Haifa Jamal Al-Lail
"‘Read!’ This is the first word of the Holy Quran that was revealed to the prophet Mohammad. It has infinite importance to me, because it connotes learning, tolerance and acquisition of wisdom."
From the moment her husband encouraged her to write in the local Saudi newspapers, Dr. Haifa has continuously found support and encouragement for her work from her husband and those close to her. This energy has helped her not only establish herself and articulate her opinions on the national and international levels. It is through her immediate family members – mother, sisters, brothers, husband and her late daughter – that she draws her emotional support from. She is also inspired and motivated be her deep spirituality that she imbibes from her religion, Islam. Together, her religion and her family provide the constant support needed to achieve her goals towards peace. Much of her work has been dedicated to expanding the opportunities for women to improve themselves through education and other means; opportunities that she had and wants to share with others. Three key tragedies around the world have informed her work will continue to motivate Dr. Haifa’s prospects to peace in the future: the twin tower attacks in New York, the Palestinian issue and the Tsunami disaster. Collectively, these tragedies have motivated her to fight for harmony between cultures and peoples, and for peace and security for all. Today Dr. Haifa stands as a respected spokesperson around the world on educational and women’s issues in her country. Although having begun her quest towards peace at a local level, she has now represented her country at international forums, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Having recently assumed the post of Dean at Effat College she is committed to bringing that University’s profile to the highest international standards. She has overseen the development of linkages and programs with other Universities abroad, with the most recent being an agreement with Duke University to assist the development of an engineering program for women in Saudi Arabia. Whether speaking in major international arenas to dispel myths about Arab and Muslim women, or negotiating agreements between Universities, Dr. Haifa remains committed to a strategy that is inclusive, and does not reject or neglect the opinions and wishes of people involved. It is for this reason that she fought so hard for the Saudi Arabian education system having control over budgetary and administrative matters. On the personal level, she believes in a deep willingness and commitment to each cause she pursues. With this, “one can reach any goal the wish, because it motivates them all the way to improve and look for the best in their work.” This drive is constantly reconciled by her desire to achieve harmony both with herself and with others around her. For Dr. Haifa, “one’s work should always be in harmony with the work of other people, institutions, countries, and complete it, not conflict with them.” It is no surprise then that the greatest satisfaction she feels from her work is the feeling of personal, inner peace. This inner peace stems from the self-respect she develops from promoting happiness, understanding and harmony, both locally and internationally. As a result of her position as Dean of Effat College she has had opportunities to associate with organizations around the world and to continue her work with different peoples. Perhaps most challenging for Dr. Haifa – a challenge she has found difficult to overcome – was bridging international standards and principles with the local and regional situations she confronts in her day-to-day life. It is this challenge that has driven her to begin writing a book that strives to broaden Western understanding of Islam and how different cultures can work towards peace through dialogue and equal recognition of each other. It is through her strong belief in her religion that she finds the lessons and paths towards peace and cultural harmony: “the lessons of the Holy Quran are abundantly clear on issues of peace and social justice; the principles that are now described as human rights.” Along with her preparation of a book on inter-cultural dialogue and several articles she has written on peace issues, Dr. Haifa continues to articulate her commitment to peace and gender issues in every possible means: on the local level, in informal meetings with her friends and in formal settings with her peers and colleagues. It is primarily through these informal meetings that she finds the space to share her experiences with those close to her. It is also one of the ways in which she gets feedback on her work and peace strategies, and often comes up with new ideas for activities that strive towards fulfilling her goals and aspirations. While she continues her duties as Dean of Effat College overseeing the development of higher education and working diligently to expand education to all women in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Haifa’s is so keen on communicating her views in publication, “Because the written word is more lasting than the spoken word,” she indicates. As Dean, she has brought new ideas and methods to liberal arts education in Saudi Arabia, and has attempted to develop critical thinking and analytical skills amongst her students – all qualities that contribute to improving academic standards in the Saudi higher education. As she continues to work towards improving educational opportunities for Saudi women, Dr. Haifa’s future plans also include establishing stronger and more cohesive regional and international linkages between women’s organization working for social justice and peace. As one of her colleagues noted, “Dr. Haifa is opening the world to women in her country” and she is doing so by ensuring that all those around her who are committed to peace and social justice are connected and continuously working towards the betterment of all peoples.
As one of seven children raised in a single-mother home, Dr. Haifa has drawn a great deal of inspiration from her widowed mother who insisted that all of her children - both male and female - graduate from university. Dr. Haifa fulfilled her mother’s wishes, and with her continued support and encouragement became the first Saudi national to complete a Doctorate in Public Policy, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is motivated in “knowing how much she herself would have fought for the idea that the misconceptions about Islam must be dispelled, and that women can play a positive role in doing so.” The energy and commitment Dr. Haifa draws from her mother, late daughter, who passed away in a road accident, and those close to her, finds its expression in the strategies and persistence she shows in pursuing her goals of achieving peace and harmony amongst peoples. Her commitment to peace came as a result of “seeing the tragedy of wars and violence in so many places - despite the lessons from history.” This vision led her to speak at small gatherings at both local and regional levels. Her work has now progressed to an international level, where she participates in international forums and arenas, promoting dialogue and peace. Despite her international stature, she maintains that, “Small is beautiful. This is my strategy in achieving my goals in life.” She believes that individuals have the most to gain from incremental, gradual improvement in their lives. She implements this notion by helping women within the education system in Saudi Arabia. With her encouragement, a large number of young women have pursued post-graduate studies at George Washington University and George Mason University. Often Dr. Haifa would assist them in different ways, ranging from preparing applications to financial support.
As Dean of Effat College, Dr. Haifa oversees the development of a liberal arts education, accentuating critical thinking amongst its female student population. She is directly involved in the direction and development of women's higher education in Saudi Arabia.
Effat College in Jeddah (ECiJ)
Jeddah Chambers of Commerce (JCC)
Central Asia and the Middle East | Saudi Arabia