Queen Rania's Interview with Al Arabiya Network - Part 2 (English Translation)

October 28, 2013

Muntaha: Something happened in the Arab World during the Arab Spring or in this period, the margins for personal freedoms expanded and, the truth is, the reason behind this was social media. Because of social networking platforms, it expanded, and officials were more exposed to criticism, more than any time before, because people are now holding officials accountable for what happens. Your Majesty was not immune to such criticism.

HMQ: Sure, and Sitti, criticism is an integral part of public work and when one is in a public position he/she is under a microscope; successes resonate loudly and failures may resonate even louder, and this is normal to some extent. I was very interested to hear and read these criticisms and to know what they were, because none of us is infallible. Who doesn’t make mistakes? I support responsible criticism, and every, any piece of advice someone gives me, I take into consideration and react to it, even if it is hurtful. But, at the same time, there were some falsifications and exaggerations - rumors circulating with absolutely no foundation of truth, but circulating as if they were facts. There is a difference between criticism based on truths or knowledge or even a rational perspective and criticism that is based on rumors whose sole purpose is to defame and hurt. There were rumors that touched my integrity and questioned the principles that I was raised on, rumors that also reached the closest people to me, my family, without any shred of truth. And these of course hurt me and were difficult to deal with to some extent. But one has to… I repeat, I am all for constructive criticism and while one might bring reproach upon ones broader family, it is difficult to be upset with them. So long as one has sincere intentions and aims to serve one’s country, and always remembers God in everything they do, then there is no problem.

Muntaha: I always say that the most important thing is to distinguish between rumor and fact and with social media; it’s hard to do that.

HMQ: Of course.

Muntaha: If I may, I want to go back to your personal experiences regarding your vision and your role in representing your country to the world. Here I would like to recall a unique experience, honestly, which was admired by many and it is the campaign Your Majesty launched on YouTube to change the prevailing stereotype of Arabs and Muslims around the world and we may show some footage from that campaign. But the question that interests me is how did you overcome – as we were just talking about criticism - how did Your Majesty overcome your fears and launch a campaign of this kind, even though is it considered non- traditional and prone to being misunderstood?

HMQ: I would like to draw your attention to something, global surveys indicate that negative perceptions and biases towards Muslims in the West decrease noticeably when the person being surveyed knows or has spoken to a Muslim. If this indicates anything, it is that bias against Muslims is based on lack of knowledge. The problem today is that it is very difficult to draw the world’s attention to a certain issue or problem due to the abundance and congestion of opinions, initiatives, and issues presented on the world stage. Therefore, one may sometimes need to step away from the familiar or traditional way and to propose something unexpected to draw attention - not to his person, but to his issue and idea. Sadly, the stereotypical image of Islam is that it is a religion of hatred, a religion of violence and that Muslims are all terrorists. This is a dangerous problem that we must not ignore because it gives birth to, it plants fear and suspicion toward Muslims and also encourages prejudice and bias against them. Therefore, we must take this issue seriously because this stereotype is the furthest possible from the truth. Islam to millions of Muslims around the world, is a religion of human values and principles of goodness. So we must strive to bring out this true image of Islam. When we see or hear of an abuse directed at someone we love, we rush to their defense, so imagine when it is our religion? Our religion, which is a part of us, of our identity, our existence, our ethics, our interaction with each other, the religion which we were raised upon and will raise our children on. Does it not deserve our defense? And now I see that even when they speak about Islam, at times the language used is simplistic, superficial and sometimes reductionist. Every now and then, for example, I see erroneous categorizations of Islam. They say moderate Islam and radical Islam. Today, there is no moderate or radical Islam. Islam by nature is moderate.

Muntaha: Islam is peace.

HMQ: And it is moderate. But there are radical interpretations of it. And then there are those who say ‘political Islam’. This terminology in and of itself alludes to a problem, which is that religion is being exploited by some to serve political agendas and narrow interests. Our religion is greater than that. Greater than everything. Greater than all politics. Therefore, defending Islam is the shared responsibility of each and every Muslim and Arab. It is my responsibility and everyone else’s and this is the least we can do.

Muntaha: Did you notice if this message had impact internationally? Did people respond to it?

HMQ: Let me tell you, there is ignorance towards Islam, and without a doubt, there is disparagement. But when we talk about this abuse, we have to adopt an honest and serious introspective position and look at the abuse and acts of violence that are committed in different parts of the world in the name of Islam; and which, unfortunately, augment the prevailing stereotype in the minds of many about Islam. Islam, and all monotheistic faiths, are based on mercy. And we, as Muslims, before we embark on any action or behavior, begin by invoking God, “the most Beneficent, most Merciful”. And everyone knows that a Muslim is one that avoids harming others either physically or verbally. But the religious discourse that dominates today, as a result of its loudness, is hostage to Fatwas of takfeer, zealotry and closed-mindedness on the one hand, and to calls for radicalism, hatred, and sectarian strife (fitna) on the other. So where is the language of mercy here? And with this kind of discourse, we inflict more harm to ourselves than the West does to us! Therefore, we must go back to the essence of our religion and raise our voices in its defense. Today, when we see Muslims abusing our religion and distorting its image, for example, like a few months ago when a man who calls himself a Muslim beheaded an innocent man in Britain, held up his head, and said “this is for the Ummah”… What Ummah? We must denounce, decry and raise our voices in condemnation of such actions, not with shy voices, but with loud voices. Not to polish our image in the West or to appease them, but because our religion deserves this from us. We must not allow anyone to malign this great religion, that is greater than all these acts of violence. Let us go back to the core of our religion, and to the values and ethical model it provides us, values of goodness, forgiveness and humanity. This is the spirit of our religion.

Muntaha: The Palestinian issue, you have spoken a lot about the Palestinian issue, and we watched you through various media outlets talk about Gaza, talk about Jerusalem, about the suffering of Palestinians inside Palestine. You have launched a project for schools in Al Quds, or Madasati Al Quds, Is it because this issue has special significance to you?

HMQ: My interest in this issue stems from my identity as an Arab and Muslim, this is the issue of the ‘Ummah’ and is in everyone’s minds and hearts, and also because of the attention that the Jordanians and Hashemites have paid this cause. So it's not because I am of Palestinian origin. I am, first and foremost, the wife of King Abdullah, the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. And we see that a lot of people try to help, each in their own way. Some people try to help through Awqaf or through refugees. I chose education because I believe it is part and parcel of the Palestinian perseverance on their own land. The education of a Palestinian child should not be held hostage to political negotiations, as school yards are a front for Palestinian resistance. When I launched Madrasati Palestine, this was one link in an endless chain of Jordanian positions in support of the Palestinian people and their suffering. And I know that His Majesty cares about this cause, the cause of Al Quds and the holy sites. Because we in Jordan feel like there is a plan to Judaize Jerusalem, that is a very dangerous plan, and schools are part of it. So this cause is always on His Majesty’s mind; he cares deeply about it and worries about it. He undertakes every diplomatic, legal and political effort to shed light on it and on the suffering of Palestinians as well as the Israeli violations and transgression in this matter. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who work at the Ministry of Awqaf for their tremendous efforts and their service to this cause, and their continuous efforts to protect Al Quds and the holy sites despite all of the challenges they face.

Muntaha: This is a longstanding commitment from Jordan, across generations. Let us go back to your engagement, internationally, through international forums. Your Majesty was part of, participated, in many international forums, the most prominent and important of which was the United Nations and you were almost the only Arab voice. Now, some people follow this and if you were to discuss it with them they may pose a question: “fine, but what does Jordan benefit from this?”

HMQ: First of all, I am not the only one on the international stage – there are many from the Arab world who represent us and always make us proud. That said, we always need more. From my perspective, it is very important that we speak for ourselves, and not leave a vacuum that allows others to speak on our behalf. We have to narrate our story in our own voice so that it can be authentic and representative of us. So there must be Arab presence in the international arena and there must be participation and representation of Arab perspectives. We must try to influence the dialogue around the issues that are important to us and concern us; this presence is very important. And Jordan, despite being a small country, is not only big in the eyes of its own people, but it carries weight internationally for the global humanitarian role and the political role it plays which is larger than its size. This is a legacy we inherited from His Majesty the late King Hussein and which was built upon by His Majesty King Abdullah as well as many Jordanian figures whom we are proud of and who represent us abroad. This is a responsibility, a responsibility for us all, and a responsibility for me as a Jordanian.

Muntaha: So the purpose behind it was not to get more spotlight?

HMQ: Well, look, questioning the motives of public figures is natural and expected to some extent. I, like many other figures who belong to royal families, am sometimes in the media spotlight and this is not necessarily something I have complete control over. But in everything I do, whether it is a trip I take, a conference I attend or an initiative I launch, my goal is always to promote my country and defend my nation. And if you think about it, Muntaha, this is the role that is expected of all first ladies. Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. And when I do, I expect criticism and I interact and respond to it. And perhaps this is the nature of public work; if you do, you are criticized and if you don’t, you are also criticized. But I know the boundaries of my position that are set by state institutions and international norms for any woman in my place. I would never depart from official and announced Jordanian positions. In the end what matters most is to have a clear conscience and to remember God in everything one does.

Muntaha: Do you, Your Majesty, see yourself as a representative of the Arab woman?

HMQ: There is no single woman that represents the Arab woman and there is no unified mold in which to place the Arab woman. There is the Muslim Arab woman, the Christian Arab woman, the working Arab woman and the non-working Arab woman. There is the teacher, the caretaker, and there is the engineer, the doctor, the academic, the media woman, the critic. There are those who have taken up positions in the armed forces, the judiciary and government. But, unfortunately, the prevailing stereotype of the Arab woman is that she is oppressed. And that she is uneducated, non-participating and has no opinion or worth. Definitely, there are still challenges facing the empowerment of Arab women, but even in this there are variations between different Arab countries. But, for instance, if we take education, if we go back to the topic of education, there have been significant accomplishments in female education, and the number of female university graduates in many Arab countries exceeds that of male graduates. Even in majors that are typically dominated by males. For example, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 2010, 70% of university degrees in the field of science were granted to females - and this far exceeds the average in Western Europe. Therefore, there are substantial accomplishments. But the question that remains in the Arab world is: what do these female graduates do with their degrees after graduation? Unfortunately, the number of unemployed females in the Arab world is perhaps the highest in the world. Therefore, we have not reaped the benefits of this huge investment we made in women! When we call for female participation, we do not ask for anything that conflicts or contradicts our religious teachings. And we do not demand anything that the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, did not permit. And this day and age affords us innovative and non-traditional possibilities that enable us to adapt things to our culture. Because to us, family is most important and should stay that way while allowing for women to participate. And maybe we hear this often but I would like to reassert that it is impossible for any nation to fulfill its potential if half of its inherent capacity is inactive and unproductive.

Muntaha: Some people may fear that openness to the West and advent of the age of the Internet could impact our traditions and values and our Arab and Islamic heritage. Does your Majesty think, or see, or envision that there could be conflict between this and that?

HMQ: This is a complicated issue and we could possibly talk about it for hours. And there is expansive debate on this topic in all countries of the world because they all face the same challenge. Globalization has its pros and cons, but what is certain is that it is a reality that cannot be escaped or ignored. But even here, we find that there is an extremist approach in dealing with this issue in the Arab world. Either there is complete isolation and a rejection of all that is new just because it is new, or an openness and infatuation with western cultures accompanied by an unaware, irresponsible and blind imitation of them.

Muntaha: Sometimes one forgets himself.

HMQ: Sometimes one forgets himself. And I believe that in the Arab world, there is a dire need and a thirst for a third way, an alternative path, a moderate path between this and that. Neither in this camp, nor that. A path that says I am an Arab and a Muslim and I hold on to and am proud of all the traditions and values that come with that. But, at the same time, I want to be a part of the world around me, to interact with it, embrace all that is new and modern and build for my family a beautiful life and provide them with the best of what is available. And there need not be a conflict between those two things. We need to remember that during its most flourishing era, our Islamic civilization was open and interactive with the rest of the world. Today, many of the monuments we see in the West were built on or influenced by …

Muntaha: Islamic heritage.

HMQ: our Islamic civilization. [49:13] “…we made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” This verse demonstrates that our religion always encourages, and has always encouraged, interaction and openness to the world. I personally am proud of our civilization and heritage. We have values like respecting the elderly, importance of family ties and sharing and supporting each other in our joys and sorrows. Generosity, pride, importance of family, all of these are attributes that we must hold onto because they are our strong points. But, at the same time, we stand to benefit from a responsible openness and positive interaction with cultures around us. We want to leave our fingerprints and not be on the sidelines of history. Therefore, conscious openness and interaction is very important.

Muntaha: Your Majesty, if you allow me, we would like to move onto an important part that people are surely interested to see, a part that deals with your family. We will go to a short break and return.


Muntaha: Conversation with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah… Your Majesty, allow me to move on. Before the break we were saying that this part people are interested to learn about which relates your life as a Queen. And you are a Queen, and a mother, and the mother to a Crown Prince. How do you deal with your children in light of this new era of openness and the Internet that we were talking about earlier?

HMQ: Honestly, with fear and caution, just like every other parent! Sometimes one does not know what they see and watch on the Internet, so one has to be very careful and aware. Also, bear in mind that the use of computers and watching television can undermine their social skills. For that reason one must be very careful when dealing with this issue.

Muntaha: Are there special rules that you use in dealing with them?

HMQ: Not rules, per se, but I may try to guide them. I like to give them a wide margin of freedom and independence, but there must be guidance. For example, I encourage them to take up sports activities, to engage in the community, and to have healthy relationships with their friends and peers. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to keep communication channels open with our children; to always encourage them to speak freely and comfortably about their interests, how their day went, their friends, their problems, especially in their teen years, because sometimes in their teenage years, they may withdraw onto themselves.

Muntaha: Aha, yes.

HMQ: So you do not want your child to suddenly become a stranger to you. For that reason - always always - interacting and communicating with them is very important.

Muntaha: Your Majesty, what did you feel when Prince Hussein graduated from school - he is Crown Prince.

HMQ: And this year, God willing, my daughter Eman will also graduate. Of course, I felt great pride and I realized how quickly time passes. When did he grow taller than me? It was not that long since they were small and I used to play with them, this makes me appreciate the value of time, And just as a mother feels joy watching her son grow, it is difficult to accept that he will be away from her. He is my friend and everyone’s friend, and we all miss him at home, especially his younger brother for whom Hussein is a role model who inspires him, and impatiently awaits his return. When Prince Hussein is here, he makes a point of remaining close to His Majesty, to learn from him; as they say, ‘like father, like son’. Hussein is by nature responsible, serious, and aware of his responsibilities. God willing, he will return to us safe and well.

Muntaha: Do you remember the day he was born?

HMQ: Of course, 28th of June, 1994; this is a date I will never forget because it is the day I became a mother for the first time. And I think that all mothers that are watching us now know that we share an invisible link, and this connection comes from knowing what it means for a mother to love her child and how a mother fears for her children, and how when you have a child, your life is no longer your own but becomes someone else’s. Motherhood may be the greatest role for any woman.

Muntaha: How does his Majesty King Abdullah II engage with the children given his full schedule?

HMQ: This may be a challenge that everyone faces, because life has become so fast-paced. I think one has to build into his daily program, his daily routine, specific times to spend with family. Otherwise, the day is over and you don’t know where it went! For us, the dinner table always brings us together. Even my friends know that when they invite me for dinner I do not attend because we always like to have dinner as a family around the dinner table. Each one of us talks about their day, we find out each other’s latest news, we joke around, we sometimes argue over things, we do all sorts of things but we are joined together by a family spirit. Of course, Fridays are very important, the family day; we always have lunch together. His Majesty always enjoys watching TV, like soccer matches and other things with the kids. The important thing is for one to build into his daily routine a time for family. This is very important.

Muntaha: And the quality of time spent, not just the quantity.

HMQ: Both are important, quality and quantity. Sometimes I feel that just being physically close to them, even if each of us is doing his own thing, can give them a sense of security, that we are close to them.

Muntaha: True. Sometimes, the son is on his iPad, the daughter is on her iPhone and the mother is watching, but they are all sitting together…

HMQ: In the same room.

Muntaha: Does Your Majesty discuss politics with His Majesty the King?

HMQ: Sure. Who doesn’t talk politics these days? But I want to ask you a question. Does a physician, after a long day at work, like to discuss medicine when he gets home?

Muntaha: No. He’d have had enough.

HMQ: he’d had enough. By the same token, His Majesty, after a long day at work; does not want to return home to discuss more politics! And I make sure that the environment at home lightens things for him, not burdens him further, because his day is already heavy. He has responsibilities that are not at all simple, so I like home to be a place that distances him from these responsibilities. And of course, even if I expressed an opinion on a topic, it will be one of thousands that he has heard already, and he has points of reference that specialize in political issues, and whose opinion he takes into account. So even if I do express an opinion, I do not in any way impose it. But what is more important is for home to be a place to put him at ease after a demanding day.

Muntaha: Your Majesty, may I end this interview with a final question: What does it mean for you to be a queen?

HMQ: It is a big responsibility and a great honor. And this honor may not stem from the word queen, but its source is the people that I am honored to be a queen for. But at the same time, just like there is Rania the Queen, there is Rania the mother, the daughter, the friend, the wife. And in all these roles, I am no different to any other woman; I share the same fear, the same challenges, and the same concerns. Another thing, when I am in the field and someone turns to me and addresses me as ‘our queen’, that word means a lot to me because it makes me feel that they know that my life is theirs. My joy is their joy. My worries are their worries. So if the word queen means something to me, ‘our queen’ means everything to me.

Muntaha: Thank your Majesty for giving us this opportunity.