At a juncture in history when a woman's position in Middle Eastern society lays in the outcome of a fiery and philosophical tug o' war, American born, Queen Noor of Jordan stands tall, as a beacon of hope and growth.
Light in a World Full of Shadows
She is a luminescent and progressive role model not only for Middle Eastern women, but also for men, women and children across the planet. As the personification of positive Arab-Western relations, Queen Noor has been a highly-motivating activist for decades and a voice for women who are often not heard in our noisy world. She has tirelessly taken it upon herself to help them to realize their life's worth and potential and has emerged as one of the world's truly influential people.
Several years ago, in an interview with CNN's Larry King, Queen Noor commented, "... I've seen it around the world, in the poorest countries and in countries riven with conflict; it is women who are the key to breaking out of poverty, breaking out of stagnation. ... It's women who can contribute to achieving real security -- not bombs and bullets and repressive governments."
Noor in Arabic means light and the mere idea of an attractive western-raised woman flaunting the name, Queen Noor of Jordan, carries a perception of privilege and the exotic. The real live Queen Noor however, the fourth wife and widow of King Hussein of Jordan, while strikingly beautiful and elegant, is also a highly-intelligent, down-to-earth, Princeton educated, proponent of human rights and mother to four grown children.
The number of organizations and issues in which she is active is staggering. For all who try and eek out a few volunteer hours a month, she is a tremendous inspiration. As president of the United World Colleges, Chair of the United Nations University International Leadership Academy and Trustee of the Aspen Institute, Queen Noor promotes worldwide conflict resolution, peace-building and the broadening of environmental protections. She is a Patron of the World Conservation Union, advisor to Women Waging Peace, and involved with both the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), campaigns she stepped up to sustain after Princess Diana's death.
"(Landmines are) an obstacle to peace," Queen Noor stated in a 2005 CNN interview. "It's an obstacle to reconciliation. Where people cannot walk over the ground that once divided them to make peace in fear of their lives; where children can't go to school without being blasted ... I've seen the devastation and the fact that it impedes the recovery from conflict, the process of reconciliation. And, therefore, it impedes our efforts to prevent recurrence of conflict."
She is also actively involved with the Refugees International (RI), The Hunger Project, World Wildlife Fund International (WWF) and Conservation International (CI). In 1995, Queen Noor became the recipient of the United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Award. She also chairs a number of organizations honoring her late husband's name that promote the modernization of Jordan while alleviating the struggles of those who are suffering in the region.
One of Queen Noor's most recent aims has been to bring healthcare and counseling to the hundreds of thousands refugees, displaced by the war in Iraq, an issue that few people in the U.S. are aware of. The controversial war has resulted in a vast exodus of predominantly women and children into neighboring countries, including Jordan. With the help of several international humanitarian organizations, The Noor Al Hussein Foundation (NHF), a NGO, non-profit founded in 1985, sponsors a health center that provides medical care, counseling, and pediatric services to refugees in and around the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Born Lisa Najeeb Halaby on August 23, 1951 to Najeeb and Doris Halaby, Queen Noor's parents were an affluent, respected and well-connected family of British, Swedish and Syrian descent. Her father, Najeeb Halaby served as CEO of Pan American Airlines, Head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under President Kennedy, and as the U.S., Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense .
Like her parents, Lisa always had a passion for travel but little could she imagine the significant journey that life would take her on. She attended private high school in New England before starting at Princeton in its first co-ed class. Partway through her studies, she took a break to explore the vast terrain of the United States then returned to complete a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning and entered the workforce, with stints in both Australia and the Middle East.
While working on an airport architectural project in Jordan, she was introduced to King Hussein I who was smitten by the lovely American from a prominent family. In 1978, at the age of 26, in the face of much controversy in both her American homeland and her adopted Jordan, she left behind her western upbringing, converted from Christianity to Islam, relinquished her American citizenship, and married Jordan's charismatic King Hussein of Jordan, then aged 41. It was the king who gifted her the moniker, Queen Noor al-Hussein, "The light of Hussein."
The couple's marriage has often been referred to as a fairytale romance and lasted for more than two decades during which they had two boys and two girls together, adding to the eight children he had previously. Educated in both Egypt and England, King Hussein vigorously worked for stability in the Middle East throughout the tumultuous times in which he ruled. In February 1999 Queen Noor's beloved King Hussein died after a protracted battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He is remembered as a moderating force in the region, a legacy that Queen Noor has valiantly upheld.
King Hussein authored three books during his life and Queen Noor, has published two. The first in 2000, was about her husband and simply titled Hussein of Jordan . The other, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life , was published in 2003, became a New York Times best seller, and has been translated into 15 languages.
This year, as Queen Noor turns 58, she continues her seemingly endless public speaking schedule, her advocacy for those who are in need, and her promise of bringing new light to the west's relationship with the nations of the Middle East.