Annemarie Schimmel

My Soul is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam by Annemarie Schimmel explores the role of women and the feminine in the mystical tradition of Islam (Sufism).

Schimmel was an internationally renowned scholar who wrote extensively on Islam and mysticism. Fluent in several languages, including German, English, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, she was a professor of theology at Ankara University for several years before moving to Harvard where she inaugurated the Indo-Muslim Studies program. She was a prolific writer, publishing numerous books and articles on Islamic literature and mysticism.

In My Soul is a Woman, Schimmel dedicates a chapter on the role women played in each of the following topics: women and the Prophet of Islam; in Sufism; in the Qur’an and Islamic traditions; and in the education of the soul since “soul” (nafs) is a feminine word in Arabic. She also explores the respect paid to elderly women and mothers in the Islamic tradition.

Schimmel provides copious examples of the significant contributions made by a number of female mystics to Islamic mysticism. She carefully distinguishes between the role and expectations placed on women in the Quran and the rigid restrictions and prohibitions placed on them in society, attributing the latter to misogynistic cultural influences which became increasingly intransigent throughout time and which deviate in significant ways from the Qur’an.  

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Schimmel’s exploration of a variety of Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Indo-Muslim Sufi love poems. Schimmel reads these poems as metaphors for the beloved’s yearning for union with God. The beloved can be male or female. He/she goes on a quest to seek the beloved with an unwavering dedication that serves as a role model for other seekers. This interpretive lens opens the poems up to new readings in which every action, every step, can be read as a metaphor along the mystical path to God.

The book is recommended for those seeking an understanding of the role of women and the feminine in the mystical tradition of Islam.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review