A woman about my age becomes a queen.
Lisa Halaby was born to a prominent Arab-American family. Her great-grandfather emigrated in the late 1800s and her grandfather was a successful importer and associate of Stanley Marcus of the Nieman Marcus stores. Her father was head of the FAA under JFK and later president of Pan American Airways. He also served as a consultant to Royal Jordanian Air as it was being built under King Hussein. Lisa came to Jordan after graduating from Princeton, where she was in the first co-ed freshman class in the school’s history. It was through her father that she met the King, who had recently been widowed by his third wife.
A brief courtship was followed by a wedding, despite their 15 year age difference. Traditional Muslim weddings rarely have the wife present; a male relative usually represents her, but Lisa was in the room when the “negotiations” were made. The King named her Queen and chose the name Noor al Hussein, meaning “Light of Hussein”.
Thus began their 20+ year marriage and her life of service. Noor converted to Islam and learned Arabic. She was completely devoted to Hussein and to the Jordanian people. Many assumed she would be a glamourous young wife, but she was no mere figurehead. Through the Noor al Hussein Foundation, the Queen really made a difference by working on issues of women’s and children’s rights, the environment, education, health, Jordanian culture, and sustainable community development. The foundation is still active today.
They were a fairly low-key couple for royals, Noor had her own car and often drove it herself. Hussein was an aviator and usually served as his own pilot. Once on a state visit to Norway, they were caught unaware as Norwegians require jewels, sashes, and tiaras. They rarely wore their royal regalia, feeling it send a bad message to the people back home.
She described a visit to Buckingham Palace. King Hussein and Queen Noor were in the first vehicle to approach the palace, as he was the longest serving monarch in attendance. He remembered the time he was in the last car as an 18 year king, newly crowned after his father stepped down due to mental instability. (King Talal was crowned after his father, King Abdullah, was assassinated in the presence of the young Hussein).
Noor bore four children, 2 boys and 2 girls, and helped raise the other 7 from his other wives and 1 adopted, for a total of 12. The older children lived with their mothers or were away at studying at Sandhurst Military Academy (where the British royals study), but this book portrays a fairly congenial combined family.
King Hussein’s lifelong goal was stability in the Middle East and a united Arab front. Noor gives a good history of the Arab lands, the 1967 war and subsequent fighting between Israel and the other groups, and the occupied lands. Both of them traveled and worked tirelessly to negotiate and educate, but were frustrated by the one-sided US support of Israel at the expense of the other Arab countries. I learned a tremendous amount about the area’s history and have better understanding of the on-going conflict in the area.
Noor’s book is many things, her personal history, a brief overview of the Middle East, women’s roles in these areas, but mostly it is about the love for her husband King Hussein and his contribution to history.