Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003), Harvard’s first Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture, would have turned 100 in April 2022. In celebration of her birthday, German scholar of Islamic studies, Stefan Weidner, delivered a speech in honor of Professor Schimmel’s legacy at the University of Erfurt on April 23, 2022, which was later summarized into an article.
Dr. Weidner hails Professor Schimmel, one of the first women in a field dominated by men, as a pioneer of Islamic studies. At Harvard, Professor Schimmel had the distinction of being not only its first female professor of Islamic studies, but also its first Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture and fourth woman to be granted tenure.
Although Professor Schimmel was a quintessential Orientalist and philologist, unlike other scholars of her generation who focused on historical texts, she also took an interest in the contemporary Muslim world, especially its literature. She therefore did not fit the description of the scholars critiqued by Edward Said in Orientalism, despite coming from the same tradition. Despite growing political interest in the Muslim world both inside and outside the academy after World War II, Professor Schimmel’s interest in Muslim societies remained apolitical and characterized by an appreciation for the beauty found within them, making her approach to Islamic studies one that was rare for her time and that remains an inspiration today.