Author: Stefan Wild
As one of the most eminent western scholars of Islam, Annemarie Schimmel is still held in high esteem in the Islamic world. But despite being a kind of a mystic herself, the German got entangled in the fraught relations between East and West. Ten years after her death, Stefan Wild takes stock of her life and work
Annemarie Schimmel grew up against the backdrop of the rise of National Socialism, an era in which the other was despised and the own idolized. It was during this period, when being of “German nature” and belonging to the “Aryan race” were considered of the highest value, that Schimmel, while still a schoolgirl, took private lessons in Arabic and fell under the spell of this Semitic language.
While her peers were dreaming of the German flag, German blood, and the German Führer, Annemarie Schimmel turned her attention towards the very different world of a culture and religion that still seemed very distant at the time: Islam.
By turning her attention to Islam in this way, she was at the same time fleeing the catastrophe that was the Second World War. She was a young woman of great linguistic and literary talent, and her swift rise through the ranks of the academic world was unprecedented. In 1946, in the midst of the landscape of ruin and destruction that Germany had become, she completed the habilitation process for Islamic Studies at the University of Marburg. She had just turned 23.