[Book Review]Orient and Occident My Life in East and West
By: Alwaiz Sharafat Ali Khan
Annemarie Schimmel was a leading German Islamist, orientalist, scholar, researcher, literary figure, fertile writer and an authoress of more than hundred books. She was well-known throughout the Islamic and the western world for her extra-ordinary talents, mystical and innovative writings. Furthermore, she translated Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Turkish and Sindhi works into English and German. She is also widely known as an authority on Sufism.
Orient and Occident (My life in East and West) is an autobiography of Annemarie Schimmel written in 2001/02 translated in English by Karin Mittmannand published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan in 2007.
In her book, she has mostly discussed her academic activities of entire life. Hence she named it ‘A life as one woman show’ because her whole work is a bounty of personal effort.
The book Orient and Occident (My Life in East and West), contains 297 pages. It is beautifully organized and divided into seven parts chronologically. It starts with heading “A life as one – woman-Show” where she discusses the reason of writing this book when her students asked her about her life. She writes this book as it may be interesting for reader to know how a non- Muslim girl coming from non- academic family became an orientalist. How did she get her PhD at nineteen? And how she became full professor at Islamic- theology faculty at University of Ankara? How she became the full professor at Harvard University for such a long period? But while reading this book one can learn much more than that as she herself says her life was rich in traveling and she had much experience of encountering with different people from head of states to illiterate old woman, from Muslim theologian to Jesuits in Anatolia
It was not less than a miracle that she never took help of secretary, assistant and even she didn’t had a personal computer and car. She only used an IBM-Selectric, on which she shaped all her work.
The part one of this book “childhood and youth” (1922-1945), shows that Annemarie Schimmel was not only a gifted student but also she luckily got enabling environment to develop herself academically. It seems that she was dedicated to her goals and was committed and sincere to her academic tasks, as she never stop reading books even during hard times of war. In her autobiography, she discussed little about her domestic life. So it means that she was preferring her academic activities on her domestic issue.
She received her first PhD in early age of 19 entitled Caliph and Qadi in late-medieval Egypt. In her early age she also got good grasp on Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages. She had good command on Islamic history and mysticism that proves her keen interest, sincere engagement, and commitment and continues efforts in her area of study.
She faced the challenges of 2nd world war and even her father passed away during war but she never lost courage and continued her studies.
In the second part of the book Schimmel discusses early post- war years 1945-1952. She went to Marburg during the hard time of war and she got appointed there as a lecturer. it is very interesting and inspiring that from her first salary she purchased the book of Mathnavi of Jelal Uddin Rumi. Even in those hard days she always kept some books along with her like a copy of New Testament, The western Divan in voluminous Beutler- edition, three fat volumes of Rumi’s Mathnavi in Persian, It shows her highest level of attachment with these literatures and area of studies.
Annemarie Schimmel had a keen interest in Islamic art as it is evident from her tireless search of Islamic arts. Whenever she had been in any part of the world she always kept an eye on them. For example in Geneva she met Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and witnessed her rich Islamic art collection. She describes the experience as “could I ever forget to mention Geneva, where the precious collection of Islamic art of Prince Sadr Uddin Aga Khan is housed, which holds the finest Indian and Persian miniatures – a collection, which counts one of the best private ones of Europe or may be, of the world.”
It was amazing that she seemed too spiritual as during this visit once she was examined by a doctor and the report said “you are an example of the victory of the sprit over body”
In the third Part Schimmel discusses about her life in Turkey during 1952 to 1959, she admires Istanbul as “a city without and equal” due to the rich Islamic architect, calligraphies and art. In Istanbul, she interacted with different scholars and poets and even she says she was introduced to Istanbul through poetry and she walked through on it.
Though she had formally started teaching Ilahayat in university of Ankara by 1954 but she seemed much inspired by Rumi as she had a great curiosity to visit his birth place Konya.
In her autobiography Schimmel describes the story of giving name of Konya and also states Moulana Rumi’s arrival in this city like this; “… Among those who came from the East was also Moulana Jelaluddin Rumi, a youth, whose father who was a famous scholar, had brought the family from Balkh through the Central Asian regions to Anatolia. The family settled in Laranda- Karaman till in 1228, they were called to Konya.” She further discusses the Mathanvi of the Rumi as that contains forty thousand verses and his contributions in prose as well.
In 1954, she visited Konya on the occasion of birthday celebration of Moulan Rumi and got the opportunity to lecture on Rumi and enjoyed Sufi dances arranged by some mystics.
The 4th part is about her life in European Interlude (1959 -1967). In this part she writes about coming back to Marburg and Bonn where she started teaching. She started visiting Pakistan during the reign of General Muhammad Ayaub Khan.
In the 5th part “The Other side of Atlantic (1967-1992)” she records the rich experience at Harvard and about her lectures in many other universities.
In IAHR congress in Claremont in California, Wifredcant wellSmithe from Harvard met her and after long discussion and on his continuous pleading she had to start work on One-Mint-Rice Project where she wanted to translate the two leading Urdu poets, Ghalib (died 1868), and Mir(Died 1810). Though first she considered it difficult and huge task but later accepted it and that took her to Harvard where she started teaching apart of this project.
In 1972, she started lectures on Islamic mysticism. The lectures became very popular as a result she wrote the book “Mystical Dimensions of Islamic Mysticism” that has been translated into many languages.
During her services in different universities she wrote about some of her good students and friends in detail. She taught some Isamaili students penned down some points about the Ismailis migration from Iran to subcontinent. She further said, “After the death of old Aga Khan his grandson Karim Aga Khan, became his successor. He is now the hazir Imam, (the present Imam) and every believer delights in seeing him. Karim Aga Khan is a Harvard alumnus and continued the reform work of his grandfather. He found a department of Islamic arts in Harvard, gave many scholarships to Ismaili students at McGil University at Montreal, created Ismaili Institute in Landon and many other cultural centers”. She used the word “Betajee” (dear son) to Ismaili Professor Ali Asani whom she supervised in his postgraduate and doctoral thesis who continued her project of Indo-Muslim Culture at Harvard after her retirement. For which she felt satisfied.
She says about her book Calligraphy and Islamic culture was the result of a series of lectures in New York University while in forward of the other book The book “As through veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam” she says she had lectured in different universities of the world like Rice University Houston (Texas), Trinity college San Antonio (Texas), Knoxville (Tennessee), Duke University (Durham, North Carolina), university of Chappe Hill (North Carolina), University of Toronto and many more.
In part 6 “Journeying through the Orient” she has written about her visits of more than thirteen countries to deliver lectures in different universities. During this visits she met with ambassadors, and visited the Islamic historical and religious places and discussed the historical events from the Islamic history and literature. She visited shrines and other religious places in Kuwait and Bahrain like the shrine of Abdul Qadir al Gilani and grave of seventh shieti Imam Rada.
While writing about Afghanistan she has discussed some historical events and about some prominent philosophers and poets of this region like Khushahal Khan Khattak (d.1689) the father of Pashto literature, Rehman baba(d.1709), Nasi-e- Khusroo, the philosopher and Ismaili missionary.
In this book Annemarie Schimmel has shown her great interest and affiliation towards Islam, Pakistan and Iqbal. She writes that she was introduced to Iqbal by the article wrote by British orientalist Reynol A. Nicholosn in the magazine Islamica. She also translated the Javednama in German and Turkish that became a source to get invited to Pakistan.
She writes about her interaction with the famous personalities of that time like S.A Vahid (her host in Karachi), Pir Hassamuddin Rashdi, a member of one of Sufi family of Sind, the Pir Pagaru, Pir Ali Muhamad, G.M Syed, Zulfiqal Ali Bhutto, Piyar Ali Alana, Benezir Bhutto, Justice A.K Bruhi, AllaniKazi, Hassndani, Hamid Abdul Hamid in India and Hameed Mohammad Said in Pakistan Karachi and many more. She admires the singers who sang the Sufi songs and music particularly, she shows great love for the voice of flute and the voice of Alan Faqir and appreciates his talent in this regard.
She shares with great feeling of proud of his honorary degree of doctorate from Hyderabad University and from university of Islamabad and Peshawar.
The last part is Return to Europe (1992-2002). Where Annemarie Schimmel describes her life in European counties. She starts it from Rome, Paris and London. She felt proud when she was selected for the Giffrodl lecture series on history of spiritual development in human in 1992. On the basis of these lectures the book “Despairing the sings of God” got compiled and later it was also published.
She always tried her best to present the peaceful dimension of Islam but when the 9/11 happened she felt herself in great trouble as she writes in her book: “But, in between all, was the 11th September. After a poisoning which paralyzed my right arm, came the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York. … I had to give innumerable lectures and talks to try to convince people, or at least, to make them aware, that Islam had nothing to do with terrorism and that not everyone, who emphasized the positive aspect of Islamic culture, sympathizes with the terrorists.” While she criticizes the US policies and says: “One should not forget that the USA initially, in order to protect the planned oil pipeline, and as a defense against Russians, has supported Taliban”. She also comments on Taliban as “that the Taliban followed the unusual, narrow minded interpretation of Islam, which is rejected by most of the Muslims.”
At last page of her book she shares some valuable conclusions like she seems to be very thankful by saying “I need to be thankful, endlessly thankful, that I had reached this point of my life, that I without secretary, without and assistant, without a computer, without a car, without leave or sports activities, was able to much as I wished; that I had good friends, loving human relationships, successful students all over the world, and that so for I have been spared from illness.”
She had great love for Islam and she says until and unless you don’t love something you can’t understand that properly as she quotes St. Augustin: “One can understand something only to the extent as one loves it”. She claims that she had a great love for the world of orient since her childhood so she could understand little bit about them.
She seems enough satisfied of her life as it can be understand by poem she quotes of her revered poet Orientalist FriedrchRcker:
If tomorrow I should die —
I have worked enough.
If hundred years or more I‘d try—
There is work enough
Lastly she ends her book on her motto of childhood and reasserts the important of awakening as “People sleep, and when the die, they awaken.”
Some pictures of Annemarie Schimmel have been included in this book which makes it more interesting because as the readers read about the author, they can feel the experience of the author by looking at her pictures which play vital role in understanding this book.
Finally, one would say that she was not only the legend of a great Orientalist of her time but here is a lot to learn from such personality who sacrificed her whole life to bring forth the peaceful and mystical dimension of Islam. Furthermore, there are many lessons in this book in terms of commitment, hardworking, sincerity and devotion for knowledge society. This book, indeed, motivates and encourages readers to read the Sufi Islam in general and Schimmel’s own written books in particular.
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