Remembering the Life
of Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003)
And the blood of my feet
Transforms the stones into roses.
And the tears of my eyes
Water the desert shrubs,
Everyday the same sun,
scorching, merciless, white,
And at nightfall the wind, cutting my heart and my hope.
I walk out of myself
and the desert is you.
the paths are throbbing like veins,
and tenderly touches my hand
your skin, soft as sand.
I wander through you,
drinking the salty water that flows from your eyes,
sleeping at night in your arms
when you cover my weary limbs with your garment of stars.
And I am
one with the beats of your heart,
one with your breath, with the wind.
Annemarie Schimmel (7 April 1922 – 26 January 2003) was an influential German Orientalist and scholar who wrote extensively on Islam and Sufism. Internationally renowned, she was a professor at Harvard University from 1967 to 1992.
Early life and education
Schimmel was born to Protestant and highly cultured, middle-class parents in Erfurt, Germany. Her father, Paul, was a postal worker, and her mother, Anna, belonged to a family with connections to seafaring and international trade. Schimmel remembered her father as “a wonderful playmate, full of fun,” and she recalled that her mother made her feel that she was the child of her dreams. She also remembered her childhood home as being full of poetry and literature, though her family was not an academic one.
Having finished high school at age 15, she worked voluntarily for half a year in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labor Service). She then began studying at the University of Berlin in 1939, at the age of 17, during the Third Reich (1933-1945), the period of Nazi domination in Europe. At the university, she was deeply influenced by her teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, who suggested that she study the Divan of Shams Tabrisi, one of the major works of Jalaluddin Rumi. In November 1941 she received a doctorate with the thesis Die Stellung des Kalifen und der Qadis im spätmittelalterlichen Ägypten (The Position of the Caliph and the Qadi in Late Medieval Egypt). She was then only 19 years old. Not long after, she was drafted by the Auswärtiges Amt (German Foreign Office), where she worked for the next few years while continuing her scholarly studies in her free time. After the end of World War II in Europe, in May 1945, she was detained for several months by U.S. authorities for investigation of her activities as a German foreign service worker, but she was cleared of any suspicion of collaboration with the Nazis. In 1946, at the age of 23, she became a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Marburg, Germany. She was married briefly in the 1950s, but domestic life did not suit her, and she soon returned to her scholarly studies. She earned a second doctorate at Marburg in the history of religions (Religionswissenschaft) in 1954.
Later life and scholarly career
A turning point in Schimmel’s life came in 1954 when she was appointed Professor of the History of Religion at Ankara University. She spent five years in the capital city of Turkey teaching in Turkish and immersing herself in the culture and mystical tradition of the country. She was the first woman and the first non-Muslim to teach theology at the university. In 1967 she inaugurated the Indo-Muslim studies program at Harvard University and remained on the faculty there for the next twenty-five years. While living in quarters on the Harvard campus, Schimmel often visited New York City, where, as a consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she was famed for her ability to date manuscripts and objects from the style of calligraphy in or on them. Her memory of calligraphic styles was almost photographic. During the 1980s, she served on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia of Religion, published in 16 volumes (Macmillan, 1988) under the aegis of Mircea Eliade. In 1992, upon her retirement from Harvard, she was named Professor Emerita of Indo-Muslim Culture. During this period, she was also an honorary professor at the University of Bonn. After leaving Harvard, she returned to Germany, where she lived in Bonn until her death in 2003. Despite her love for Islamic cultures, she remained a devout Lutheran all her life 
Schimmel taught generations of students in a unique style that included lecturing with her eyes closed and reciting long passages of mystical poetry from memory. She was multilingual—besides German, English, and Turkish, she spoke Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi—and her interests ranged across the Muslim landscape. She published more than fifty books and hundreds of articles on Islamic literature, mysticism, and culture, and she translated Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Sindhi, and Turkish poetry and literature into English and German. Her particular fondness for cats led her to write a book about their role in Islamic literature, and her interest in mysticism resulted in a book about numerical symbolism in various cultures. Her consuming passion, however, was Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Even prominent Sufis acknowledged her as one of the foremost experts on their history and tradition.
Awards and honors
For her work on Islam, Sufism, and Muhammad Iqbal, a prominent philosopher, national poet of Pakistan, the government of Pakistan honored Schimmel with its highest civil awards,
Sitara-e-Imtiaz, or Star of Excellence, by Government of Pakistan
Hilal-e-Imtiaz, or Crescent of Excellence. by Government of Pakistan,
She was given other awards from many countries of the world, including the 1995 prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. This award caused a controversy in Germany, as she had defended the outrage of the Islamic world against Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses (1988), a novel, in a television interview. Schimmel’s award speech is available online in translation, entitled “A Good Word Is Like a Good Tree.”
Among other awards and honors are the following.
1965 Friedrich Rückert Prize of the City of Schweinfurt, Germany
1980 Johann Heinrich Voss Prize for Translation from the German Academy for Language and Literature
1989 Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
1990 Golden Owl award of the German Socratic Society, for outstanding scholarship
1992 Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize of the University of Tübingen
1996 Egyptian Order of Merit for Art and Science, First Class
1997 Honorary membership in the Central Council of Muslims in Germany
2001 Reuchlin Prize of the City of Pforzheim, Germany, for outstanding contributions in the humanities
2002 Do’stlik Order of the Republic of Uzbekistan, for the promotion of friendship and mutual understanding between nations
2002 Muhammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Prize of the Central Islamic Archive Institute of Germany, Soen, a prestigious award for Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue
2005 Name engraved in the “Walk of Fame” street in the City of Bonn
Schimmel also received honorary degrees from three Pakistani universities (Sind, Quaid-I Azam, and Peshawar), from the Faculty of Divinity of the University of Uppsala in Sweden, and from Selçuk University in Turkey.
As Through a Veil : Mystical Poetry in Islam (376 pages). New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. ISBN 9781851682744.
And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (367 pages). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985. ISBN 0807841285.
Nightingales under the Snow: Poems. London and New York : Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1994. ISBN 0933546548.
Anvari’s Divan: A Pocket Book for Akbar. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.
A Dance of Sparks: Imagery of Fire in Ghalib’s Poetry. New Delhi: Ghalib Academy, 1979.
A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. ISBN 0807820504.
Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam (314 pages). The 1991-1992 Gifford Lectures. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. ISBN 0791419827.
Gabriel’s Wing: Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Karachi: Iqbal Academy, 1989. ISBN 969416012X.
Mystical Dimensions of Islam (512 pages). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975. ISBN 0807812714. Spanish translation: Las dimensiones místicas del Islam, translated by A. López Tobajas and M. Tabuyo Ortega. Madrid: Trotta, 2002. ISBN 8481644862.
Introducción al Sufismo (152 pages). Barcelona: Editorial Kairós, 2007.
I Am Wind, You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997. Reissued as Rumi’s World : The Life and Works of the Great Sufi Poet. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2001. ISBN 0877736111.
Im Reich der Grossmoguls: Geschichte, Kunst, Kultur. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 2000. English translation: The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art, and Culture (352 pages). London: Reaktion Books, 2004. ISBN 1861892519.
Look! This Is Love. Boston: Shambhala Centaur Editions, 1996. ISBN 1570622248.
The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddinn Rumi. London: East-West Publications, 1980.
Islamic Literatures of India. Wiesbaden : Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1973. ISBN 3447015098.
Mohammad Iqbal, Poet and Philosopher: A Collection of Translations, Essays, and Other Articles. Karachi : Pakistan-German Forum, 1960.
Classical Urdu Literature: From the Beginning to Iqbal. A History of Indian Literature, v. 8. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1975. ISBN 344701671X.
Islam: An Introduction (166 pages). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. ISBN 0791413276.
We Believe in One God: The Experience of God in Christianity and Islam, edited by Annemarie Schimmel and Abdoldjavad Falaturi; translated by Gerald Blaczszak and Annemarie Schimmel. London: Burns & Oates, 1979.
Islamic Calligraphy. Evanston, Ill.: Adler’s Foreign Books, 1970.
Calligraphy and Islamic Culture. New York University Press, 1990. ISBN 0814778968.
Islamic Names: An Introduction (134 pages). Edinburgh University Press, 1990. ISBN 0852246129.
Meine Seele ist eine Frau. Munich: Kosel Verlag, 1995. English translation: My Soul Is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam (192 pages). New York and London: Continuum, 1997. ISBN 9780826414441.
Make a Shield from Wisdom: Selected Verses from Nasir-I Khusraw’s Divan (112 pages), translated and introduced by Annemarie Schimmel. London: I.B. Tauris, in association with the International Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001. ISBN 1860647251.
Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India. Leiden: Brill, 1976. ISBN 9004047719.
Das Mysterium der Zahl (310 pages). Munich: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1983. English edition, The Mystery of Numbers (314 pages). New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195089197.
Islam and the Wonders of Creation: The Animal Kingdom. London: Al-Furqan, Islamic Heritage Foundation 2003. ISBN 9781873992814.
Introduction to Cats of Cairo: Egypt’s Enduring Legacy, with photographs by Lorraine Chittock. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995. Reissued as Cairo Cats: Egypt’s Enduring Legacy (96 pages). American University in Cairo Press, 2005. ISBN 9771724312.
1- Ali Asani; William Graham; Roy Mottahedeh; Wheeler Thackston; Wolfhart Heinrichs (16 November 2004). 2- “Annemarie Schimmel”. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
Annemarie Schimmel, A Life of Learning. The Charles Homer Haskins Lecture, 1993. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 1993. Autobiographical reflections and reminiscences of a lifetime of work as a scholar.
3- Der Islam. Volume 80, Issue 2, Page 213
4- Stephen Kinzer, “Annemarie Schimmel, Influential Scholar of Islam, Dies at 80,” obituary, New York Times, 2 February 2003.
5- Kinzer, “Annemarie Schimmel, Influential Scholar of Islam, Dies at 80” (2003). This obituary is the source of much biographical information given herein.
6- Obituary: Professor Annemarie Schimmel[dead link]
7- Ascherson, Neal. “The itch of guilt won’t go away while Rushdie remains condemned”.[dead link]
8- Peace Prize Award speech (http://www.amaana.org/artoc;es/schimmtree.htm