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Queen Noor of Jordan (born 23 August 1951) is the last wife and widow of King Hussein of Jordan. She was queen consort of Jordan during her marriage (1978–1999) and has been queen dowager of Jordan since her husband's death in 1999.

American by birth, of Syrian, British and Swedish descent, she acquired Jordanian citizenship and renounced her American citizenship at the time of her marriage. She is the current president of the United World Colleges movement and an advocate of the anti-nuclear weapons proliferation campaign, Global Zero.

Family and early life

Noor was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby in Washington, D.C. She is the daughter of Najeeb Halaby and Doris Carlquist. Her father was an aviator, airline executive and government official. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Truman administration, before being appointed by John F. Kennedy to head the Federal Aviation Administration. Najeeb Halaby also had a successful private-sector career, serving as CEO of Pan American World Airways from 1969 to 1972. The Halabys had two children in addition to Lisa: a son, Christian, and another daughter, Alexa. They divorced in 1977.

Noor's paternal grandfather, Najeeb Elias Halaby, a Syrian immigrant of Lebanese origin, was a petroleum broker, according to 1920 Census records. Merchant Stanley Marcus, however, recalled that in the mid-1920s, Halaby opened Halaby Galleries, a rug boutique and interior-decorating shop, at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, Texas, and ran it with his Texas-born wife, Laura Wilkins (1889–1987, later Mrs. Urban B. Koen). Halaby died shortly afterward, and his estate was unable to continue the new enterprise.

According to research done in 2010 for the PBS series Faces of America by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University, her great-grandfather, Elias Halaby, came to New York around 1891, one of the earliest Syrian immigrants to the United States. He had been a Christian and provincial treasurer (magistrate) in the Ottoman Empire. He left Syria with his two eldest sons. His wife Almas and remaining children joined him in the USA in 1894. He died three years later, leaving his teenage sons, Habib, and Najeeb (her paternal grandfather), to run his import business. Najeeb moved to Dallas, Texas around 1910 and fully assimilated into American society.

Education

Lisa Halaby was born, raised and educated in the United States. She attended National Cathedral School from fourth to eighth grade. She briefly attended The Chapin School in New York City's Manhattan, then went on to Concord Academy in Massachusetts. She entered Princeton University with its first coeducational freshman class, and received a BA in Architecture and Urban Planning in 1974.

Career

After she graduated, Halaby moved to Australia, where she worked for a firm that specialized in planning new towns. She became increasingly interested in the Middle East and immediately accepted a job offer from a British architectural firm that had been employed to redesign the city of Tehran.

In 1976, Halaby moved back to the United States. She thought about taking a master's degree in journalism and starting a career in television production. However, she accepted a job offer from her father, who was commissioned by the Jordanian government to redesign their airlines. She became Director of Facilities Planning and Design of the airline he founded.

In 1977, Halaby, who attended various high-profile social events as the Director of Facilities Planning and Design, met King Hussein of Jordan for the first time on the development of the Queen Alia International Airport. The airport was named after Queen Alia, King Hussein's third wife, who died in a helicopter crash the same year. Halaby became a friend of the King, who was still mourning after the death of his wife. Their friendship evolved into romance and the couple became engaged in 1978.

Marriage and children

Halaby married the King on 15 June 1978 in Amman, becoming his fourth wife and Queen of Jordan. She renounced her USA citizenship upon marriage and converted to Islam, becoming known as Noor Al-Hussein (which means Light of Hussein). The Constitution of Jordan did not require her to convert but if she had not done so, her descendants would not have had succession rights. The wedding was a traditional Muslim ceremony. Initially, the new queen was not accepted by the people of Jordan, as she was not of Arab Muslim birth. Although their opinion is thought to have changed as Noor started expressing genuine interest and commitment to her kingdom, the differences were never completely resolved.

Upon marriage, Noor assumed the management of the royal household and three of her stepchildren, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, and Abir Muhaisen, the children of her husband by Queen Alia.[5] Queen Noor and King Hussein had four children:

Prince Hamzah (born 29 March 1980), Crown Prince from 1999 to 2004, who has a daughter

Prince Hashim (born 10 June 1981), who has two daughters

Princess Iman (born 24 April 1983)

Princess Raiyah (born 9 February 1986)

Behind the scenes, Queen Noor was involved in politics, for which she was criticized by fundamentalists. In 1984, she supported her husband when he criticized the Americans for being one-sided in their commitment to Israel, while the Americans criticized her for siding with the Jordanians.

There have been tensions between Queen Noor and her sister-in-law, Princess Sarvath El Hassan, the wife of King Hussein's brother Hassan, who served as Crown Prince of Jordan until the last days of King Hussein's life. The tensions between the Queen and the then Crown Princess were exacerbated by the matter of succession. Queen Noor, who almost never left the King's side during his illness, entertained the idea of having her own son Hamzah proclaimed Crown Prince, influencing her husband to change the line of succession in his favour. Eventually Hussein, encouraged by Noor, appointed his eldest son Abdullah (from his marriage to the English-born Princess Muna) as Crown Prince, the condition for such change being that Noor's son Hamzah become Crown Prince upon Abdullah's accession.

Widowhood

King Hussein died on 7 February 1999.

After the death of King Hussein, his firstborn son Abdullah became king and Hamzah became Crown Prince. A surprise move of 2004, Prince Hamzah was stripped of his title as Jordan's next in line. On 2 July 2009, King Abdullah II named his eldest son as heir to the throne, ending five years of speculation over his successor.

Though the queen dowager, she is stepmother to King Abdullah II and thus cannot be classified as queen mother; accordingly she is known as HM Queen Noor of Jordan, as distinct from Abdullah's wife Queen Rania, who is styled HM The Queen of Jordan. The present King's mother is Princess Muna al-Hussein, an Englishwoman formerly known as Antoinette Avril Gardiner.

Queen Noor plays an active role in promoting international exchange and understanding of Arab and Muslim culture and politics, Arab-Western relations, and conflict-prevention and recovery issues such as refugees, missing persons, poverty and disarmament. She has also helped found media programs to highlight these issues. Her conflict-recovery and peacebuilding work over the past decade has focused on the Middle East, the Balkans, Central and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Queen Noor's work in Jordan and the Arab world has focused on national development needs in the areas of education, conservation, sustainable development, human rights and cross-cultural understanding. She is also actively involved with international and UN organizations that address global challenges in these fields.

Since 1979, the initiatives of the Noor Al Hussein Foundation (NHF) which she chairs have transformed development thinking in Jordan and the Middle East through pioneering programs in the areas of poverty eradication and sustainable development, women's empowerment, microfinance, health, environmental conservation, and arts as a medium for social development and cross-cultural exchange, many of which are internationally acclaimed models for the developing world. NHF provides training and assistance in implementing these best practice programs in the broader Arab and Asian regions.

Queen Noor also chairs the King Hussein Foundation and the King Hussein Foundation International (KHFI), founded in 1999 to build on King Hussein's humanitarian vision and legacy in Jordan and abroad through national, regional and international programs that promote education and leadership, economic empowerment, tolerance, and cross cultural dialogue and media that enhance mutual understanding and respect among different cultures and across conflict lines.

Through KHFI, headquartered in the United States, Queen Noor awards the annual King Hussein Leadership Prize to individuals, groups or institutions that demonstrate inspiring and courageous leadership in their efforts to promote sustainable development, human rights, tolerance, equity and peace.

In May 2007, KHFI launched its Media and Humanity Program during New York City's Tribeca Film Festival to promote film and media projects that highlight shared values, rights and aspirations across social, economic, political and cultural divides with special emphasis on the Middle East and Muslim world. Queen Noor is co-founder of The Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund, an unprecedented, not-for-profit initiative formed out of a partnership between private media, the United Nations, and global philanthropists to promote and support media content that enhances mutual understanding and respect within and among different societies and cultures.

Queen Noor has traveled extensively throughout the Balkans since her first humanitarian mission in 1996 after the fall of Srebrenica. She is a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) created through the Dayton Accords to promote reconciliation and conflict resolution through the search for, recovery, and identification of missing persons from the armed conflicts in the Balkans. She has supported and overseen the ICMP's groundbreaking forensic DNA identification and families/community reconciliation programs, and advocated with the leaders of BiH to finalize the establishment of The Missing Persons Institute, critical to resolution of the tragedy of tens of thousands of missing and murdered in the 1990s Balkans conflicts.

She has assumed an advocacy role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and has traveled to Central and Southeast Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America to advocate with governments, support NGOs, and visit with landmine survivors struggling to recover and reclaim their lives. She has testified before the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus appealing for humanitarian assistance and justice for hundreds of thousands of landmine victims worldwide.

At the invitation of President Andrés Pastrana and President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Queen Noor has undertaken several humanitarian missions to Colombia to try to negotiate a series of humanitarian accords with the leaders of the country's guerilla insurgency on landmines, child soldiers and kidnappings, to promote mine awareness programs in rural and conflict areas with UNDP, to advocate against the use of anti-personnel mines especially in civilian areas, and to oversee the destruction of Colombia's last arsenal of anti-personnel mines.

In 2004 and 2005, as an expert advisor to the United Nations, Queen Noor traveled to Central Asia to advocate for adoption and implementation of the Ottawa Treaty throughout the region and for multi-sectoral commitment to the Millennium Development Goals in Tajikistan, one of the world's poorest countries.

She is a board member of Refugees International and an outspoken voice for the plight of refugees, displaced persons and other dispossessed people around the world. She has visited Pakistan to assess the Afghan refugee situation, and is advocating for international support for the nearly 5 million Iraqis displaced in Iraq and in Jordan, Syria and other countries after the 2003 Iraq conflict.

Queen Noor is actively involved in a number of international organizations advancing global peace-building and conflict recovery. She is a founding leader of Global Zero, an international effort to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide, an Advisor to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Seeds of Peace, Council of Women World Leaders, Women Waging Peace, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and International Patron and Honorary Chair of Survivor Corps.

She is also President of the United World Colleges, Board Member of the Aspen Institute, Refugees International, America Near East Refugee Aid, and Conservation International, Patron of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Founding President and Honorary President Emeritus of BirdLife International, and a Patron of the SOS Children's Villages - USA in Jordan.

Queen Noor is on the board of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, alongside former President Bill Clinton.

She is the International Spokesperson for the McGill Middle East Program of Civil Society and Peace Building (MMEP); in this capacity she has twice visited Montréal, Canada, officially and unofficially visited a number of the MMEP's centres in Jordan and Israel, and undertaken a number of fundraising activities, including the establishment of an MMEP program fund in her name.

In recognition of her efforts to advance development, democracy and peace, Queen Noor has been awarded numerous awards and honorary doctorates in international relations, law and humane letters. She received the United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Award for her activism in environmental protection and advocacy, and was honored with the 2009 Global Environmental Citizen Award by Harvard University's Center for Health and the Global Environment. In June 2009, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles Chapter honored Queen Noor with its Healing the Planet Award.

As a tribute to her, Australian composer Katia Tiutiunnik composed the symphonic poem, Noor for violin soloist and orchestra, which received its world premiere at the Treasury House in Petra, on September 23 1999, as part of the 28th General Assembly of the International Music Council.

She has published two books, Hussein of Jordan (KHF Publishing, 2000) and Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life (Miramax Books, 2003), a New York Times best seller published in 15 languages.

Noor currently splits her time between Jordan, Washington, D.C., and London. She continues to work on behalf of numerous international organizations and makes 70 to 100 speaking appearances annually.

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