Sept. 27, 2023

In Memoriam: Jacqueline S. Ismael, Faculty of Social Work

Campus flag lowered Sept. 27, 2023
Jacqueline Ismael
Jacqueline Ismael

Dr. Jacqueline S. Ismael, a distinguished political sociologist and advocate for social justice, has left an indelible mark on the lives of countless students and scholars. Dr. Ismael holds a PhD from the University of Alberta, and MA and BA (Hons) from the University of Calgary. She was esteemed member of the Faculty of Social Work (formerly known as the Faculty of Social Welfare) at the University of Calgary from 1980-2019. Dr. Ismael has dedicated her career to fostering positive change in our society. Her passion for creating a more equitable and just society, particularly in the Middle East, has guided her work as a scholar and educator. Through her vast knowledge and expertise, she has actively contributed to the development of policy decisions that strive to address pressing societal issues.

As author of 16 books, 120 published papers, and holding an acknowledged position as a global expert on women’s issues in the context of war and occupation, Dr. Ismael has been a beacon of inspiration for students pursuing careers in community and international development. Her work on social sectarianism, post-conflict reconstruction, and outcomes of war for women and children demonstrates how academic work can make a real difference to lives of groups disempowered by political events beyond their control. Recent works include Government and Politics of the Contemporary Middle East: Continuity and Change (2014); Iraq in the 21st Century: Regime Change and the Making of a Failed State, London: Routledge (2015); Governments and Politics: Discontinuity and Turbulence (2023); and her forthcoming book, The Unending War on Iraq: Pax Americana (2023).

Her impact extends well beyond her own work. She was loved by her students and known as a generous mentor of emerging scholars. By crafting curricula that nurtures the growth of aspiring practitioners, she has empowered a generation to become catalysts for positive change. Her dedication to cultivating a global perspective among students has allowed them to navigate the complex landscape of today's interconnected world.

As a pioneer in her field, Dr. Ismael played a pivotal role in the establishment of the international social work concentration within the Faculty of Social Work curriculum, serving as its founding director. In addition, she chaired a committee that spearheaded the creation of the first-ever International Social Welfare/Social Work concentration in North America. She also founded an internationally renowned conference on Canadian social welfare policy and broke ground for subsequent generations of scholars. Through these initiatives, students at the University of Calgary have been granted unparalleled opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Ismael’s commitment to fostering cross-cultural understanding and engagement is exemplified by the invaluable field placements she has facilitated abroad. These experiences have equipped students with the practical skills needed to effect change in both local and international contexts. She instilled in her students a commitment to social justice, a deep sense of purpose and an unwavering dedication to creating a more compassionate world. Students have emerged from her mentorship armed with a skillset that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Her support and guidance have nurtured cultural competence and empowered students to thrive in diverse environments. Her teachings have enabled countless individuals to engage meaningfully with diverse communities, fostering greater understanding and collaboration across cultures.

Through her academic contributions, Dr. Ismael has illuminated pathways for scholars and students alike. Her work has touched the lives of many. As a compassionate educator, leader, and influencer in multiple realms, she continues to shape the future of international development and Middle Eastern studies, leaving an enduring legacy that will inspire generations to come. She was the founding editor of Journal of Contemporary Iraq and the Arab World and remained so until her death. She considered the journal the flagship of her legacy, curating every issue and shepherding it through publication. In addition, she served over 20 years on the board of the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies and as president from 1986-91 and was an active member of the board of the International Center of Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus.

Dr. Ismael touched countless lives and will be sorely missed. We close with some words from those who knew her.

Her former colleague John Graham, professor of Social Work, UBC Okanagan campus writes: “When I came to the University of Calgary I knew Jacqueline by reputation, having read her work extensively as a graduate student and having relied on her insights into Canadian social policy and international development. It so happened that these two areas — in which she did groundbreaking work — were those areas in which I was trying to forge a scholarly career. Her work on Canadian social policy included several university press books, the founding of an internationally renowned conference on Canadian social welfare policy, and laid the way for subsequent generations of scholars, me included. Her work in international social work was equally well regarded as a leader in the application within social work and allied disciplines and as a committed scholar in the areas of human rights, the rights of women, and various forms of plurality. Again, I relied on her legacy to help me forge questions in comparable research areas. Above all, Jacqueline was a generous mentor, unfailingly supportive and judicious in insight and solicited advice. I benefited enormously from her warmth, kindness, and intellectual acuity. I miss her terribly. As both a Canadian social policy scholar, and an international development scholar, she was a giant in Canadian social work, and the vacuum that her absence creates will not easily be filled.”

Jacqueline’s student and later colleague, Lana Wells, associate professor, University of Calgary, says: “What a privilege it is to share my experience and love for Dr. Jacqueline Ismael. Jackie changed the trajectory of my life. She was brilliant and passionate and not suffer fools lightly. She pushed her students to be better. To see more clearly. To think. To study. To learn. To speak out against hypocrisy and injustices. She helped me better understand the complexity and nuances of human and social development. Jackie challenged social work pedagogy. She was a prolific scholar, relentless in her pursuit of knowledge and relentless in sharing that knowledge with others. She believed in human rights. She fought for human rights. She taught her students how to care about and fight for human rights.

“When I finished my degree and started to work, I would meet people in the workplace, at conferences, in meetings across Alberta and Canada that I just KNEW studied with her. You could tell. They were articulate. Clear. Passionate. Persuasive. We called ourselves the 'Ismaelites.' We would connect, rejoice, and talk about how much we LOVED Jackie. She changed our lives. For the better. She gave us words, frameworks, and tools to make the world a better place. She helped us grow up and become social change advocates.

“I loved Jackie deeply and will miss her dearly. Jackie lives on in many of us scattered throughout the world. She had an indelible impact on many of us, and because of her, we continue to make a big impact on those around us. I hope that I have made you proud.”

From her husband, Tareq Ismael:

“I met Jacqueline in November 1961 at the University of Chicago. I was a part time TA, she was a student in the class that I was assisting. She was one of those wonderful and disruptive students asking probing questions about foundations of democracy and American government, whether the rights codified in the constitution were supposed to belong to all and how far from that ideal America had been since its inception. The professor gently deflected her onto me, and we met to discuss her inquiries. At our second meeting she wanted to know how an Iraqi ends up teaching the American version of American history. She knew so much about Mesopotamia; she came in my imagination to be the descendent of a Mesopotamian princess. We married one year later. She was the wings that carried our unlikely intellectual partnership through six decades the heart and soul of our family: myself, Jacqueline, and our two daughters — Shereen (her husband Randy) and Jenann (her husband Brien) — and three granddaughters — Nadia, Aisha, and Zayd. I loved her. She was my friend and the treasure of my life.”

From her daughters, Shereen and Jeanann:

“No one every had a mother like ours; a tower of grace and strength who saw us exactly as we were and loved us as though we were every bit as good and as strong and brave as wonderful as we wanted to be. GIF queen, tireless runner, zim zam badass, terrible singer, and harshest editor you ever met. She was our gift, our hero, our champion and our best friend. More than anything, she was ours. We miss you, mom, beyond words.”

And from her grandchildren, Nadia, Aisha, and Zayd:

“A crown has fallen from our family tree. We keep hearing your voice say grieve, not for me. We will remember our best times together, the laughter, the adventures, and the summers together. We miss you dearly. We know you are still beside us…guiding, supporting and protecting us, always near. Still loved, forever missed.”