Dr. Annemarie Schimmel: A Great Scholar-Hermit


A leading German Islamicist, orientalist, scholar, literary figure, prolific writer and an authoress of more than hundred books who was well-known throughout the Islamic and the western world for her extra-ordinary talents, mystical and innovative writings and translations of Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Turkish and Sindhi works into English and German at last left for the world hereafter on January 28, 2003. She is widely known as an authority on Sufism.

She was born in Erfurt, Germany in 1922. She learned Arabic language and developed keen interest in Islam when she was only 15. She received her PhD in Islamic studies from the Berlin University at the age of 19 and continued her studies at the University of Berlin and in Marburg, where she became a professor for comparative religious studies. Annemarie Schimmel was until recently Professor Indo-Muslim studies at Harvard University. During her academic career, she lectured in Ankara, Bonn, Harvard, New York, London and several universities all over the world. She remained single for a long span of 82 years. But one can safely say that she was married to erudition.

Since 1958 she paid frequent visits to Pakistan for delivering lectures especially on Iqbal. Pakistan eventually had become her second abode. She visited for two or three times shrines of Sind and quenched, in her own words, her spiritual thirst. Iqbal had always been her favorite poet who had been inspiring her from the outset. When she started to speak on his poetry, she spoke for hours, swaying things all around, making the audience spellbound and while she recited his verses, she would close her eyes in overwhelming delight and rapture, and soared into deep imagination like an intrinsic poet. She translated the poetical works of Iqbal with a spiritual zeal and fervor. Her Botschaft des Ostens, the translation of Allama Iqbal’s Payam-i-Mashriq is monumental work in German. Dschavidnma Das Buch and Der Ewigkeit are German translations of ˜Javed Nama™ and ˜Bang-i-Dara™, and Gabraeil’s Wing: a Study of the Religious Ideas of Sir Mohammad Iqbal is one of the most erudite studies of Iqbal in English in the West. She gave remarkable lectures on Iqbal in the South Asia Institute at the world-famous Heidelberg University. For several years she hardly missed a chance to celebrate Iqbal Day in Pakistan and if it was missed because of her pre-occupation, she celebrated it in the Town Hall of the city of Heidelberg or anywhere else leaving all her assignments.

She was also committed to profound studies of Iqbal™s spiritual guide, Maulana Rum whose recent ever-flourishing popularity in the western world is mainly due to her valuable contribution. She paid a marvelous tribute to him in her book, Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaluddin Rumi published from London in 1978. Drawing on an enormous range of sources, in her important book, As Through a Veil Mystical Poetry in Islam she covered the development of Islamic mystical poetry in detail, from individual Sufi poets like the legendary Rumi, to such topic as the intricacies of sacred verse and the delightful vagaries of cryptic and nonsense poetry. It is, indeed, an insightful and fascinating account of some of the most exquisite literature ever penned. In My Road to Sufism Dr Schimmel discusses how she became interested in Sufism. She wrote another book Mystical Dimensions of Islam (published by Chapel Hill in 1975). Due to these publications she is generally acknowledged as an authority on Rumi and Sufism.

Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, to be remembered by so many people as the scholar-hermit, wrote enthusiastically on Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Rehman Baba, and other sufi poets of Pakistan. Her writings on Mansur Hallaj, Ghalib, Persian and Poetry from various angles, Calligraphy and Epigraphy, Numerology, Turkey, German Orientalists, translated part of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima into German and other countless works gave her an outstanding status throughout the literary world. Through her research and variety of literary pursuits, Dr. Schimmel made an unparalleled contribution to acquaint the German people with Islam and Islamic mysticism. She successfully bridged the gap between both the countries by developing mutual understanding.

Her book And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety is based on four decades of stupendous work by the author. This is the first English book to deal with all aspects of the veneration of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). Using original sources in the various Islamic languages, Annemarie Schimmel explains the central place of Muhammad (S.A.W.) in Muslim life, mystical thought, and poetry. Scarcely mediated in the west is her book, The Religion Islam: An Introduction that imparts in well intelligible way knowledge about the most important fundamentals of Islam. Her other works include Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden, 1980), A Two-Coloured Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry (New York, 1992), Calligraphy and Islamic Culture (New York,1984), Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam (Edinburgh, 1993) and In the realm of the Grossmoguln (Beck, 2000).

She received countless academic distinctions and honors. She got at least 26 awards and at least five honorary degrees/doctorates from so many countries and various universities of the world. For instance, when she was distinguished by the president of the Republic of Usbekistan Islam Karimov with one of the highest honors of the republic – the “Dustlik Freundschaftsorden”, she was proclaimed to have earned her services in the research and clearing-up propaganda rich of the cultural-mental inheritance and the history of the usbekischen people as well as for an important contribution for the development of co-operation between Usbekistan and Germany. The most prestigious award that she gained in recognition of her work and lifelong achievements was the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade that is given to writers of fictional or non-fictional work in Germany. When millions of Muslims were debating and protesting against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses published in 1989 and thought that it was a highly offensive slur on the religion of Islam, the talented historian and polylingualist Professor, Dr. Annemarie Schimmel entered the debate. She was adamant that Muslims (not just a few, but the entire body of Islam and its beloved Prophet, in particular) had been the victims of a carefully devised piece of literature. Thus Professor Schimmel effectively took on the establishment and asserted that The Satanic Verses was also one of those profane and maleficent attempts. She also challenged many misconceptions of Islam and tried to broach greater understanding between Muslims and christians. She got the “Hilal-i-Imtiaz” of Pakistan in 1983, had a Sitara-i-Imtiaz later on and was also awarded International Presidential Iqbal Award by Pakistan in 1998. In recognition of her lifelong achievements and commemoration of her great contribution to culture and poetry in Pakistan, the Government established the Annemarie Schimmel Scholarship that has been established to enable young Pakistani women to pursue their studies in U. K. or Europe and make genuine contribution to their chosen fields on their return to Pakistan. She was a great non-Muslim scholar, who found the attributes of beauty, harmony and co-existence in the religious, sufistic and literary trends and traditions of the Muslim East. Her position, based on years of expertise in Islamic literature and history was authoritative and unwavering. Immensely inspired by Urdu and Persian poetry, she also became a poet. She wrote several poems steeped in spiritual love and mysticism. One of her poems begins with a charming verse:

“Make thirsty me, O friend, give me no water! Let me so love that sleep flees from my door!”

Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, Professor of Indo-Muslim culture, was a powerful exponent of Islams rich heritage and its promise for the future. Her contributions to the history of Islamic culture, mysticism and literature and promoting these fields as subject areas of scholarly study in the Western academic circles are varied, vast and innumerable. She was, indeed, a great pillar of Islamic and Mystic Scholarship whose memories will be cherished for a very, very long time to come by the literary, cultural and religious circles throughout the world and especially by Pakistan which undoubtedly used to be her second home.


  1. www.osnabrueck.de/politik/21795.html
  2. www.uzbekistan.de/dustlik.htm
  3. http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/index.html
  4. http://www.dawn.com/2003/01/29/index.htm
  5. http://www.nation.com.pk/daily/jan-2003/29/main/top7.asp
  6. http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/awardswin2002/index.php?page=schimmel
  7. http://www.iis.ac.uk/research/academic_publications/schimmel.htm
  8. http://www.amsscholarship.com/
  9. http://home.pacific.net.sg/~makhdoom/sindstar.html
  10. http://www.khamush.com/schimmel.htm
  11. www.ircica.org/book/133_05.html