What Queen Rania wants for the world
(Oprah.com) -- A businesswoman, a mother of four, an international fashion icon, a woman committed to making the world a better place for women and children -- Queen Rania of Jordan is truly changing the world.
Queen Rania says cultural dialogue, education and increased opportunities are ways to combat terrorism.
Rania Al-Yassin was born in Kuwait. Shortly after Saddam Hussein invaded that country in 1990, her family fled and settled in Jordan. After graduating from business school, Rania began working her way up the corporate ladder.
When she was just 22, she went to a dinner party where she met Jordan's Prince Abdullah -- considered one of the world's most eligible bachelors. He didn't remain one for long after that night. Six months later, Rania and Abdullah had a royal wedding and started a family. And, though they planned for a life as royals, Abdullah assumed he'd remain a military officer for life.
In 1999, while on his deathbed, King Hussein of Jordan stunned his country by announcing that his son Abdullah -- not his brother -- would succeed him as king. That made 29-year-old Rania the world's youngest living queen.
Rania says that being queen is not the trait she defines herself by. "I am not at all conscious of it," she says. "I make a conscious effort not to be conscious of it. Because I'm Rania, you know? People call me 'Queen,' but, you know, that's not me ... I'm Rania."
There are many perks to being queen, of course, but Rania stresses that there are also responsibilities.
"One of the major misconceptions about this position is that people think that I might be far removed, that I might not be in touch with reality," she says. "The honest truth is that my life is very much about dealing with issues on the ground, dealing with ... the problems that our country faces. That's something I do on a daily basis."
When most people think of queens, they probably think of what they know from fairy tales. "For me, it's just real life," Rania says. "I am a mother. I care about my children. I worry about what they eat. I worry about the influences from their friends."
Rania is not only sitting royalty in Jordan, she's raising the next generation of royals too. She is the mother of four children -- 14-year-old Hussein, 12-year-old Iman, 8-year-old Salma and 3-year-old Hashem.
Rania says her family tries very hard to remain down to earth. The family has relaxed much of the ceremonial pomp and circumstance of their position. Rania prefers that people not refer to her as "Your Majesty" ... and King Abdullah loves to barbecue!
The family never discusses the possibility that Hussein, their oldest child, could be the future king of Jordan, Rania says. Instead, she says the family strives to remain like any other family. For instance, to get the things they want, the children have to clean their rooms and do well in school.
"The most important thing is to instill them with the right values," Rania says. "I just feel that values are the shield that you carry with you throughout life. It protects you from whatever life throws at you."
Rania has become famous around the world for her efforts to improve educational opportunities for girls and the rights of women. "In my mind, poverty is a 'she,'" Rania says.
Helping others is something Rania says she feels compelled to do. "Once you feel that others are like you, then you want for others what you want for yourself," she says. "And that way you start helping others."
Rania explains that there is a direct relationship between increasing education and eliminating poverty. "You can change the course of a nation through education," she says. "One of the most important things you can do for a girl is empower her with her education. Once she has the education, she can then have control over her income, she can change her life, she can have choices."
To understand what life is like for the women in Rania's kingdom, "The Oprah Show" spent a day with a few women in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.
One woman named Muna worries about striking a balance between work and motherhood. Part of that means preparing lunch -- the most important meal in Jordanian culture -- for her family. Unlike in America, most children and husbands return home to eat with their families for lunch. Just like in America, Muna cooks a variety of meals, everything from traditional Arabic food to hamburgers and spaghetti.
In this largely Muslim country, one religious tradition is increasingly a matter of choice. Approximately 60 percent of Jordanian women wear a veil. Though Queen Rania says she has never worn a veil, she understands why a woman would want to.
"We think it's a personal choice," she says. "Unfortunately, in the West, people look at the veil as a sign of oppression or weakness. This is not true as long as a woman is wearing it because of her belief. I always say we should judge a woman according to what's going on in their heads rather than what's going on top of their heads."
Rania says that when people focus on differences between cultures -- especially stereotypes and things like veils -- they fail to realize just how similar all people are. "Once you go beyond the mannerisms, the language, the cultural idiosyncrasies, you realize that you're basically the same, you know?" she says.
Rania also wants to break down the stereotypes the West holds about her culture. "I would like to dispel the misconception that Arabs are all extremists, that Arab people are violent and that women in the Arab world are oppressed and suppressed," she says.
The struggle we feel today is not really Middle East against the West, Rania says, but rather it is between extremists and moderates of all religions. "We need to speak up," she says. "The biggest nightmare for the extremists is for us to get along, and that's why we have to get along. We have to communicate more."
In the future, Rania says she hopes for a more open and secure world. "We look at problems happening halfway across the world and we think, 'Well, that's their problem.' But it's not," she says. "When you solve somebody else's problem, you're solving a problem for yourself because our world today is so interconnected."
Rania says solving problems that stem from intolerance -- like terrorism -- require cultural dialogue, education and increased opportunities. "We have to create opportunities for our youth so they have a chance in life," she says. "Whenever you're frustrated and you feel like you don't have a future or you can't get a job, then you're more susceptible to be influenced by terrorism and extremist ideology."
Queen Rania's official website
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