted in Jordan. She was a non-Arab, non-Jordanian American, originally a non-Muslim, and non-Arabic-speaking woman who was replacing the popular Palestinian Queen Alia. Beyond that, she was required to manage the royal household and raise the king's three youngest children who just had lost their mother. In fact, all of the king's eight children accompanied the royal couple on their honeymoon. She and Hussein later had four children of their own: Hamzah, Hashim, Iman, and Raiyah.

Hussein died in Amman on 7 February 1999. Noor's stepson, Abdullah, became the new king, and her eldest son, Hamzah, became crown prince until relieved of these duties by King Abdullah in November 2004. She continues to reside in Amman.


Name: Noor al-Hussein (Nur al-Husayn, Queen Noor; born Elizabeth Halaby)

Birth: 1951, Washington, DC

Family: Husband, King Hussein of Jordan (d. 1999); two sons, Hamzah (b. 1980), Hashim (b. 1981); two daughters: Iman (b. 1983), Raiyah (b. 1986)

Nationality: American, Jordanian

Education: B.A. (architecture and urban planning), Princeton University, 1974


  • 1974: Works for British, Australian architectural firms
  • 1977: Works for Royal Jordanian airlines
  • 1978: Marries King Hussein
  • 1979: Works with the National Committee for the International Year of the Child, spearheading an immunization campaign in Jordan
  • 1980: Convenes the Arab Children's Congress
  • 1981: Founds Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts
  • 1984: Helps establish the Jubilee School
  • 1985: Establishes the Noor al-Hussein Foundation
  • 1995: Receives United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Award
  • 1998: Becomes International Patron and Honorary Chair of Landmine Survivors Network
  • 1999: Founding chair of the King Hussein Foundation


Queen Noor embarked on a number of philanthropic activities after marrying Hussein. Drawing on her architectural background, she was instrumental in getting the government to adopt the first national professional building code, and spearheaded the movement to preserve Jordan's architectural history by establishing the National Committee for Public Buildings and Architectural Heritage. She also devoted herself to issues concerning child welfare and projects that target maternal and child health care, women's development, environmental protection, and education. In 1979 she worked closely with the National Committee for the International Year of the Child, organizing a national immunization campaign, children's recreation parks and reading programs, and a venture to create Jordan's first children's hospital. The queen convened the Arab Children's Congress in 1980, an annual event that attracts youth from throughout the Arab world with the purpose of enhancing understanding and fellowship through an examination of culture and history. She was involved in promoting a children's play, The Kind Chemo, to raise awareness of cancer detection and treatment in conjunction with her work for the Al Amal Center, Jordan's first comprehensive cancer care center. She was also a participant in the International Children's Hour campaign, where every working person was urged to donate his or her last hour of earnings in 1999 to help make the world better for children in 2000. In 1998 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Queen Noor assumed the leadership position of the Landmine Survivors' Network, an international group of people dedicated to the eradication of the use of landmines.

Noor al-Hussein has been a huge promoter of Arab culture and the arts, and in 1981 founded the Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts. In 1984 the Jubilee School, named in honor of the king's Silver Jubilee, began its planning stages. Queen Noor was at the helm, overseeing the creation of this independent coeducational school for developing outstanding scholarship at the secondary school level. She initiated a National Music Conservatory, the National Handicrafts Development Project, the Jordan Design and Trade Center and, in 1985, the Noor al-Hussein Foundation (NHF), to consolidate her diverse and expanding interests. The NHF projects are aimed to develop individual and community self-reliance, and aid in decision making and project implementation, with a strong emphasis on the development of women.

Queen Noor remains active in these endeavors and works in numerous areas of humanitarian aid, stressing education, peace building, and environmental and health initiatives. She served on numerous national committees, from the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs to the SOS Children's Village Association, the Queen Noor Technical College for Civil Aviation, and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Beginning in the late 1990s, she advocated an end to so-called honor crimes, in which male relatives following tribal law murder women in the family who have allegedly stained the family honor through sexual impropriety.

After King Hussein's death in 1999, Queen Noor became the founding chair of the King Hussein Foundation International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to peace and security through programs that promote cross-cultural understanding and social, economic, and political opportunities in the Muslim and Arab world.


The Jordanians greeted Noor al-Hussein with some suspicion when she first became their queen. The popular Queen Alia had only died sixteen months before Noor's marriage. Given that approximately one-half of Jordan's population consisted of Palestinians, that Alia was a Palestinian had endeared her to them even more. Although an attractive blond, as Alia was, Noor was an American who initially could not even speak Arabic. By the time of Hussein's death in 1999, much had changed, and her gracious and high-profiled role in Hussein's final days, death, and funeral proceedings earned her considerable support and sympathy in Jordan.

Internationally, Noor al-Hussein was a darling of the international media. Her unlikely rise to royal status garnered her considerable positive media coverage. So, too, did her many charitable activities. She continues to travel widely, and advises and supports many international philanthropic organizations. A testament to her global popularity was that her book, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, was a New York Times best seller that was translated into fifteen languages.


Today we have seen how the perverted actions of a violent fringe have hijacked the great faith of the prophet Muhammad for its own ends. Yet Islam has no monopoly on radical fundamentalism. Christianity has carried the banner of "Holy War"—not only at the time of the Crusades, but in recent years, in the bloody execution of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. Tragically there are also Jewish extremists who are willing to use violence to further their vision of a religious utopia—one of them killed YITZHAK RABIN for daring to contemplate peace…. It is convenient for many pundits to describe these affronts as a "clash of civilizations" and promulgate the view that nothing can be changed; that cultural differences are hard-wired; that no amount of dialogue will change the dynamic of conflict; and that geopolitical power politics, bolstered by the threat of force, is the only way to manage these crises. My approach is quite another. Moderates of all creeds must embrace their shared, universal values and defy those who cloak hatred in religious rhetoric.


Noor al-Hussein has received a variety of awards and honorary degrees. In June 1995 she received the United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Award for her activism in environmental protection. In 1998 she became the International Patron and Honorary Chair of Landmine Survivors Network.


Queen Noor will be remembered as the first queen in Jordan who took an active, public role in the life of the nation beyond merely being the consort of the monarch. Her philanthropic contributions to the country have been significant, and she also has done much to humanize the Hashemite monarchy internationally and endear the country to North Americans and Europeans.


Queen Noor's official Web site. Available from

Queen Noor. Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. New York: Miramax, 2003.

――――――. "Queen Noor on Clashing Civilizations." Globalist. Updated 14 August 2006. Available from

                      updated by Michael R. Fischbach