Associated Press, Feb. 2, 2003
BERLIN (AP) – Annemarie Schimmel, a leading scholar of Islam who promoted understanding of the religion in the West, died late last month in Germany. She was 80.
The Central Council of Muslims in Germany said in a tribute that Schimmel scholarship helped “reduce misunderstandings about Islam and build bridges” between Muslims and the West. Schimmel, a professor emeritus of Islamic studies at Harvard University who also lectured in Germany and Turkey, publishing more than 100 books. She died Jan. 26 in Bonn.
Schimmel was an expert on Islamic mysticism, bringing it to a wider Western audience in part with her translations of poems and verse. She was known to lecture and speak while standing with her eyes closed, drawing audiences into her topic with quiet intensity.
She set off controversy after being awarded the German book trade’s Peace Prize in 1995 for her lifetime work. While the selection committee described her as a symbol of tolerance, German intellectuals accused her of being uncritical toward Islamic countries.
In particular, they were angered by Schimmel’s apparent sympathy for Iran’s 1989 death threat against British author Salman Rushdie for his novel “The Satanic Verses.”
Shortly after being named for the prize, Schimmel said an author “who consciously insults the prophet” was committing sacrilege and accused Rushdie of insulting many Muslims “in a very bad way.” She later apologized to Rushdie in a newspaper interview.
Schimmel was born April 7, 1922 in the German city of Erfurt. She completed the first of two doctorates in Berlin during World War II and after the war lectured in Marburg; Ankara, Turkey; Bonn and at Harvard before returning to Germany in 1992.
Her books were translated into English and Eastern languages, and she was well-known on the Indian subcontinent, whose Islamic culture she spent much time studying.
Schimmel was not married.