King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein (1882-1951)


King Abdullah, the founder of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, will always be held in the pages of history as a unique and monumental figure during the newly emerging era of the contemporary Arab World. Mentor to his grandson, the late King Hussein I of Jordan, Abdullah’s character constituted a blend of the traditionalist and the modern. His public career was predominately forward-looking and modern. This is exemplified by him being one of the first Arab leaders to adopt a system of constitutional monarchy during the early years following the formation of his country, and the need he felt - from his experience - for the participation and representation of his people.

Under the Hashemite banner and his father’s inspiration, Abdullah led the Arab forces of the Great Arab Revolt, with his brothers Ali, Feisal and Zeid against the Ottoman occupational forces. By the end of the First World War, they had liberated Damascus, modern Jordan and most of the Arabian peninsula. Following this conquest, Emirs Abdullah and Feisal assumed the thrones of Transjordan and Iraq respectively. Transjordan was formed on April 21, 1921 when King Abdullah established the first centralized governmental system out of a mostly tribal and nomadic society. Over the next thirty years, he focused on nation-building thus developing the institutional foundations of modern Jordan. With great purpose and vision, he sought autonomy and independence; establishing democratic legitimacy by promulgating Jordan’s first constitution in 1928 and holding elections for its first parliament in 1929. Also during these three decades, the King presided over a series of Anglo-Transjordanian treaties culminating in the March 22, 1946 Anglo-Transjordanian Treaty, ending the British mandate, gaining full independence and changing the name of the country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, King Abdullah’s Jordanian Arab Legion was instrumental in the defense of Jerusalem and parts of Palestine. The Jordanian army displayed courage and heroism, and was widely acknowledged for its high level of professionalism, tenacity and bravery against a force superior in number and armament. The Arab Legion successfully routed the fortified Jewish forces from the Old City and secured East Jerusalem despite the subsequent determined but ineffectual Israeli offensives to remove the Jordanian Arab Legion. The war came to an end in mid-July, as a series of armistice agreements were signed between Arab parties and Israel at the Rhodes Conference. Jordan did not participate at Rhodes, but concluded its armistice with Israel directly on the ground.

On July 20, 1951 King Abdullah traveled to Jerusalem for his regular Friday prayers with his young grandson, Hussein. The King was assassinated by a lone gunman on the steps of one of the holiest shrines of Islam, and the jewel of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque. Miraculously, the bullet meant for Hussein deflected off a medal he was wearing, thereby saving his life. King Abdullah rests in the Royal Tombs in the Royal Court in Amman.

The murder of King Hussein’s grandfather had a profound influence on his life in terms of understanding the importance and inevitability of death, as well as a sense of the importance of his duty and responsibility in the years to come. In his autobiography, Uneasy Lies the Head, King Hussein recalls how three days before that fateful day in Jerusalem, his grandfather turned to him and said, "I hope you realize, my son, that one day you will have to assume responsibility. I look to you to do your very best to see that my work is not lost. I look to you to continue it in the service of our people." The young Prince promised solemnly that he would, to his best ability, carry out his duty. However, the King and the Prince could not have known how short was the time ahead.

Interview with The American Magazine, November, 1947