Iffat Al-Thunayan

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Iffat Mounira bint Mohammad bin Saud Al Thunayan Al Saud
Born 1916
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died 17 February 2000 (aged 84)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Spouse King Faisal
Issue Prince Mohammed
Prince Bandar
Prince Saud
Prince Turki
Princess Lolowah
Princess Sara
Princess Haifa
Full name
Iffat bint Mohammad Al Thunayan
House House of Saud
Father Mohammad bin Saud Al Thunayan
Mother Asia
Religion Islam

Iffat Al Thunayan[1] (Arabic: عفت الثنيان‎, 1916 – 17 February 2000), also spelled Effat, was the most prominent wife of King Faisal. She is sometimes called Queen Iffat, Emira Iffat, or Princess Iffat. She is known for her efforts on the improvement of Saudi education. She was the founder of Taif model school and the first girl's college in Saudi Arabia.

Early life and education[edit]

Iffat Al Thunayan was part of the Al Thunayan cadet branch of the Al Saud.[2][3] She was born in Istanbul in 1916.[2][4]

Iffat's father was Turkish Arabic, Mohammad bin Saud Al Thunayan,[4] who was a military officer in the Ottoman army.[1] He was killed sometime between 1918 and 1923 while fighting in the army.[1] Her mother, Asia, was a Turkish woman, who was of Turkish origin.[1][5] Iffat had a full-brother, Zaki, and two maternal half-brothers, Kamal Adham and Mozaffar Adham.[1]

Iffat was educated in Istanbul under the care of her aunt— Jawhara bint Abdullah Al Thunayan.[6] Iffat was very poor. She went to school wearing shoes stuffed with paper instead of soles. She attained a teaching degree. Because of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, she and her family returned to Saudi Arabia. In 1925, Iffat's family asked for financial assistance for a Makkah pilgrimage for Iffat.[7]

Her great-grandfather was governor of Riyadh during the 1840s. Her grandfather had been taken to Turkey as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire following the collapse of the First Saudi State. One of Iffat's half-sisters was married to late Prince Sultan,[8] Laila al Thunayyan. Her paternal uncle, Ahmed Al Thunayan (1889 - 1921), was one of the advisors to Ibn Saud.[1][9]

Marriage with Faisal[edit]

In 1931, Prince Faisal met Iffat for the first time while she was undertaking a Makkah pilgrimage with her aunt.[2] Prince Faisal, who served as viceroy of the Hijaz, took Iffat back to Turkey with her aunt.[3] However, there is another report about their meeting for the first time, stating that they first met in Istanbul in 1932 when Prince Faisal visited the city following an official visit to Russia.[10] It follows that he and Iffat went to Jeddah together after this incident.[10][9] They married in Jeddah in 1932[11] and lived in Mecca.[9]

As neither spoke the other's language, they taught each other. They had nine children[4] – five sons and four daughters. Iffat was the mother of Mohammed, Bandar, Saud, Turki, Abdul Rahman, Lolowah and Haifa.[12] Four of their children learned Turkish at home. Iffat became a fluent Arabic-speaker but never lost her Turkish accent.[2]

Their sons are very educated and are alumni of Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown, Sandhurst, and Cranwell. She contracted foreign tutors to educate her daughters. The daughters later received additional education in Switzerland. In stark contrast, only 6 of the 107 children of Faisal's older brother – Saud— even completed high school.[2][13][14]

Queen Iffat[edit]

Queen Iffat was an informal title given to her because of her beloved status in Saudi Arabia.[6]

In 1967, Iffat began making public appearances at state events. She became honorary president of the "Saudi Arabian Renaissance Society" — a woman's society in Riyadh to teach women skills in crafts, and to assist needy families — in the organization's fifth anniversary.[15] Her "Saudi Renaissance Movement" sponsored free clinics and literary classes for women.[16]

Her comprehensive philanthropic activities included social welfare for women. During the 1960s, she established the first two social agencies in Saudi Arabia — Women's Welfare Association in Jeddah and Al Nahdah Women's Welfare Association in Riyadh. These programs are still available today.[17]

Saudi education[edit]

In 1943, Prince Faisal and Princess Ìffat established the boarding school —Taif model school for boys and girls.[17] Many children of the extended royal family, including their own, attended. Majority of the teachers were Egyptian or Yemenis. The girls' section was strictly for daughters of the extended royal family.[2]

In 1955, she initiated Saudi Arabia's first private school for women in Jeddah — the Dar Al Hanan (literally "House of Affection").[17] one of her younger daughters attended Dar Al Hanan.[17] The name of the school is derived from the Quran. Its starting class had 15 students.[2] In 1956, she donated money and land to build an orphanage for girls where they would also be educated.[10] She also founded a first college for girls in Riyad, called Kulliyat ul Banat, in 1960.[18]

In 1967, she launched the Nahdah Al Saudiyyah, an organization that educated illiterate Riyadh women.[2] In the 1970s, Iffat started the country's first community college for women.[19]

In August 1999, she established Effat University adjacent to Dar Al Hanan[2] just months before her death. Effat University is the kingdom’s first private, non-profit women’s college.[20]

She frequented many graduation ceremonies. Her motto was “Educate yourself. Be good mothers. Bring up perfect Saudis. Build your country." Her other motto was "The mother can be a school in herself if you prepare her well".[21][22]

The Princess Iffat Al-Thunayan Prize recognizes accomplishments of women.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Iffat was a dark blond with bright eyes.[6] She liked to garden roses. She was a fluent French-speaker and loved to read. She was remarkably well organized.[2][14] When her aunt Jawhara was incapacitated, Iffat cared for her.[1]

She appeared at many state functions and received female dignitaries. She traveled far and wide across Saudi Arabia. Her palace had an open-door policy which allowed any Saudi citizen to visit her.[2] She was rarely ever photographed in public and she never appeared on television.[14]


On 17 February 2000, she died after an unsuccessful operation.[7][24] She was buried in Riyadh after Friday prayers.[11]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kechichian, Joseph A. (7 August 2008). "Pioneer who gave wings to Saudi women's dreams". Gulf News. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Jennifer S. Uglow; Frances Hinton; Maggy Hendry (1999). The Northeastern Dictionary of Women's Biography. UPNE. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-55553-421-9. Retrieved 21 July 2013. 
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  10. ^ a b c Leon Hesser (1 January 2004). Nurture the Heart, Feed the World: The Inspiring Life Journeys of Two Vagabonds. BookPros, LLC. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-9744668-8-0. Retrieved 21 July 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Ghada Talhami (1 December 2012). Historical Dictionary of Women in the Middle East and North Africa. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-8108-6858-8. Retrieved 21 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Winberg Chai (22 September 2005). Saudi Arabia: A Modern Reader. University Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-88093-859-4. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Sabri, Sharaf. The House of Saud in Commerce: a Study of Royal Entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia. New Delhi: I.S. Publications, 2001. Print.
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  15. ^ "Gradual Emancipation Greets Saudi Women." St. Petersburg Times [St. Petersburg, Florida] 20 Dec. 1967: 3D. Print. [1]
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  22. ^ Brooks, Geraldine. Nine Parts of Desire: the Hidden World of Islamic Women. New York: Anchor, 1995. Print. [3]
  23. ^ K.S. Ramkumar (16 June 2012). "Women's empowerment stressed at Effat University function". Arab News. Jeddah. Archived from the original on 16 June 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "Saudi Arabia mourns passing away of princess". KUNA. 17 February 2000. Retrieved 21 July 2013.