German News - June/July 1997
A tribute on her 75th birthday
by Alfred G. Würfel
While still at school in Erfurt, her hometown where she was born in 1922, Annemarie Schimmel loved to read poems by Friedrich Rückert. She was so deeply im-pressed by his versions of Per-sian and Arabic literature that she ardently longed to learn more about Oriental culture. When she turned 15, she met a teacher of Arabic. He found her so infatuated with her studies that he began to introduce her to Islamic history and culture. Thus, he opened the door to the world of Islam for her, where she has felt at home throughout her life.
She finished High School at 16, two years earlier than is usually the case. One year later she followed her father to Berlin where she continued her Arabic studies at the University and also took courses in Islamic art. In November 1941 she took her first doctorate. In the course of her 6 years of study, she began writing her dissertation on Mamluk history and on April 1st, 1945, took her second doctorate. On Armistice Day, in May 1945 she was interned by the Americans in Marburg. After a few months she joined the University of Marburg and studied under Professor Friedrich Heiler, the famous historian of religions. She submitted her Habilitation (postdoctoral) and delivered her inaugural address on the 12th January 1946, 24 years of age.
In 1954 she joined the University of Ankara where she taught Religion in the Turkish language. After 5 years she returned to Germany. In July 1969 she joined Harvard University where she taught Indo-Muslim culture for 25 years until her retirement. She then returned to Bonn and became an honorary Professor at the University, where the first German chair for Sanskrit was established in 1818. As the most befitting culmination of her brilliant and unprecedented career the Vice-Chancellor of Bonn University held a celebration for Annemarie Schimmel's 75th birthday on 7th April 1997. All the professors as well as invitees and members of the Government came to this festive assembly. In his congratulatory speech the VC established an "Annemarie Schimmel Chair for Indo-Muslim culture.
It is almost impossible to list all the titles of her more than 80 books, essays and innumerable lectures, the presidentships of scientific societies, about 7 honorary doctorates from German and foreign universities in addition to a long list of medals and awards such as the prestigious "Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz" of the German Government and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade at Frankfurt in 1995.
Her main scholarly fields have been Islamic literatures, Islamic mysticism and Sufism. Her books on 'Mystical Dimensions of Islam', on Maulana Jalal-ud-din Rumi, and 'Deciphering the Signs of God' have made a major contribution towards understanding the very essence of Islam. As she always speaks ex tempore, the audience is all the more impressed, for she does not merely speak intellectually, but from her heart. Another important field of her work are her translations from the Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Sindhi languages. These are not bookish versions but also renderings into German and English with the sensitivity of a poetess. And here I touch upon the third field in which Annemarie Schimmel excels, for she is a poet herself.
Before I close, I should not forget to mention Annemarie Schimmel's visit to Burhanpur which to her was a dream come true! Whenever she came to Delhi, we used to go sightseeing, and once on reaching the Mausoleum of Khan Khanan, near that of Humayun's, she told me his story: this was the grave of Abdul Rahim, Akbar's Commander-in-Chief, who not only loved poetry but was a poet himself. He usually wrote in Turki, but is known even more for his Hindi verses which reveal his mystic tendency. He spent the last decades of his life in Burhanpur situated close to the northern fringe of the Deccan. Annemarie Schimmel had longed to go to Burhanpur for more than 20 years. And in February 1995 her wish was fulfilled. We flew to Indore and from there took a car to Burhanpur. From Burhanpur, we drove to Omkareshwar on the banks of the Narmada river and she, too was much impressed by the temples at this famous centre of Hinduism.
About the author: Mr. Alfred G. Würfel, an expert on Indian culture and former Cultural Counsellor at the German embassy, is a friend and admirer of Annemarie Schimmel.
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