Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Annemarie Schimmel (1922–2003) was a German Orientalist and historian of religions. Born in Erfurt to a Protestant family, she started learning Arabic at the age of fifteen and studied Arabic, Persian, and Turkish beginning in 1939 in Berlin, where she completed her Ph.D. in 1941 at the age of nineteen, with a doctoral thesis on “Calif and Cadi in Late Medieval Egypt [i.e., in the late Mamluk period].” Schimmel then prepared her Habilitation on the military class in Mamluk Egypt and finished it, after World War II, in Marburg in 1946. While teaching Islamic languages and literature she prepared another thesis in Religionswissenschaft under the guidance of Friedrich Heiler, and she completed the newly established doctor of science in religion degree in 1951 with a thesis on the concept of love in Islamic mysticism. Although Schimmel was not a Muslim, she was given a five-year appointment as full professor of history of religions in the Islamic theological faculty of Ankara University in Turkey, a position she held from 1954 to 1959. She later taught Islamic languages at the universities of Marburg (1959–1961) and Bonn (1951–1967) and at Harvard University (1967–1992), where she was given the newly founded Chair of Indo-Muslim Cultures. Schimmel lectured in Bonn after her retirement from Harvard in 1992, and continued there until shortly before her death. She also lectured in universities around the world, addressing audiences of all levels in Asia, Europe, and America. The various prestigious posts she held included serving on the editorial board of Mircea Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) and as president of the International Association for the History of Religions (1980–1990). Schimmel also received many honorary doctorates and was highly decorated by academic and cultural institutions in both Western and Islamic countries. Among her many awards was the 1995 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which caused some political controversy due to a television interview in which she expressed some sympathy with the Muslims who were offended by Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Because of this episode, and because of meetings she had with Pakistan’s Zia lu-Haq and other dictatorial Muslim leaders, this award was criticized. Though reports often circulated in the Islamic world about her conversion to Islam, in her will she requested a Protestant funeral, which was held in Bonn. Schimmel’s work concentrates on Islamic mysticism (Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 1975); on mystic poetry (As Through a Veil, 1982; A Two-Colored Brocade, 1992); on individual mystic writers (I Am Wind, You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi, 1992; Gabriel’s Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal, 1963); on forms of Islamic veneration (And Muhammad Is His Messenger, 1983); on everyday Muslim practice (Islamic Names, 1989); and on other cultural expressions, such as calligraphy (Islamic Calligraphy, 1970; Calligraphy and Islamic Culture, 1984); as well as on surveys on specific literatures (Islamic Literatures of India, 1973; Sindhi Literature, 1974; Classical Urdu Literature from the Beginning to Iqbal, 1975) and on Islam in India and Pakistan (Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, 1980; Islam in India and Pakistan, 1982). In the phenomenology of religion, Schimmel’s inspiring Gifford Lectures, “Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam” (1994), attempt to apply Heiler’s categories of “Erscheinungsformen und Wesen der Religion” (Forms of manifestations and the essence of religion) to a specific religion, and to thus present a phenomenological introduction to a religion. The main thesis of her book Wie universal ist die Mystik? Die Seelenreise in den grossen Religionen der Welt (How universal is mysticism? The journey of the soul in the world’s great religions, 1996) is that behind all the dogmatic differences in religious teachings there is a common ground accessible through mystic experience. These works explain why Schimmel distanced herself more and more from Religionswissenschaft, for which methodological approaches from such human sciences as the sociology of religion or the psychology of religion were more important than sympathy with religious experience.

In the field of Islamic mysticism, Schimmel follows the German tradition represented by Hellmut Ritter, Fritz Meier, and Richard Gramlich, and she used the vocabulary of German Christian mysticism as the prototype for translation of Islamic terms. Schimmel was one of the few representatives of this type of research. Along with Friedrich Max Müller, Schimmel was an important pioneer on research into the Indo-Muslim and Sanskrit Indian context. In the phenomenology of religion she was loyal to Heiler’s approach, despite the development of new approaches in the study of religions. Schimmel’s numerous books and articles show a remarkably wide range of knowledge in all kinds of cultural phenomena, both Islamic and Western. Her works are equally appreciated by both Muslim and non-Muslim academics. She is one of the rare non-Muslims whose work has found uncontested acceptance in the world of Islam, and her writings have helped make Muslim thought known across Islamic cultures. The fact that Schimmel quotes from Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, and Arabic sources allowed her to widen the horizons of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, to the great variety of religious expression within the Islamic world. Since she translated many of her books herself from her native German into English, and vice versa, most of her work is available in both languages. Moreover, she published works in several other languages (Asian and Western) so that her research could be understood in various linguistic contexts. In addition, many of her works have been translated into countless languages around the globe.

For Schimmel’s English-language works on Islamic mysticism, see Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975). On mystic poetry, see As Through a Veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam (New York, 1982); and A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry (London and Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992). On individual mystic writers, see I Am Wind, You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi (Boston, 1992); and Gabriel’s Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Leiden, 1963). On forms of Islamic veneration, see And Muhammad
Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (London and Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983). On everyday Muslim practice, see Islamic Names (Edinburgh, 1989). On calligraphy, see Islamic Calligraphy (Leiden,
1970); and Calligraphy and Islamic Culture (New York, 1984). For surveys on specific literatures, see Islamic Literatures of India (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1973); Sindhi Literature (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1974); and Classical Urdu Literature
from the Beginning to Iqbal (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1975). On Islam in India and Pakistan, see Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden, 1980); and Islam in India and Pakistan (Leiden, 1982). Besides the English-language works listed above, several of Schimmel’s German publications deserve mentioning. For Islamic
mysticism, see “Sufismus und Volksfrömmigkeit” in Der Islam, vol. 3, Islamische Kultur-Zeitgenössische Strömungen- Volksfrömmigkeit (Stuttgart, Germany, 1990); Meine Seele isteine Frau: Das Weibliche im Islam (Munich, 1995); Jesus und Maria in der islamischen Mystik (Munich, 1996); and Sufismus: Eine Einführung in die islamische Mystik (Munich, 2000). For Islamic literature, see Nimm eine Rose und nennesie Lieder: Poesie der islamischen Völker (Cologne, Germany, 1987); Aus dem goldenen Becher: Türkische Gedichte aus sieben
Jahrhunderten (Cologne, Germany, 1993); Rumi: Sieh! Dasist Liebe, Gedichte (Basel, Switzerland, 1993); and Die schönsten Gedichte aus Pakistan und Indien: Islamische Lyrik austausend Jahren (Munich, 1996). For cultural topics, see Die
orientalische Katze (Cologne, Germany, 1983); Das Mysterium der Zahl: Zahlensymbolik im Kulturvergleich (Cologne, Germany, 1984); Friedrich Rückert: Lebensbild und Einführung in sein Werk (Freiburg, Germany, 1987); “Künstlerische Ausdrucksformen des Islam” and “Europa und der islamische Orient” in Der Islam, Vol. 3, Islamische Kultur-Zeitgenössische Strömungen-Volksfrömmigkeit (Stuttgart, Germany,1990); Die Träume des Kalifen: Träume und ihre Deutungen in der islamischen Kultur (Munich, 1998); Im Reich der Grossmoguln: Geschichte, Kunst, Kultur (Munich, 2000); Kleine Paradiese: Blumen und Gärten im Islam (Freiburg, Germany, 2001); and Das islamische Jahr: Zeiten und Feste (Munich, 2001). For autobiographical information, see A Life of Learning: Charles Homer Haskins Lecture (Washington, D.C., 1993); Morgenland und Abendland: Mein west-östliches Leben (Munich, 2002); and Auf den Spuren der Muslime: Mein Leben zwischen den Kulturen, edited by Hartmut Bobzin and Navid Kermani (Freiburg, Germany, 2002). PETER ANTES (2005)

She was briefly married in 1955 in Ankara to a Turk, adopting Cemile as Muslim name. Although she had no immediate living family, she is survived by a well-loved son of a cousin and his family.

Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel
January 28, 2003- Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel breathed her last today in Bonn. Dr. Annemarie was a profound scholar and a prolific writer. Her publications are numerous and in various languages. The remarkable breadth of her linguistic expertise included English, German, French, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish and many other languages, while the span of her academic interests encompassed a variety of subjects ranging from Islamic Calligraphy to the study of Muslim mystical poets of the South-Asian Subcontinent. Her main interest, and one can say her heart, lied, however, in the translation into German verse of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu poetry, a pursuit that had won for her the different international medals for outstanding translations.
Her interest in Iqbal studies dated back to her student days. To quote her, “my long lasting love of Iqbal (which began when I was a student in Berlin during the war) has led me to publish a number of works which are more or less relevant for a study of his contribution to Muslim thought…… . In many articles I have tried to show Iqbal in the context of Islamic modernism, or deal with his imagery”. Ever since the appearance of her first article on Iqbal (1954) she had been writing on Iqbal in various languages and on different aspects of his thought and art. But her book Gabriel’s Wing– A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1963, rpt. 1989) is still the finest specimen of her erudition and insight in Iqbal studies and Islamic thought in general. This is testified by the fact that from among a large number of books written in the major languages of the world, Gabriel’s Wing was declared as the best work on Iqbal studies, in the international languages, for the period 1947-1981. Apart from these works she was the author of hundreds of articles and dozens of books on Iqbal and Islam. She also funded the Annemarie Schimmel scholarship for Women Studies in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan decorated her with the highest of civil awards, “Tamgha i Imtiyaz”.
This doyen of Iqbal Studies and the internationally renowned scholar of Islamic civilization, Professor Doctor Annemarie Schimmel met with a serious accident recently. After a major surgery, she went into a coma and, after several days of illness, left this world for the abode of eternity this morning.
It is our duty to pay our homage to her in what ever manner we can.