Annemarie Schimmel, 80, a leading authority on Islam and the intellectual, artistic and religious history of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, died Jan. 26 in a hospital in Bonn. The cause of death was not reported.
Dr. Schimmel, a German Lutheran, served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1967 until retiring in 1992. She was a professor emerita of Indo-Muslim culture in Harvard's Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.
She was the author of an estimated 50 books and countless technical papers, publishing works dealing with calligraphy, Islamic art and literature, Islamic mysticism in general and Sufism in particular.
Her books included "Gabriel's Wing: A Study Into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal" (1963), "Mystical Dimensions of Islam" (1975), "The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi" (1978), "Islam in the Indian Subcontinent" (1980), "As Through a Veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam" (1982), "And Muhammad Is His Messenger" (1985), "A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry" (1992) and "Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam" (1994).
Dr. Schimmel, whose autobiography was published in German in 2002, also was the author of a book on the role of cats in Islamic literature.
She was fluent not only in more than a half-dozen European languages, including English, German, Latin and ancient Greek, but also in Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, Dari, Punjabi and Sindhi.
Dr. Schimmel, a native of Erfurt, Germany, fell under the spell of the Middle East, its languages, its arts and especially its poetry, as a precocious girl. In 1941, she received a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Berlin, writing her dissertation on the history of Egypt's Mamluks. After working as a translator for the German Foreign Office during World War II, she received a second doctorate, in the history of religion, from the University of Marburg.
Dr. Schimmel taught at Marburg until 1954, when she went to Turkey, where she spent five years on the faculty of the University in Ankara, teaching religion and the Turkish language. She then taught at the University of Bonn before going to Harvard. Since returning to Germany in 1993, she had been an honorary professor of Islamic studies at Bonn.
Over the years, she had been showered with awards for her work, both by scholarly groups and by cultural and governmental groups in the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia. There was a widespread view that however immensely gifted she was in languages and literature, she was somewhat lacking in political judgment.
She seldom spoke out against extremist political movements in the Middle East, and she caused an uproar in the German media for critical comments about British author Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" that glossed over the Iranian government's call for Rushdie's death.
Dr. Schimmel, who always maintained that politics was not her field, did note that nothing in her studies of the Koran or other classic Islamic literature so much as allowed for what are called terrorist acts.
The BBC quoted her as saying that her lifelong intellectual goal was "to awake understanding for Islam," calling Islam "among the most misunderstood religions."