11 December 2018

The Wives of Hussein

An Egyptian, a Brit, a Palestinian and an American walk into a palace... No, that's not the start of an article about peace talks or the opening of a corny joke. Instead, it is an outline of the four marriages of Jordan's legendary King Hussein II, whose role as a moderator in the still ongoing conflicts in the Middle East made him a legend during his lifetime. By the time the king died in 1999, he had had four wives, 11 biological children and one adopted child. Through tragedies and triumphs, his wives shaped the role of a modern Muslim queen and their legacy is carried on today in the person of Hussein's daughter-in-law, Queen Rania, formerly Rania al-Yassin.

Although many Muslim rulers are polygamists, King Hussein was only ever married to one woman at a time. This does not necessarily reflect disapproval of the practice as his daughter Princess Haya is the junior wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.  

Let's meet the wives of Hussein:

Dina and Hussein at their wedding.
via Wikimedia Commons
 Queen Dina
(Sharifa Dina bint Abdul-Hamid)
Having already survived the first of many assassination attempts, 19-year-old Hussein had been King of Jordan for just over two and a half years when he married his distant cousin, Dina, whose family was from Egypt. She was 25. Both the bride and groom were descendants of Mohammed and members of the Hashemite Dynasty, the second-longest ruling dynasty in the world after the Imperial House of Japan. Highly educated, Dina graduated from Cambridge University and completed graduate studies at London's Bedford College before returning to Egypt to teach philosophy and English literature at the University of Cairo. Their daughter Princess Alia bint Hussein arrived less than a year later. Unfortunately, the very young Hussein and Dina were not well-suited. His desire to exert control over her and to limit her political role--which may have had something to do with his mother Queen Zein's strong influence--perhaps did not sit well with Queen Dina. Their short marriage came to an end during a period when the relationship between Eqypt and Jordan was also strained as a result, in part, of the Suez Crisis. Dina was actually in Eqypt when she received the news that Hussein was ending the marriage. The divorce was finalized just 27 months after the wedding. Although she was granted the title Princess of Jordan, Dina initially was prevented from seeing her daughter. Thirteen years later, she married a commando in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (He was another younger man; this time, her husband was almost 13 years her junior.) After he was arrested by the Israelis in 1982, she successfully negotiated to free him as well as 8,000 other prisoners.

Muna and Hussein with their sons Abdullah and Faisal
By Angela Cozzi (Mondidori Publications via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Muna
(Antoinette Gardiner)
King Hussein waited a few years after divorcing Queen Dina before he married again. He met his second wife, British-born Antoinette Gardiner. Her father was a British Army officer and Toni, as she was called, spent part of her childhood living abroad, particularly in Malaysia where she attended a boarding school for the children of British Service members. When she was 19, her father was assigned as a military adviser to Jordan. While they were there, Toni worked on the set of the epic film, Laurence of Arabia. She also met the 24-year-old King Hussein. They were married the following year, 1961. She converted to Islam and took the name Muna al-Hussein, meaning "desire of Hussein," but she was never granted the title of Queen. In fact, she only received a royal title as Princess after the birth of their first son Abdullah, now the King of Jordan, eight months later. Another boy, Prince Faisal arrived 21 months later followed by twin princesses Aisha and Zein five years after him. The marriage lasted just over 11 years. Like her predecessor, Muna was able to keep her royal status and remains a Princess of Jordan today. She also continues her work in support of nursing. During her marriage, she founded a scholarship for nursing and a nursing school that is now known as the Princess Muna College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions. She is now the President of the Jordanian Nursing Council. She never remarried.

Hussein and Alia with U.S. President and Mrs. Ford
by Ricardo Thomas via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Alia
(Alia Baha uddin Touqan)
Just four days after his divorce from Muna was finalized, 37-year-old King Hussein married Palestinian Alia Baha uddin Touqan on her 24th birthday. Alia's was born in Cairo while her father was the Jordanian Ambassador to Egypt. He later served in the same role in Turkey and the United Kingdom before being sent as the Jordanian Permanent Representative to the United Nations. As a result, Alia grew up all over the world. After studying at Loyola University in Chicago and Hunter College in New York, she returned to Jordan and worked for Alia Airlines, which was named for the king's daughter by Queen Dina. It's now called Royal Jordanian. Alia got to know Hussein when he asked her to organize Jordan's first International Water Skiing Festival. Their two children, Princess Haya and Prince Ali, were born in the first three years of their marriage. In 1976, they adopted a Palestinian refugee orphan, Abir Muhaisen, whose biological mother had been killed in a plane crash. It was Queen Alia who formalized the public role of the Queen of Jordan, focusing largely on supporting social services, particularly hospitals and schools. She also was a patron of libraries and the arts. Very early in her queenship, she successfully advocated for women to have the right to vote and the right to hold office. Tragically, Alia's life was cut short by a helicopter crash in 1977. She was only 28. Her children were still toddlers. After Alia's death, Hussein continued supporting scholarships in her memory and named Jordan's international airport for her.

Queen Noor 12 years into her widowhood
From Skoll World Forum via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Noor
(Lisa Halaby)
Sixteen months after Queen Alia's death, King Hussein married for the fourth and final time. This time his bride was Lisa Halaby, a 26-year-old third-generation American of Syrian, British and Swedish descent. Lisa's father served in both the Truman and Kennedy administrations before become CEO of Pan American Airways. She was in the first co-ed class at Princeton University, completing a degree in architecture and urban planning. She worked for a time in Australia and Iran, before taking a job in Amman, Jordan with Alia Airlines (now Royal Jordanian) as the director of facilities and design. Soon thereafter she met Hussein, who was mourning his third wife's recent passing. Lisa converted to Islam and changed her name to Noor al-Hussein, meaning "Light of Hussein." Although of mostly Western descent, she continued to raise the profile and role of the Queen of Jordan. In addition to the educational and cultural issues championed by her predecessors, she also works on behalf of the economic empowerment of women and environmental concerns. She became an active stepmother to Hussein's existing children and produced four more: Prince Hamzah, Prince Hashim, Princess Iman and Princess Raiyah. Since the king's death in 1999, she has split her time between Jordan, the U.S. and U.K. and opting for a more international than national role for much of her work.

For more about Queen Dina
Queen Dina of Jordan on Unofficial Royalty
Queen Dina -- A lost chance for Jordan? on History of Royal Women

For more about Queen Muna
Princess Muna: Bringing Britain into the Royal Hashemite Court on History of Royal Women
Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan on Unofficial Royalty
Who is Princess Muna al-Hussein? on Royal Central

For more about Queen Alia
Consort Profile on The Mad Monarch
Queen Alia of Jordan on The Royal Watcher

For more about Queen Noor
Consort Profile on The Mad Monarch
Queen Noor: An American Queen on History of Royal Women
Queen Noor of Jordan on The Royal Watcher

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