ASU professor promotes peace through interfaith dialogue

January 22, 2015

Getting to know each other and learning about other beliefs is essential to peace among people and nations, asserts Souad T. Ali, associate professor of Arabic literature and Middle East/Islamic studies at Arizona State University.

Particularly now, in the wake of the massacre of 12 people in the office of a French satirical newspaper, and four others in a Jewish market in Paris by Islamist extremists, interfaith dialogue is crucial, said Ali, who is also the director of Arabic Studies in the School of International Letters and Cultures. Souad T. Ali Download Full Image

Following her own dictates, Ali welcomes opportunities to speak at interfaith events, and, several weeks before the recent incidents in France, addressed dialogues sponsored by the Foundation for Intercultural Dialogue in Tempe and the First Baptist Church of Scottsdale.

"Indeed, my conviction is that it is through education and genuine interfaith dialogue that we can build cross-cultural and multicultural understanding between all religions and cultures.

"Conversely, focusing on differences and disagreements is quite unhelpful and has mostly led to conflict and violence. Respecting those differences as we focus on the parallels, coupled with education, will help foster a culture of peace," said Ali.

progressively moderate Muslim who grew up in Khartoum, Sudan and lived and studied in London and Frankfurt, Ali is outspoken on what she sees as distortions of Islam – that Muslims can compel others to follow their religion; that "mockery" of the Prophet Muhammed must be avenged with violence; that drawing likenesses of the prophet prompts violence and death at the hand of extremists.

The assertion that no one can be compelled to follow Islam is “a basic Qur'anic concept,” explained Ali. “[The Qur’an] says that religion can only be embraced willingly, and it becomes meaningless if imposed by force or any other means.

"The Qur'an is also clear in instructing the Prophet Muhammad to ignore those who mock him … Thus, those who take the law in their own hands work directly against such peaceful means of the religion.”

As far as cartoons or representations of Muhammed go, Ali said it is a matter of respect to avoid picturing him, not a forbidden activity in any text.

She stresses that the name of the religion itself means "peace." "The word Islam stems from the Arabic root 'silm,' meaning peace.

“I have always emphasized the important point that Muslims themselves need to address the distortion and misinterpretation of the religion by radicals and extremists,” Ali added. “Equally important, media outlets need to seek out moderate Muslims to emphasize peaceful aspects of Islam … [T]he violence, extremism and terrorism projected by a small outspoken minority of Muslims should and can be defeated by fostering education about these basically peaceful concepts and teachings of Islam."

Ali hopes that ASU's new Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies, of which she is the founder and chair, will help promote understanding between those of different faiths, cultures and countries.

Its mission statement reads: "The council’s research and teaching programs seek to promote multiculturalism, diversity, interfaith dialogue, cross-cultural understanding and the expansion of human civilization and cultures through Arabic, as well as other Middle-Eastern languages, including Persian and Turkish."

The council also will "seek to develop constructive academic and cultural interaction and partnerships within ASU and between ASU and similar groups in the Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim Worlds."

For the spring 2015 semester, Ali is a visiting professor at the American University of Kuwait. She will teach and conduct research for one of her current projects, a book on Kuwaiti women in leadership positions.

She is also working on translating Egyptian scholar Abdel Raziq's 1925 book "Islam and the Foundations of Governance" from Arabic into English, and writing a book on modern perspectives on gender issues in Islam.

Ali has already published a book about Abd al-Raziq's book, "Religion, Not A State: Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s Islamic Justification of Political Secularism." In 2014, her second book, "The Road to the Two Sudans," an edited volume with three American professors, was published.

Climate experts, local leaders gather to discuss impacts of extreme weather

January 23, 2015

On Jan. 8, Arizona State University's Sustainable Cities Network and the American Meteorological Society convened municipal and nonprofit leaders in order to discuss the impacts of extreme weather on local government.

Held at the Sheraton in downtown Phoenix as part of the American Meteorological Society annual conference, this gathering was an exclusive session for Sustainable Cities Network members to meet and learn from climate experts. weather experts present findings to Sustainable Cities Network members Download Full Image

Attendees came from planning, public works, community development and other city departments in order to gain insights on this pressing topic. Local level policymakers were also present from the cities of Goodyear, Casa Grande and Tempe. In total, 13 communities and public sector agencies were represented from around the Valley and state, in addition to representation from one nonprofit organization.

The event featured a diverse panel of experts from organizations such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Arizona, Portland State University, the University of Chicago and many more. Panelists also came from various academic backgrounds and presented on a variety of topics, describing the effects of extreme weather on human health, economies and urban infrastructure.

The broad range of speakers provided attendees with a holistic perspective of some of the issues Arizona's communities are currently facing, and will face in the future. Municipal attendees were provided an opportunity to ask clarifying questions, especially in terms of how climate facts and predictions relate to decision-making at the municipal level.

Increases in both temperature and the intensity of precipitation events were discussed in the context of the infrastructure required to sustain a high quality of life with these predicted changes. Arizona is already known for having extreme weather as a norm, so coping with further changes is something that panelists viewed as vital.

On the topic of the urban heat island effect, Mary Hayden with the National Center for Atmospheric Research discussed the importance of mapping cooling centers in the urban core. Amir Jina with the University of Chicago discussed Arizona’s predicted rising future mortality rate due to extreme heat. This is already a pressing issue, as the Maricopa County Public Health Division estimated that 1,050 cases of heat-associated mortality occurred in an eight-year period from 2006-2013.

Discussion of mitigation and adaptation strategies focused on city- and region-specific solutions. Panelists fielded questions on several different topics, such energy usage, water scarcity, climate modeling and climate communication. Attendees found the information helpful in aiding decision-making and providing uniform narratives on climate science and its greater impacts.

The Sustainable Cities Network is a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

Saritha Ramakrishna,
Sustainable Cities Network
Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability