Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

by Queen Noor


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401359485
Publisher: Miramax Books
Publication date: 03/28/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Queen Noor is a world leader herself and international spokesperson for the environment, the banning of landmines, and world peace. She divides her time between the family's houses in Jordan, Washington D.C., and England. She has four children, two boys and two girls. Her oldest son is the Crown Prince Hamzeh. She divides her time between Jordan, London, and Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt


Memoirs of an Unexpected Life
By Queen Noor


Copyright © 2003 Her Majesty Queen Noor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4013-5948-5

Chapter One

First Impressions

* * *

I first met my future husband through the lens of a camera. I was standing with my father on the tarmac at the airport in Amman, Jordan, when King Hussein strolled over to greet us. Never one to hold back, my father thrust his camera into my hands. "Take my picture with the King," he said. Mortified, I nonetheless dutifully took the photograph, which caught the two men standing side by side, with the King's eldest daughter, Princess Alia, in the background. Afterward my father and the King exchanged a few words. Then King Hussein called his wife, Queen Alia, over to meet us.

It was the winter of 1976, and my father had asked me to join him on a brief visit to Jordan, where he had been invited to attend a ceremony marking the acquisition of the country's first Boeing 747. My father, Najeeb Halaby, a former airline executive and head of the Federal Aviation Administration, was chairman of the International Advisory Board for the Jordanian airline. He was also in Amman laying the groundwork for a pan-Arab aviation university, an ambitious project aimed at reducing the region's dependence on foreign manpower and training. This undertaking, still in its infant stages, was the brainchild of King Hussein, my father, and other aviation dreamers in the Middle East. Since I was at loose ends, having recently completed a job in Tehran, I welcomed an opportunity to travel to Jordan, which I had visited briefly for the first time earlier that year. Another trip to this part of the Middle East would bring me back to the land of my ancestors and, I hoped, reconnect me with the Arab roots of my Halaby family.

I distinctly recall my first impressions of Jordan. I had been en route to the United States from Iran, where I was working for a British urban planning firm. From the window of my aircraft, I had found myself spellbound by the serene expanse of desert landscape washed golden by the retreating sun at dusk. I was overwhelmed by an extraordinary sensation of belonging, an almost mystical sense of peace.

It was spring, a magical season in Jordan, when the winter-browned hills and valleys turn green from the winter rains, and wild anemones spring from the earth like red polka dots. Oranges, bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuces were being sold along the road through the lush fields and orchards of the Jordan River Valley, and city families from the high, cool Amman Plateau were picnicking along the warm shores of the Dead Sea. There was a warmth and joy in everyone and everything I saw, and I was entranced by the delightful harmony of past and present, of sheep grazing in fields and empty lots adjacent to sophisticated office buildings and state-of-the-art hospitals. I remember in particular the sight of students walking in the open fields at the edge of Amman, textbooks in hand, completely absorbed in their studies for the Tawjihi, a general government exam that Jordanians must take in the final year of high school.

I knew from looking at maps how close Jordan was to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but I had not fully understood it until I stood on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea and looked across at the ancient city of Jericho on the occupied West Bank. Jordan, in fact, had a longer border with Israel than any other country; it ran some 400 miles from Lake Tiberius or the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south. Despite the enduring beauty of the landscape, World War II. three Arab-Israeli wars, and countless border skirmishes had left Jordan and Israel's cease-fire line-a sacred tract of land where the prophets once walked-riddled with land mines.

My knowledge of Jordan then was limited to what I had read in newspapers or picked up in conversations, but I was aware of King Hussein's unique position in the region. He was a pan-Arabist with a deep understanding of Western culture, a consistent political moderate, and a dedicated member of the Nonaligned Movement. Jordan, I knew, was a linchpin for Middle East peace efforts, strategically located between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. While in Jordan, I also learned that the King was a Hashimite-a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him-and therefore held a special position of respect for Muslims.

The Jordan I visited for the first time in early 1976 was a fascinating blend of modernity and tradition. The Emirate of Transjordan was founded in 1921 and became the independent Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946. The country had been transformed by King Abdullah, its founder, and then by his grandson, King Hussein, and had steadily developed into a modern state. Having lost its historic access through Palestine to the commercial seaports of the Mediterranean due to the creation of Israel, Jordan had developed Aqaba as a port for traffic on the Red Sea and beyond to the Indian Ocean.

When I first came to know Jordan, the government was initiating an ambitious overhaul of the country's telecommunications. At the time it would take hours to call within Amman, and the capital did not even have international direct-dialing. Birds alighting on the system's copper wires could cut telephone connections, but soon there would be a state-of-the-art network of telephone services linking the country in even its most remote areas.

Smooth new roads had been built, mostly from north to south, to complement the traditional trade routes west through Palestine. You could easily drive, as I did, from Jordan's northern border with Syria all the way to Aqaba on the modern Desert Road. Traveling through the desert I saw nomadic Bedouin tending to their livestock, and children darting in and out of the distinctive black goat-hair tents known as beit esh-sha'ar. As day faded into night, I was transfixed by the rosy golden glow of the setting sun on the rocky hillsides, where herds of sheep looked almost iridescent in the waning light of day.

The Desert Road was the fastest and most direct road to the south, but my favorite route was the scenic Kings' Highway, which followed the ancient trade routes. The Three Wise Men are thought to have traveled at least part of the way to Bethlehem on the Kings' Highway, and Moses used it to lead his people toward Canaan. "We will stay on the Kings' Highway until we are out of your territory," reads Numbers 21:21-22 in the Bible, referring to Moses' request to King Sihon for permission to cross his kingdom, which was denied. Alternating between the two Nikon cameras I wore constantly around my neck, I took photograph after photograph of Mount Nebo, near where Moses is said to be buried, and of the magnificent mosaics I saw in nearby churches, just off the Kings' Highway.

Earlier civilizations kept the dirt track cleared of stones to hasten the passage of donkeys and camel caravans laden with gold and spices, and the Romans paved sections of the Kings' Highway with cobblestones to allow travel by chariot. Evidence of ten thousand years of history is scattered along or near the Kings' Highway, from striking plaster neolithic statues with darkly lined eyes, the oldest representations of the human form, to the Iron Age capital of the Ammonites, Rabbat-Ammon, which forms the nucleus of Jordan's present-day capital, Amman.

The archaeological treasures I saw in Jordan during this early visit were stunning, among them the classical walled city of Jerash in the hills of Gilead, with its colonnaded streets, temples, and theaters. Lakes once covered the eastern desert, where fossilized lions' teeth and elephants' tusks can be found in the sand. On the road to Baghdad loom the 1,300-year-old Islamic "Desert Castles" of the Umayyads-an Islamic dynasty established by the caliph Muawiyah I in 661 A.D.-with their colorful frescoes and mosaics of birds, animals, and fruits, and heated indoor baths.

A few hours to the south lies the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, carved into multicolored sandstone cliffs. Hidden to the Western world for 700 years until Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt stumbled on it in 1812, Petra is entered through a mile-long, narrow Siq, a natural gorge that cuts through the cliffs to emerge into a breathtaking marvel of shrines, temples, and tombs carved into the stone. It has a palette of natural colors and designs that no artist could duplicate, ancient caves and monuments whose floors and walls blaze with swirls of red, blue, yellow, purple, and gold veins of rock.

On that first trip, I explored Amman on foot. Shepherds crossed the downtown streets with their flocks, herding them from one grassy area to another. They were such an ordinary part of life in Amman that no one honked or lost their patience waiting for the streets to clear; animals and their minders had the right of way. I wandered through the marketplace admiring the beautiful inlaid mother-of-pearl objects-frames, chests, and backgammon boards-as well as the cobalt blue, green, and amber vases known as Hebron glass.

Amman looked classically Mediterranean with its white limestone buildings and villas ranging over and beyond the seven fabled hills that Ptolemaic King of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphus had conquered in the third century B.C. In my room in the Inter-Continental Hotel, situated on a hill between two valleys, I lay awake each morning in the predawn stillness, listening to the call to early morning prayers, Al Fajr. I was completely captivated by the rhythmic sound of the muezzin calling to the faithful as it echoed off the surrounding hills. Jordan's capital was peaceful and calm, so different from the growing restiveness I had witnessed in the last months of my job in Tehran.

On that fateful day when my father introduced me to King Hussein on the tarmac, a dense cluster of people surrounded the monarch: members of his family, the Royal Court, and government officials, including the CEO of the Jordanian airline, Ali Ghandour, an old friend of my father who had invited us to the ceremony. A lifelong aviator, the King was celebrating an exciting step forward for his beloved airline, which he considered a vital Jordanian link to the world. No doubt he simply longed to head for the cockpit of the country's first 747 and take off. Instead he was surrounded by courtiers, officials, guards, and family members. It was as if an invisible string were holding them all together; when the King moved, the entire group would sway with him.

As I watched, I was struck by the way the King never lost his composure or his smile, despite the overwhelming noise and confusion. For many years I was reminded of that day at the airport by the photograph my father had asked me to take. During my engagement and after I married, I kept it in my office, still in the photo shop's simple paper frame. Sadly, it was lost more than a decade ago, when I asked to have a copy made. I keep hoping that it will fall out of a book or show up in a desk drawer; it is not often that one has a memento of the very first moments spent with someone who would become the most precious part of one's life.

That short stay in Jordan ended with lunch at the King's seaside retreat in Aqaba, which had an appealing simplicity. Instead of living in an imposing vacation palace, the King and his family resided in a relatively modest beach house facing the sea; guests and other family members were housed in a series of small, double-suite bungalows that made up the rest of the royal compound.

The King was traveling at the time but had asked Ali Ghandour to "take my good friend Najeeb to lunch in Aqaba." Over the mezzah, an assortment of appetizers including tabouleh, hummus, and marinated vegetables, the conversation veered quickly to politics-to Lebanon and its ongoing bloody civil war. I listened intently, asking many questions, fascinated by the complex political events of the region.

Aqaba was a lovely spot, but our sojourn in Jordan was nearing its end. Soon I would be back in New York, hunting for a job in journalism. I never imagined that I would be returning to Jordan just three months later, nor did I have any inkling of how fateful that return would be. Perhaps I should have taken more seriously a curious prediction made on one of my last evenings in Tehran, just a few months earlier. At the end of a farewell dinner at a restaurant in the city center, an acquaintance at the table had told my fortune in the traditional Middle Eastern way, by reading my coffee cup. He swirled the thick grounds, turned over the cup, flipped it back, and studied the patterns within. "You will return to Arabia," he had predicted. "And you will marry someone highborn, an aristocrat from the land of your ancestors."


Excerpted from LEAP OF FAITH by Queen Noor Copyright © 2003 by Her Majesty Queen Noor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1First Impressions1
Chapter 2Roots9
Chapter 3Tehran Journal35
Chapter 4An Audience with the King45
Chapter 5A Leap of Faith79
Chapter 6Honeymoon at Gleneagles105
Chapter 7A Young Bride in the Royal Household127
Chapter 8Pomp and Circumstance145
Chapter 9One Crisis after Another155
Chapter 10America through New Eyes189
Chapter 11At Home and Abroad219
Chapter 12"Women Hold Up Half the Sky"245
Chapter 13Parenthood269
Chapter 14Growing Pains289
Chapter 15Prelude to War299
Chapter 16Fire in the Gulf327
Chapter 17Test of Faith337
Chapter 18A Day Like No Other351
Chapter 19The Edge of the Abyss383
Chapter 20The White Bird399
Chapter 21The Skies Cried423

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Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It is written by a woman who expresses herself very well, and uses that gift to share an important viewpoint. The book is not anti-American nor anti-Israel... it is honest. We are not presented with personal opinion, but with historical facts - facts that are all too often glossed over by CNN and their ilk. No government is perfect, and Noor is candid about the shortcomings of the Jordanian constitution as well as the American system. Beyond that, observations I appreciated included the absurd fascination Western culture has with celebrities and their scandals and how these become front page news, crowding out life-and-death matters on a global level. Another point is that Europeans are more sensitive to the tragedy of war than Americans, having more recently experienced its long-term devastation through two World Wars. Finally, I appreciated that, as King Hussein stated, 'engagement isn't endorsement.' One cannot seek to effect change without diplomacy, and the US position of 'we won't talk to so-and-so until they [fill in the blank] first' is both shortsighted and childish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have heard queen noor speak on tv and she seems like a very fine person. I expected a more personal story and less political. She did seem anti-american and anti-israel at times but i suppose she was seeing things through the eyes of the jordanians. Glad i got this one at the library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the book fascinating, and I'm not one to pay attention to 'things royal'. The Queen's life has been remarkable. I was particularly pleased with the depth provided, into the life of King Hussein - as a person, a world leader, and often frustrated peace initiator. This book would be a great read for anyone with the open mind to begin exploring the middle east as explained by middle easterners.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could never find a book that described the time in Middle East of that I was growing up as a boy: Dreams, hopes, life and disappointments of Middle East Arabs generations in 26 years. Queen Noor's book is by far best written book about Middle East in the last decade, detailing a crucial period of Middle Eastern history, from a rational intelligent citizen of humanity, and a queenly perspective. .
Guest More than 1 year ago
This an amazing book. It provides the reader with an understanding of Jordans stuggle with middle-east peace process from someone on the inside. Queen Noor does a wonderful job explaining all complexities involved with Middle-East politics, while at the same time sharing her own personal memories of her husband and family. This is a book that anyone with any curiousity about the middle east should read.
bluesviola on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Excellent story of truly remarkable lady. She did lots of homework to put this together. It gives some history and cultural background along with the bio of her personal life.
Mrs.Stansbury on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I've read quite a few memoirs in my time but this one didn't read as a memoir. I enjoyed the book as a first person account of history and politics of Jordan. The book opened up my eyes to what life and culture is like from a political stand point in the Middle East, however, it wasn't a personal journey or struggle through life as I come to expect from a memoir. Yes, Queen Noor explains personal details of her life but almost as an after thought. I do recommend the book but the title is misleading expect instead a book chronicling the political life of Queen Noor and a mini modern history of Jordan.
Clueless on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I realize this is one person's perspective on the Middle East. I had no idea this woman wasn't a Barbie blond type of person. She explains herself very well. Even better ,reading about Queen Noor compelled me to try and understand the Jordan/Israel situation better.
Trinity on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I waited for this book for almost 6 months to come to paperback and everyday was worth it! I am so intrigued by the quiet strength of Queen Noor, this biography is a wonderful glimpse into another world. Her life has been both spectacularly glamorous but typically normal at the same time. I am grateful for a story from the 'other side' that has opened my eyes to the truth about American media and the politics of the Middle East. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about a brilliant woman and the politics that have helped to shape the Middle East.
Suuze on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I have to admit that I skipped through some of this book. It was just too detailed about *everything*. At first, those details were interesting, but I feel it bogged down the rest of the book to the point that it overshadowed the historical aspect of her life with King Hussein.She most certainly reveals a lot of the history of Israel, Jordan and the problems within the Arab-Israeli community in the Middle East - and from an Arab standpoint. It was enlightening, to say the least. I do feel that it showed some prejudice on her part, which is natural as she was Queen of Jordan for many years.I always admired Hing Hussein of Jordan, but after reading this (even with her obvious love shading descriptions of him), I realize what a great loss his death was to the efforts of peace in the Middle East.I would have given the book 4 or 5 stars if it had been more compact - the last few chapters are touching and wonderful.
joiescire on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Really excellent. I learned a lot from this book.
Irisheyz77 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I really enjoyed this biography. It often felt as if Queen Noor was sitting across and tell her story to me herself. Queen Noor was american born so I enjoyed reading her perspective on becoming a queen and living in the middle east.
MandyTX More than 1 year ago
I loved reading about Queen Noor and King Hussein. It is well written and gives great insight into another country that most of us know little about.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Thought this was a great book for people to really get an understanding of the Middle East and it's history. I found her discussion about Jordan's involvement with Isreal and the PLO the most interesting parts of her work. Queen Noor probably spends about 70% of the book talking about the politics of the region, and her travels to other countries. The rest of her book deals with family, which is interesting, but not the highlight of the book (in my opinion).
Guest More than 1 year ago
King Hussein and his Queen Noor have jolted me out of my complacency in this memoir. I was so impressed by the integrity and candor, the gentleness and always believable relentless quest for peace, even at great personal cost. I was among those who 'lionized' Anwar Sadat and the Camp David accorde. I value Jimmy Carter's intelligence and believe in HIS relentless quest for peace. I would be truly interested to read his response to Queen Noor's eloquent portrayal of this historical event. The memoir is remarkable, enlightening, inspiring and beautiful. It encourages the best in each of us, challenges us to research the facts and makes us accountable for repeating only factual information. We see that we are responsible for our own words, that lies and rumors bring harm to the peacemakers and aid to the enemies of peace.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I waited for this book for almost 6 months to come to paperback and everyday was worth it! I am so intrigued by the quiet strength of Queen Noor, this biography is a wonderful glimpse into another world. Her life has been both spectacularly glamorous but typically normal at the same time. I am grateful for a story from the 'other side' that has opened my eyes to the truth about American media and the politics of the Middle East. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about a brilliant woman and the politics that have helped to shape the Middle East.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Queen Noor has written a book thats explains her love for her husband, children, country, and the wish for an Arab Nation of peace.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a senior college term paper in sociology. I love this book so much, it really helped me understand a lot of what is going on in todays society. When I started reading the book it was for class but after a while I enjoyed reading it, I have done more research on Jordan and Queen Noor. She is an amazing person, so was her husband. If only everyone could have the love that they shared. When it came time to do our presentation I spoke for 20 mins about the book and all of my classmates were amazed and so was the teacher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book. I heard about this book through a friend and initially, I wasn't interested in reading it. However, I really enjoyed the book. It put things into perspective. It's really interesting to see how agreements and treaties really come about, and how much work goes with it. It's also very interesting to see what a spin the media puts on events and how that affects the people they have maligned in real life. Excellent reat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
iloved the book. I have been a big fan or noor since i first saw her on the news with her late husband. The book takes you on a ride that you do not want to get off from. at the end you look at life very differently.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I kept thinking if only the world had more leaders like King Hussein, wise, moderate and advocating Peace throughout his life, the world would definitely be a better place! His wife is a medium of great importance between two conflicting cultures. The book reminded me constantly that there are no coincidences in life: these two people were meant to be together - not only as a couple, but in a larger scheme!