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Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor


Rating: (Highly Recommended)


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Queen Noor’s memoir, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life, is the finest memoir I’ve read in a long time. She weaves her poignant personal story with the politics of the Middle East and life in Jordan in ways that are powerful and personal. Noor reveals her personality and that of her late husband, King Hussein, in anecdotes and reminiscences that describe the universality of personal, loving relationships, and the struggles of everyday life in a family. Here’s an excerpt (pp. 114-15) about her wedding and that describes the book’s title:

With great effort I concentrated on repeating the simple marriage vows that I had been practicing in Arabic. Looking at the King, I said, "I have betrothed myself to thee in marriage for the dowry agreed upon." He replied, "I have accepted thee as wife, my wife in marriage for the dowry agreed upon." We sealed our vows by clasping our right hands and looking at each other. No rings were exchanged. The sheikh conducting the ceremony recited verses from the Quran; then we walked into an adjoining room, where we were joined by our families and guests shouting, "Mabrouk, congratulations!" Abir, Haya, and Ali were the first to embrace us.

Looking now at the pictures of us that appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, I see a young woman flushed with optimism and hope, smiling with all her heart at a handsome bearded man who is responding in kind. The rest of my wedding day is a jumble of memory fragments: our struggle to cut the wedding cake—no one had pointed out that the bottom layer was cardboard; our impatience to leave the reception to be alone; and our walk to the front courtyard of the Palace, where we adroitly avoided the elaborately decorated Excalibur to leap into Hussein’s car and escape to the airport for our precious refuge in Aqaba.

I invited all eight children to join us in Aqaba for the few days we were there before leaving for our honeymoon in Scotland. I wanted them to feel part of our new life together as soon as possible. I knew it would not be easy. Three mothers were involved. Some of Hussein’s older children were fully grown adults, and the youngest, Ali, was only two. But all the children adored their father, and with this common denominator I had every hope we might succeed in creating a loving, secure, nurturing family spirit.

Our brief Aqaba idyll was great fun as far as I was concerned. In spite of the differences in their ages, the children seemed to enjoy one another’s company tremendously. There was a lot of laughter, teasing, and games.

No doubt they were all checking me out, but I felt very easy and at home in their midst.


It had been on our first night in Aqaba, when my new husband and I were watching the news on television, that I heard the announcement that he was giving me the tide of Queen. I do not know why he had not told me himself. Perhaps he wanted to surprise me. I was the only person, it seems, in Jordan and the Western world who was not fixated on what title I would have. The newspapers had been filled with conjecture ever since our engagement had been announced. There had also been concerns that, as an American, I might not be accepted in the region, but there was no Arab outcry, as far as I knew, about our marriage, nor any I was aware of from Jordanians. As a Halaby, I was considered an Arab returning home rather than a foreigner.

Our departure for our honeymoon in Scotland was further delayed by graduation day at Jordan University. My husband always handed out the diplomas to all the graduating students, so two days after our marriage we returned to Amman for what would be our first public event. I was quite nervous, not knowing what to expect. There was tremendous excitement when we arrived at the university and great warmth in the way we were received. I knew that the outpouring of affection for me, including the photos of me throughout the city and on cars and buses, was in fact for Hussein, and I was very touched by it—but also conscious that I should not take that affection as an entitlement: I had to earn it in my own right.

One contribution I did make was simply instinctive. I had become so conscious of the issue of the Kings security that every time we went out in public, beginning with the graduation at Jordan University, I would try to  subtly position myself to protect him in relation to the crowds. Our children would do the same in later years, but at the beginning of our marriage I reflexively found myself contributing to his front line of protection.

As Hussein and I prepared to leave for Scotland, I was filled with a sense of happiness and calm. I felt life had no boundaries, that every dream and goal was possible. I had committed my life to my husband and to Jordan, with all its demands and responsibilities, its frustrations and setbacks, its victories and disappointments. I had taken a leap of faith, and faith has rewarded me.

One of my favorite stories of family life came in this excerpt (pp. 224-6):

The children missed Battal, and Iman asked for a dog for her birthday. Soon after, I brought home a smaller, ostensibly more manageable dog—a beagle from England. This dogs story (which has a happy ending) includes one frightening chapter: I inadvertently ran over her one day when she ran between the front and rear wheels of my moving car. I felt my left rear tire hit a bump and heard someone screaming her name. I got out of the car, and there she was on the ground, looking quite flattened. I knelt down to comfort her, certain that she was drawing her last breath, when lo and behold she slowly began to reinflate. It reminded me of the cartoons I would watch as a child, in which Daffy Duck would be run over by a steamroller and then pop back up. It turned out that our dog had suffered only a fractured hip protected from worse harm because she was so rotund.


My sister, who had dogs and no children at that point, was furious when she learned of the beagle’s near demise. Alexa had decided long ago that we were unfit to have animals, and by the time I finished telling her the story she was convinced the dog would not survive another minute in our house.

"You send that dog over to me right away," she said, and so the beagle has lived with her ever since. And ever since then I have been mercilessly teased for my canine-cidal tendencies.

At least the dogs we were being given were getting smaller. The last one was a ten-week-old Chihuahua, a gift from the former President of Mexico that my husband never warmed to. I eventually gave the dog to our German house manager, who had an apartment in Amman, and the tiny animal caused quite a stir on the streets. Dogs are nowhere near as common in Arab countries as they are in the West, and when Liesa took the Chihuahua, Senor Toki Ramirez, for walks, some people actually ran away in fright and drivers braked to a halt and called out, "What is that?"

My husband loved rescuing our runaway animals and all the general chaos of family life. He was a great tease and I was a favorite target. He never tired of telling the story of a time early in our marriage during a weekend in Aqaba when I asked Manal Jazi, our Jordanian nanny, if she could find my camera. Manal was gone for the longest time and having misheard me finally returned with a camel. My husband laughed uproariously, and the children, utterly delighted, spent the rest of the afternoon taking camel rides.

Hussein personally supported the expenses of our home and of the extended royal family through financial resources he was given from within the Arab and Muslim world. He had a basic allowance from the government that had not changed in all his years as King, and neither of us took any personal money from the Jordanian government. In a crunch, he would sell his assets in order to cover Royal Court bills, which were largely devoted to health and education assistance or to support institutions in need.

Support from Arab and Muslim leaders who valued his stabilizing role within the region was critical in enabling the King to carry out his leadership responsibilities in Jordan, as well as his advocacy efforts for the region as a whole. (Jordan was also reciprocating by contributing to the development of these countries through its expertise and manpower in areas such as education, health, medical research, and military training and security.)

However, support from the outside could not always be counted on.

My husband handled his own finances in an openhanded, spontaneous way, based on his faith that God would provide. He believed that if he was a faithful Muslim who focused more on the needs of others than on his own, God would enable him to continue his good works. This was not an MBA’s approach to finance, but it could not have been. It was an ethical and humane balance that Hussein struck within the context of an environment that did not function like the West, that was constantly fluid and uncertain and sometimes prone to extremes. The King would never turn away from someone in need.


Whatever your level of understanding on issues in the Middle East, that knowledge will expand after you read Leap of Faith. Everything you expect to learn about humanity from a memoir, you’ll find on the pages of Leap of Faith. If there’s only one memoir you choose to read this year, make it Leap of Faith.

Steve Hopkins, July 25, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: of Faith.htm


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