Leila Al-Qattan was born in 1934 in Mosul, where her father, the eminent Arab historian and educator Darwish Miqdadi, had been exiled from his native Palestine, following his refusal to salute the Union Jack at the school where he taught.
In 1942 Leila returned to Palestine with her siblings and mother Nazli. Her father had been implicated in the revolutionary attempt led by General Rashid Ali Al-Keilani against the British-supported king of Iraq, and had been incarcerated. Soon after, Nazli died of tuberculosis and the children were sent to boarding school. Leila and her younger sister Rufaida joined the Convent of the Sisters of St Joseph in Jerusalem, where they spent the rest of the war years, and her two older brothers were sent to the Friends’ School in Ramallah.
In 1945 Leila’s father was released from prison and was allowed to return to Palestine where he rejoined his children, remarried, and settled in the Talbiyeh district of West Jerusalem. Three years later the family was expelled from their home during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. They then settled in Damascus, Syria, where Leila finished high school. In 1951, she joined the Beirut College for Women (later the Lebanese American University) and graduated with a degree in Sociology in 1954.
Darwish Al-Miqdadi had in the meantime been appointed head of the Kuwait Education Authority, which was recruiting many newly exiled Palestinian teachers. Upon completing her studies, Leila joined her father in Kuwait to become a teacher. In 1954, she was introduced to one of her father's new recruits, Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan, whom she married that same year. The couple went on to have four children: Najwa (b. 1956), Hani (b. 1958), Leenah (b. 1960), and Omar (b. 1964).
In 1963, Leila, Abdel, and their children moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Leila quickly became involved in supporting charitable projects including INAASH (The Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps), which was a pioneer in helping Palestinian women make and sell their exquisite traditional embroidery. As her husband's business affairs improved, Leila also became an avid champion of the arts. Her belief that creative engagement is an essential part of a person’s emotional and intellectual formation continues to have a direct impact on the Qattan Foundation’s work in culture and education.
Leila passed away on Tuesday the 27th of January 2015 in London.