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Annemarie Schimmel

With the passing away of Professor Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003) a vital ‘link’ has indeed been severed between the West and its Islamic ‘Other’, as so aptly pointed out by in his memorial article by Dr. Tariq Rahman (The News, Feb. 7th 2003)—or between Muslim civilization and its sane assessment in present Western conditions.

In any case, a number of articles, tributes, reports and ‘references’ etc, have been appearing quite regularly in our newspapers following Professor Schimmel’s demise, analyzing her life and work from all sorts of perspectives—her ‘pioneering’ studies of Mevlana Rumi, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sachal Sarmast and other Islamic mystics; her work on Iqbal; her history of classical Urdu poetry; various dimensions of Islamic worship; of the languages and culture of Pakistan and elsewhere—the sheer scope, versatility and depth of her ‘genius’ as a scholar and researcher and bridge between East and West, and so-on. It is a pity that no one has said or written anything about Annemarie Schimmel, the Sufi.

Ultimately, that is what she was and is. An initiate Sufi of several tariqahs, who ‘lived’ in the fullest, most absolute sense possible and ‘died’ in the sense a Sufi dies and does not die. In a review of Schimmel’s I am Wind, You are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi (Boston, 1992—not to be confused with Ich bin Wind und du bist Fuer), Andrew Harvey called her an “exemplary guide to his [Rumi’s] mind”; whereas according to Coleman Barks, she had been “immersed in Rumi for over forty years”. There is, after all, a deeper immersion beyond the world of mere scholarship which springs forth from the wellsprings of Love itself.

Here is Annemarie Schimmel in her own words, on the ‘way’ to the Pir-i-Rumi, very much like Iqbal: “Let us therefore wander to the place whence the light shines, to Konya! There, Mevlana’s mausoleum, know as the Yesil Turbe, the Green Dome, beckons…” (I am Wind, You are Fire, p.1).

And furthermore, on which spiritual pilgrimage, all Nature, life itself, speaks out with serendipity and a clarity of vision where veils are stripped aside, and all Illusion transcended into a Reality where, “ Every stone, every tree seemed to translate Rumi’s message into its own silent language for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear” (Ibid., p.2).

And then, see too, how she slowly enters the precincts of Konya, encountering a small cemetery dating back to the 13-14th centuries. “Would it not be advisable to stop here for a moment? For Sufism itself was based on the meditation of death, the hour when the soul had to meet its Lord…” (p.3). Hope for Paradise, fear of Hell, confront her. The answering voice of the soul, too, reveals Sufic understanding:

“Rabi’a, that pious woman from Basra [who died in 801] taught them to love God not from hope or fear, but for the sake of His Eternal Beauty; out of pure love. For does the Qur’an not say: ‘He Loves them and the Love Him’ (Surah 5/59)?

This, then, is her verdict:

“What could one desire more than to attain the moment when, freed from the fetters of matter, one could contemplate the eternal Divine Beauty, entering into the presence of the unfathomable divine being from which everything comes and to which all returns?”. Verily, we belong to God and to Him we are returning (Surah 2/151).

The falcon has returned to the Falconer’s wrist. The deep, clear river flown back to the sea. The wheel turned full circle. All falcons, all rivers and all wheels turning, they now have something of Annemarie Schimmel within them. In Konya, the songs of the Reed, too, sing of joyous reunion.


Orig Obituary from ‘The News’ daily, Islamabad/Rawalpindi ed, February 2003

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