Annemarie Schimmel: A Great pillar of Scholarship

A great pillar of Islamic scholarship in the Western world has fallen.

Dr Annemarie Schimmel, described by some as the scholar- hermit has

In an age when some vested political interests may like to see the
world thrown ultimately in a mighty global conflict physically as well
in the realm of ideas, the death of the great non-Muslim scholar, a
scholar who found beauty – and found the qualities of co-existence – in
the religious, sufistic and literary traditions of the Muslim East
would be greatly mourned. A prolific writer and a profound scholar, her
linguistic reach included, besides her mother tongue German-English,
French Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish and even Sindhi. She translated
Iqbal with a religious zeal. She wrote on Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai,
Rehman Baba, and other sufi poets of Pakistan. Her Botschaft des
Ostens, the translation of Allama Iqbal’s Payam-i-Mashriq is a
monumental work in German, (as also Dschavidnma Das Buch Der Ewigkeit,
translation of Javed Nama), translation of the Bang-i-Dara, and
Gabraeil’s Wing, a Study of the Religious Ideas of Sir Mohammad Iqbal –
one of the erudite studies of Iqbal in English in the West – and
countless other publications on the these subjects. This is in addition
to her numerous articles on Iqbal and Islam and Ghalib and Urdu poetry
(from various angles). Her studies of Maulana Rum, Mansur Hallaj,
Ghalib, Persian Poetry, Calligraphy and Epigraphy, Numerology, Turkey,
German Orientalists, and countless other works have given a status
unequalled by many.

Born in Erfurt, Germany in 1922, Schimmel received her PhD in Islamic
studies from the Berlin University at the age of 19. From that day
there was no looking back. She received countless academic distinctions
and honours and awards, including a number of honorary doctorates,
which cannot be listed in as short tribute like this. She got the
“Hilal-i-Imtiaz” of Pakistan in 1983, and this writer was in the
function in Bonn when it was formally presented to her. She also had a
Sitara-i-Imtiaz and was also awarded International Presidential Iqbal
Award in Pakistan 1998. She taught, besides other universities, at Bonn
and Harvard. Her interest in Urdu poetry was intense. In a foreword to
the English translation of Iftikhar Arif’s Bharwan Khilari, she says:
“I sincerely hope that European and American readers will discover in
this volume a new world of poetry, hitherto unknown to them – a world
whose fascination may lead them to explore further the beauties of Urdu
literature and discover both its rich heritage and its promise for the

Her lectures, and their inimitable style, when she will close her eyes
and speak; swaying everything for hours all around, and her visits to
Pakistan since 1958 and lectures here, and in Germany and elsewhere
come to the mind’s eye. One still remembers hearing her remarkable
lecture on Iqbal in the South Asia Institute at the world-famous
Heidelberg University, and viewing a plaque containing her translation
of Iqbal’s poem on River Neckar that flows around the historic
university in that city. One remembers in the Town Hall of the city the
Oberbugameister (the chief mayor) of Heidelberg giving a reception in
connection with the celebration of Iqbal Day in early eighties. One
still remembers Dr Schimmel standing in the gathering.

Many articles would be written on her achievements by scholars and
intellectuals. But as one who heard her speak in Pakistan since his
younger days, and one who had the honour of often visiting her home in
Lenne Strasse, (along with his late wife) especially on Christmas Eve
for a tea party; and had the honour of playing her host – in whatever
small capacity one served in Germany for Pakistan many years ago – the
memory of the great non-Muslim friend of Islam and Pakistan will always
remain part of a world view; what a German would call a weltanschauung,
where the idea of seeing civilizations as rich as the Islamic and the
Christian working together on this, our planet, for a better, more
tolerant and flourishing world would not seem to be out of place.