Éva de Vitray-Meyerovitch, “Hawwa Hanim” (1909-1999), Rûmî’s ‎French interpreter.‎

(Istanbul – Konya Symposium on Rûmî – May 2007)‎
To the French audience, Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch’s name will remain ‎for ever associated to Rûmî’s name.‎ Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch was born in 1909 in an aristocratic and very ‎pious French Christian family. During her strict childhood in France, Eva began ‎challenging the assumptions of her surroundings, and questioning received ideas ‎at her parochial Catholic grade school where passive submission was often ‎expected. She admired her Scottish Protestant grandmother for her puritan ‎honesty, her insistence on telling the truth despite the difficulties that might ‎entail. This grandmother converted to Roman Catholicism to marry her husband. ‎Her granddaughter was in a way to follow in her footsteps. Eva did not hesitate, ‎for example, to marry a Frenchman of Russian Jewish origin, because she was ‎aware of the underlying spiritual connections between the religions. After her ‎marriage to this Mr. Meyerovitch, she had to escape from Paris occupied by the ‎Nazi troops, in 1940. ‎ After the war, in the early 1950s, her life as a director of research was ‎changed abruptly by the gift from a former Indian classmate, who returned to ‎France from Pakistan. This gift was a book by Mohammad Iqbal, the famous ‎twentieth-century Islamic philosopher and poet, and this book was the nice The ‎Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Iqbal’s prose combined lucidity ‎and ecstasy, touching the heart of this intellectual and sensitive woman. In this ‎book, Iqbal was quoting a lot Rumi. Eva got immediately fascinated by this ‎great soul. So she threw herself into translating Iqbal’s The Reconstruction of ‎Religious Thought in Islam from English into French, and then she plunged into ‎studying Persian language in order to be able to read Rûmî’s works in their ‎original language. At first, she didn’t know that she was to devote her life to his ‎works… ‎
When she discovered Iqbal and Rumi, Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch was, as ‎a true disciple, ready to receive their teachings. Actually, she has got a keen ‎mind well formed by years studying a lot of matters. She has been studying ‎Christian theology at the prestigious French Sorbonne for three years, Greek ‎philosophy (her PhD or doctoral thesis was on Plato) and Greek ancient ‎language, Latin language, history, law and psychiatry. Her interest in different ‎areas of the science, her interdisciplinarity and her way of dealing with various ‎subjects was just fascinating.‎
Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch was a person absorbed by the inner quest for ‎reality, and what is noteworthy in her itinerary is that her personal life and ‎commitment were strongly linked with her intellectual investigations. They were ‎directly inscribed into their logic. Of course, Rûmî became her spiritual mentor, ‎just as if he took her hand and led her to the Muslim path. So she converted to ‎Islam and until her death she used to fervently practice all the Islamic pillars and ‎also Sufism. ‎ She could easily have remained what she already was, a Roman Catholic ‎scholar fond of Islamic mysticism. Her world, however, has been chocked by ‎the Algerian struggle for independence. In Algeria, a minority of European ‎colonizers denied the nationality of the overwhelmingly Muslim population, ‎claiming the entire country was an integral part of France.‎ After her husband’s death, Eva chose the difficult path of becoming ‎Muslim, siding with a civilization many of her compatriots considered inferior. ‎She stood up for what she knew to be a far more demanding journey. She did ‎not reject Judaism or Christianity, the roots of her own cultural frame of ‎reference, but she found in Islam a path that encompassed these traditions. She ‎entered Islam without renouncing or denying anything of her past, and she said ‎that when she discovered Islam it was like “a return to her homeland” ‎ ‎. So she ‎experienced personally Islam as Dîn al-Fitra, the religion of the pure and ‎original nature of mankind. In a similar way, another great French Sufi, the ‎metaphysician writer René Guénon (d. 1951), said he could not be converted to ‎anything, because Islam should be assumed as an evidence and as a reminder of ‎the previous revelations. As for Eva, we must add that her transition from ‎Christianity to Islam should be understood by the prominent role granted to ‎Jesus in the Islamic tradition and especially in Sufism ‎ ‎. Her Islamic name was, ‎as expected, Hawwa, which is the exact translation of her Christian name.‎ By her conversion, Eva paid the price of rejection within her own society, ‎by many friends, colleagues and family. She also had to deal with qualified ‎acceptance by the community she chose to embrace, by those who treat the ‎convert as lesser in stature, knowledge and authenticity. ‎
Moved by tenacious enthusiasm for the beauty of Rumi’s work, Eva de ‎Vitray-Meyerovitch studied and translated into French his major books. Sufism ‎has found its widest introduction in contemporary western society via Rumi’s ‎spontaneous teachings. Many modern writers and translators have succeeded to ‎convey the depth and scope of his insight, and the intensity of his love for God ‎and for humanity, to those who do not have the good fortune to be able to read ‎his words in Persian. Coleman Barks’ contemporary English renderings, Eva’s ‎translations into French, Annemarie Schimmel’s work in German, and the efforts ‎of many others, popular and academic, have made his inspiration accessible to ‎millions. Now in France, Leili Anvar-Chenderoff comes to us with new ‎translations of the poems of Rumi ‎ ‎.‎ Eva had about thirty books about Sufism and Rumi to her credit when she ‎started translating the 50,000 verses of the Mathnawi into French, which ‎required from her some ten years of a persevering work ‎ ‎. “I have been working ‎so much !”, she said after the publication of this monument of 1100 pages. Her ‎last book was on Prayer in Islam ; she dictated it because she was too weak to ‎write it ‎ ‎. She also wrote an important and noticing book about Rumi’s town, ‎Kunya, where she came a lot of times. This shows that for Eva, Turkey became ‎her second homeland. Turkish authorities even used to qualify her of ‘Citizen of ‎Honour’, and she received the title of “Doctor Honoris Causa” from Selçuk ‎University for the invaluable services she rendered to Rumi and Turkish culture. ‎In Islam, l’autre visage, book which took the form of an interview, Eva says that ‎she felt at home neither in Paris nor nowhere else, but only in Turkey, and ‎especially in Kunya ‎ ‎. The English translation of this book is to be soon ‎published by Fons Vitae in the USA with this title : Towards the Heart of Islam : ‎A Woman’s Approach ‎ ‎.‎ ‎ Eva also lived in Egypt for six years, teaching philosophy at al-Azhar ‎University as a representative of the CNRS, the French Scientific Research ‎Center, and I personally got in touch in Cairo with her friends. She also travelled ‎all over the world for giving many lectures on Islam and Sufism.‎ In Islam, l’autre visage, or Towards the Heart of Islam : A Woman’s ‎Approach, Eva de Vitray makes us feel the internal connections which appear in ‎spiritual life, through many anecdotes from her pilgrimage to Mecca, teaching ‎at al-Azhar in Cairo, praying with a group of men in Algeria who fought to win ‎their independence from her country, and through some relevant verses of Rumi. ‎She also tells us how she devoted most of her life to explaining Rumi’s thought ‎and translating his works. For her, the transmission of his universal message was ‎truly urgent ‎ ‎.‎ Through the centuries, Rumi has been the real spiritual master of Eva ‎ ‎, ‎but she took the Sufi initiation path from the Moroccan shaykh Hamza ‎Butchichi, who is still alive. The first time he received her, he said : “Rumi is ‎here !”, showing with his finger the place of his heart, and Eva collapsed into ‎tears. Eva was also very linked with Khaled Bentounes, the shaykh of the tarîqa ‎‎‘Alawiyya, who, as Rumi, emphasizes on universal love ‎ ‎. Living in France, he ‎was closer to her from the cultural point of view. After I became Muslim in ‎‎1984, I asked Eva’s advice about choosing an initiation Sufi path (tarîqa), and ‎she sent me firstly to the ‘Alawiyya in Paris.‎ Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch is among the few persons who lived with such ‎a happiness between the East and the West, and who have been bridges between ‎both cultures. We can quote among others Najm ed-din Bammate, Martin ‎Lings, S.H. Nasr, Anne-Marie Schimmel, and some great orientalists like Louis ‎Massignon or Henry Corbin who have been pioneers in the encounter between ‎Islam and the West. The books and articles that Eva produced are our shared ‎heritage today. She is well known especially in French-speaking countries. Her ‎path, a woman’s journey to the heart, reflects the epic hero’s travel to distant ‎lands, facing challenges from within and from without. “From her struggles, she ‎brought back to us gifts of insight, treasures from the East, for a world in sore ‎need of mutual respect and understanding. Her life of surrender to a higher ‎purpose is a testimony of determination to transcend the fear of that which is ‎different, in order to discover the encompassing love that connects us in all our ‎rich diversity ‎ ‎”. Eva died in Paris on the 24 of July 1999.‎

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