Last year, I came across a Charles Homer Haskins lecture that Dr Annemarie Schimmel delivered in 1993. Aside from the amazing events and milestones of her life, what struck me was her immersion in an infinite ‘learning’ cycle. I am reproducing some lines from the lecture and a dazzling poem of hers below. Dr Schimmel left this world in 2003 for another voyage. As an extra-ordinary scholar (over 150 publications to her credit), a Rumi disciple and an odd Sufi herself, the world is not the same place without her.
However, her erudite and passionate writings will continue to warm our hearts. Sang-i-Meel Publishers (http://www.sang-e-meel.com/) in Pakistan have done a huge favour by re-printing selected titles for the Pakistani audience.
Excerpts from the lecture
“….My entire life, lived in widening circles, as Rilke puts it, was a constant process of learning. To be sure, learning and re-learning history, as it happened several times in my life, made me somewhat weary of the constant shift of focus or of perspective in the political life of the countries I was associated with. Perhaps, looking at the Islamic (and not only Islamic!) societies in modern times, one should keep in mind the ingenious insight into the patterns of ebb and flood of the tides of history as expressed by the 14th-century North-African historian Ibn Khaldun in his muqaddima, parts of which I translated in my early daysâ€”and one tends (at least I do) to look out for the unchanging power behind the fluctuating surface of the ocean of events.”
And she adds further:
Although it seems that the time of learning might now draw to a close, yet I understand that every momentâ€”even the most unpleasant oneâ€”teaches me something and that every experience should be incorporated into my life to enrich it. For there is no end to learning as there is no end to life, and when Iqbal says in a daring formulation: â€œHeaven is no holiday!â€ he expresses the view, dear to Goethe and other thinkers, that even eternal life will be a constant process of growing, and, that is, of learningâ€”learning in whatever mysterious way something about the unfathomable mysteries of the Divine, which manifests itself under various signs. Suffering, too, is part of it; and the most difficult task in life is to learn patience.
Learning is, to me, transforming knowledge and experience into wisdom and love, to matureâ€”as according to Oriental lore, the ordinary pebble can turn into a ruby provided it patiently takes into itself the rays of the sun, shedding its own blood in a supreme sacrifice. Perhaps a few lines which I once wrote after visiting Maulana Rumiâ€™s mausoleum in Konya can express what learning means to me:
Never will you reach that silver mountain
which appears like a cloud of joy in the evening light.
Never can you cross that lake of salt
which treacherously smiles at you in the morning mist.
Every step on this road takes you farther
away from home, from flowers, from spring.
Sometimes the shade of a cloud will dance on the road,
sometimes you rest in a ruined caravansary,
seeking the Truth from the blackish tresses of smoke,
sometimes you walk a few steps with a kindred soul
only to lose him again.
You go and go, torn by the wind, burnt by the sun
and the shepherdâ€™s flute tells you â€œthe Path in bloodâ€.
until you cry no more, until the lake of salt,
is only your dried-up tears which mirror the mountain of joy
that is closer to you than your heart