Ruhollah Khomeini

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Ayatollah Khomeini founded the Islamic republic of Iran
Ayatollah Khomeini founded the Islamic republic of Iran

Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (آیت‌الله روح‌الله خمینی in Persian) was an Iranian Shi'a Muslim cleric, and the political and spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Khomeini was considered a spiritual leader to many Shi'a Muslims, and ruled Iran from the Shah's overthrow to Khomeini's own death in 1989, as a dictator, however with undeniable charismatic appeal to many. In Iran, he is officially addressed as Imam rather than Ayatollah, and his supporters also adhere to this convention. Khomeini is considered by many as one of the most influential men of the 20th century, and was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1979.

During his reign, however, Khomeini was responsible for the death of thousands of opponents, especially a large number of political prisoners who were executed (widely believed, at his orders) in summer 1988. He was also, by appointing the hardline cleric Khalkhali as revolutionary judge in 1979, responsible for the execution of hundreds of government officials and military officers of the Pahlavi era without a fair trial.


Life in exile

He was born in the town of Khomein as Ruhollah Mousavi (روح‌الله موسوی in Persian) on May 17, 1900. As a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, he was entitled to use the title Sayyid before his name. His ancestors were Persians who had settled in Lucknow, India hundreds of years ago to administer religious education to the large Shia population there. His grandfather returned to Iran during the mid-19th century by chance while on a pilgramage to Najaf. His middle name, as a result, was "Hendi" or the Indian. This fact was sometimes used against him by his opponents. Khomeini was named an ayatollah in the 1950s. In 1964 he was exiled from Iran for his constant criticisms of the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was sent initially to Turkey, before later being allowed to move to Iraq, where he stayed until being forced to leave in 1978, after which he went to Neauphle-le-Château in France. According to Alexandre de Marenches (then head of the French secret services), France suggested to the Shah that they could "arrange for Khomeini to have a lethal accident"; the Shah declined the assassination offer, arguing that this would make him a martyr. After the murder of Ali Shariati, a prominent revolutionary philosopher, Khomeini became one of the most influential opponents to the rule of the Shah, being perceived as the spiritual leader of those fighting his rule. During his exile, Khomeini wrote a book titled Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists, which laid out his beliefs as such: that all laws in an Islamic society should be based on the laws of Islam, all laws and activities should be monitored by clerical authorities on Islamic law (guardians), there should be no monarch (that Islamic countries should become republics and not monarchies). Khomeini believed that the leader of an Islamic Republic should be a Faqih (Islamic Jurist), who should be selected by a group of clerics. This Faqih would have absolute authority, and could only be removed from power by that very same group of clerics. Though the public cannot vote for the Faqih, according to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a group of clerics called the Assembly of Experts is voted in by the citizens of Iran every eight years, and they select the Faqih. The leader of Iran is usually addressed as the "Supreme Leader". The book provides an insight on the eventual political background of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Khomeini replaced the Shah's government with a religious system dominated by the clergy.

Return to Iran

Only two weeks after the Shah left Iran on January 16, 1979, Khomeini returned to Iran, on Thursday, February 1, 1979, invited by the anti-Shah revolution which was already in progress. Western media sources estimated that up to six million revolutionaries welcomed him. Khomeini declared a provisional government, with Mehdi Bazargan as its prime minister, on February 11. On March 30, 1979, and March 31, 1979, the provisional government asked all Iranians sixteen years of age and older to vote in a referendum on the question of accepting an Islamic Republic as the new form of government. Over 98% voted in favour of replacing the monarchy with an Islamic republic. Subsequent elections were held to approve of the newly-drafted constitution. Along with the position of the Supreme Leader, the constitution also requires that a president be elected every four years, but only those candidates approved indirectly by the Council of Guardians may run for the office. Khomeini himself became Supreme Leader for life, as "Leader of the Revolution". On February 4, 1980, Abolhassan Banisadr was elected as the first president of Iran.

Hostage crisis

Main article: Iran hostage crisis

On November 4, 1979, a group of students, all of whom were ardent followers of Khomeini, raided the United States embassy in Tehran, and took as hostage 63 American citizens. Three additional hostages were taken at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Thirteen of the 66 hostages were released within two weeks, and one more in July 1980. The remaining fifty men and two women were held for 444 days — an event usually referred to as the Iran hostage crisis. The hostage-takers justified this violation of long-established international law as a reaction to the American refusal to hand over the Shah for trial. Supporters of Khomeini named the embassy a "Spy Den", and fifty volumes of official and secret documents were gathered from it. Khomeini stated on February 23, 1980, that Iran's Parliament would decide the fate of the American embassy hostages, demanding that the United States hand over the Shah for trial in Iran. President Jimmy Carter launched a commando mission to rescue the hostages, but the attempt was thwarted when the helicopters failed under unexpected desert conditions in Tabas. Some Iranians considered this to be a miracle. Many commentators point to this failure as a major cause for Carter's loss in the following elections to Ronald Reagan. See also October Surprise.

Iran-Iraq war

Main article: Iran-Iraq war

Shortly after taking power, Khomeini began calling for similar Islamic revolutions across the Middle East. Led by Saddam Hussein, the secular republic of Iraq, ambitious to occupy its oil-rich neighbor (particularly Khuzestan province) and believing Iran to be weakened and in a state of turmoil, invaded Iran, starting what would become the decade-long Iran-Iraq war. The Iraqi invasion of Iran, supported by the United States to contain the ideological spread of Islamic revolution in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, ironically enhanced Khomeini's stature and allowed him to consolidate and stabilize his leadership. During the war, the people of Iran rallied around Khomeini and his regime, and his personal popularity and power became unmatched, as Khomeini urged Iranians to fight for their country and religion, against secular Iraq.

Life under Khomeini

Under Khomeini's rule, Islamic law was instituted, with the Islamic dress code being strictly enforced for both men and women as was required by Islamic Law. Many opponents left due to their dislike of the political situation after the Revolution and its changes. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press were strict and often checked although permitted, as long as it did not contradict the laws that were enforced after the revolution, also called the Shariah. This however resulted in many newspapers and other media outlets having to shut down. Khomeini became the center of a large personality cult, and opposition to the religious rule of the clergy or Islam in general was often met with harsh punishments. In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, there were many systematic human rights violations, including mass executions, and torture.

In early 1989, Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie, claiming that Rushdie's murder was a religious duty for Muslims, because of Rushdie's alleged blasphemy against Muhammad. The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's novel which examines the integration of Indian characters into modern Western culture, implies that the Qur'an was not properly preserved. Rushdie's book contains passages that some Muslims – including Ayatollah Khomeini – considered offensive to Islam and Muhammad. The issuance of the fatwa caused many Westerners, particularly those on the left who had generally been in favor of the Revolution against the Shah, to reconsider their support of Khomeini.

Death and funeral

After eleven days in a hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Khomeini died of cancer on Saturday, June 3, 1989 at the age of 89. During the funeral, Tehran fell into chaos, requiring cancellation of the funeral, and new plans for a second funeral. Khomeini's first funeral was aborted by Iranian officials, after a large mob stormed the funeral procession, nearly destroying Khomeini's wooden coffin in order to get a glimpse of his body. At one point, Khomeini's body actually fell to the ground, as the crowd attempted to grab pieces of the shroud. Over ten thousand people were said to have been injured.

The second funeral was held under much tighter security. Khomeini's casket was made of steel, and it was surrounded by heavily armed security personnel. It was said that a crowd of more than nine million supporters of Khomeini gathered around the burial location, which itself was not supposed to have been revealed at the time.

Political thought and legacy

Throughout his many writings and speeches, Khomeini consistently promoted his vision of a technocratic Islamic society, guided by the morality and ethics of the clergy. He believed in a free market economy, with respect for private ownership, and that businesses and corporations should be encouraged to contribute to religious charitable foundations which would benefit the poor. He advised against allowing wealthy individuals to participate in the government, and that politicians should follow his example and live a modest, frugal lifestyle, devoid of elitism and excess.

He was strongly against close relations with Western and East bloc nations, and believed that Iran should strive towards self-reliance. He viewed certain elements of Western culture as being inherently evil, and a corrupting influence upon the youth. As such, he often advocated the banning of popular Western fashions, music, cinema, and literature. His ultimate vision was for Islamic nations to converge together into a single unified power, in order to avoid alignment with either side (the West or the East), and he believed that this would happen at some point in the near future.

Khomeini's ideas did not originally find favor amongst the orthodox Iranian Shi'a clergy of the time, most of whom did not oppose the monarchy. While such clerics generally adhered to widely-accepted conservative theological schools of thought, Khomeini believed that interpretations should change and evolve, even if such changes were to radically differ from tradition, and that a cleric should be moved by divinely inspired guidance. In contrast with clerical mores of the day, he led an ascetic lifestyle, being deeply interested in Sufism, and was against the accumulation of land and wealth by the clergy (despite the fact that land reform had been a major cause of the mullahs' anger against the Shah). Towards the 1979 Revolution, many clerics gradually became disillusioned with the rule of the Shah, and began supporting Khomeini's vision of an Islamic Republic.

While Khomeini had never been a major figure amongst leftist intellectuals and activists prior to the Revolution, many of his political and religious ideas were considered by them to be progressive and reformist. However, they did not support many of his other views which conflicted with their own, in particular those that dealt with issues of secularism, women's rights, freedom of religion, and the concept of velayat-e-faqih (Guardianship of the Clergy).

Many of the democratic and social reforms that he had promised did not come to pass during his lifetime, and when faced with such criticism, Khomeini often stated that the Islamic Revolution would not be complete until Iran becomes a truly Islamic nation in every aspect, and that democracy and freedom would then come about "as a natural result of such a transformation". Khomeini's definition of democracy existed within an Islamic framework, his reasoning being that since Islam is the religion of the majority, anything that contradicted Islam would consequently be against democratic rule. His last will and testament largely focuses on this line of thought, encouraging both the general Iranian populace, the lower economic classes in particular, and the clergy to maintain their commitment to fulfilling Islamic revolutionary ideals.

Some centrist and reformist politicians, such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, have instituted or advocated policies which have led to conflicts with the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Judiciary, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. While the hard-line Iranians consider these policies as being opposed to Khomeini's principles, the reformers, especially Mohammad Khatami, claim that they are in exact accordance with Khomeini's style, referring to his constant warnings against extremism, and his views about freedom of speech.

These policies have been viewed by some as having alienated the lower economic classes, allowing wealthy elites to dominate the government, promoting closer relations with the West, and potentially disconnecting Khomeini from the future evolution of the Islamic Republic. Such factors played an important part in the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who adheres closely to Khomeini, in the 2005 presidential elections. In all Khomeini is said to be the author of 180 minor and major books. He is often quoted as the greatest scholar of modern day Islamic world, and his teachings are taught in both Shia and Sunni universities. On 15th April 1985 Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Saudi King Shah Fahad held a televised press conference during which it was alledged that Khomeini plaigerised sections of Fataw-e-Alamgiri, the work of 17th century legendary Sunni muslim leader Aurangzeb Alamgir, in his book Tareekh-e-karbala. The Iranian government dissmissed the charge as a "Zionist conspiracy".

Family and descendants

In 1929, Khomeini married the daughter of a cleric in Tehran. They had seven children, though only five survived infancy. His daughters all married into either merchant or clerical families, and both his sons entered into religious life. The elder son, Mostafa, died in 1977 while in exile with his father in Najaf, Iraq. Ahmad Khomeini, the younger son, died in 1995, under mysterious circumstances.

Khomeini's granddaughter, Zahra Eshraghi, is married to Mohammad Reza Khatami, head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the main reformist party in the country, and is considered a pro-reform character herself.

Khomeini's grandson, Hossein Khomeini, is a middle level cleric, who is sympathetic to American neoconservative and pro-Israel interests (he has lectured at the American Enterprise Institute) and strongly against the system of the Islamic Republic (see [[1]]).

After the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, Hossein relocated to the holy city of Karbala. He reportedly returned to Iran when his grandmother told him that if he stopped disgracing the family his safety would be guaranteed in Iran.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Some books by and on Ayatollah Khomeini [in PDF]:

Preceded by:
Persian Shah
Supreme Leader of Iran
Succeeded by:
Ali Khamenei
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