Deciphering the Signs of God

A Phenomenological Approach to Islam

By Annemarie Schimmel

Subjects: Islam
Paperback : 9780791419823, 320 pages, September 1994
Hardcover : 9780791419816, 320 pages, September 1994

Table of contents

List of Abbreviations



I. Sacred Aspects of Nature and Culture

II. Sacred Space and Time

III. Sacred Action

IV. The Word and the Script

V. Individual and Society

VI. God and His Creation: Eschatology

VII. How to Approach Islam?




The Qur'an constantly exhorts people to 'look at the signs of god,' signs that are hidden 'in the horizons and in themselves. ' This book examines the mysteries of Islam using a phenomenological method to come closer to the true center of Muslim belief.

Schimmel takes as her starting point the simplest 'signs of god' — natural phenomena like stones, plants and animals, and their use in religious and symbolic language. She then moves on to less obvious signs, such as sacred time and space, ritual actions, forms of worship, the sacred individual, and the order of the community. She concludes with an examination of the individual's response to the mystery of the Divine. Based on both original classical sources and modern literature, as well as the author's considerable personal experience, this is not only a fascinating survey of Islamic practices and beliefs, but also a broad and intregrated overview of the phenomenology of Islam.

Annemarie Schimmel was for many years Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture at Harvard University. She is author of numerous works, including Islam: An Introduction; and The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi, both published by SUNY Press; and the editor of the SUNY Press series, Muslim Spirituality in South Asia. Among the more unusual honors that have been awarded to her are the naming of a boulevard in Lahore, Pakistan, after her and the Levi Della Vida Medal for outstanding contributions to Islamic studies presented by the University of California.


"This is one of Schimmel's most important books. It sums up a lifetime of scholarship on Islam and, more importantly, it puts her understanding of Islam into a phenomenological framework that will readily be appreciated by scholars and students of other religious traditions. It will be looked back upon as a landmark in bringing Islamic Studies into the mainstream of religious studies. "— William C. Chittick