Rabu, 27 Agustus 2008

The Legend of Iran Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (September 24, 1902June 3, 1989) was an Iranian politician, scholar and religious figure, and the political leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (Persia). Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country's Supreme Leader—the paramount political figure of the new Islamic Republic until his death. Khomeini was a marja or marja al-taqlid, ("source of emulation"), providing religious leadership to many Twelver Shi'a Muslims, but is most famous for his political role. In his writings and preachings he expanded the Shi'a theory of velayat-e faqih, the "guardianship of the jurisconsult (clerical authority)" to include theocratic political rule by Islamic jurists and to provide the theological basis for his rule of Iran. Internationally he also made a great impact, and has been called "the virtual face of Islam in Western popular culture," during his reign as ruler of Iran. He was named Time's Man of the Year in 1979 and also one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Early life

A young Khomeini
A young Khomeini

Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini was born to Mustafa Musawi and Hajiyah Aga Khanum in the town of Khomein, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of Tehran, on September 24, 1902. Khomeini is called a sayyid as his family allegedly descends from the seventh of the Twelve Imams, Musa al-Kazim. Several of his close ancestors were dedicated to Islamic studies: his father and both of his grandfathers were all Shia clerics. Khomeini's paternal grandfather, Sayid Ahmad Musawi Hindi, spent many years in India before returning to Persia to purchase a home in Khomein that his family would own until the late twentieth century. Khomeini's father was murdered when he was still a baby. Popular myth insists Khomeini's father was killed by Reza Shah, however this Shah would not come to power for another twenty-five years. Many historians today believe his father may have been the victim of a local dispute.[10][11][12] Khomeini's mother and one of his aunts proceeded to raise him until 1918, when both of them died. Ruhollah Khomeini began to study the Qur'an, Islam's holiest book, and elementary Persian at age six. The following year, he began to attend a local school, where he learned math, science, geography, and other traditional subjects. Throughout his childhood, he would continue his religious and secular education with the assistance of his relatives, including his mother's cousin, Ja'far, and his elder brother, Morteza Pasandideh.

After World War I, arrangements were made for him to study at the Islamic seminary in Esfahan, but he was attracted instead to the seminary in Arak, under the leadership of Ayatollah Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi.[16] In 1920, Khomeini moved to Arak and commenced his studies.[17] The following year, Ayatollah Haeri Yazdi transferred the Islamic seminary to the holy city of Qom, southwest of Tehran, and invited his students to follow. Khomeini accepted the invitation, moved, and took up residence at the Dar al-Shafa school in Qom. Khomeini's studies included Islamic law (sharia) and jurisprudence (fiqh), but by that time, Khomeini had also acquired an interest in poetry and philosophy (irfan). So, upon arriving in Qom, Khomeini sought the guidance of Mirza Ali Akbar Yazdi, a scholar of philosophy and mysticism. Yazdi died in 1924, but Khomeini would continue to pursue his interest in philosophy with two other teachers, Javad Aqa Maleki Tabrizi and Rafi'i Qazvini. However, perhaps Khomeini's biggest influences were yet another teacher, Mirza Muhammad 'Ali Shahabadi, and a variety of historic Sufi mystics, including Mulla Sadra and Ibn Arabi.

Muslim scholar
Name: Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini
Title: Imam Khomeini
Birth: 24 September 1902
Death: June 3, 1989 (aged 86)
Region: Iran
Maddhab: Shia Islam
Main interests: Fiqh, Irfan, Islamic philosophy, Islamic ethics, Hadith, politics
Notable ideas: Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists, Dynamic Fiqh
Works: Islamic Government, Tahrir-ol-vasyleh, Forty Hadith, Adab as Salat
Influences: Mulla Sadra, Abdol-Karim Haeri-Yazdi, Hassan Modarres, Mohammad-Ali Shah Abadi
Influenced: Mohammad Beheshti, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Morteza Motahhari, Ali Khamenei, Akbar Hashemi, Fazel Lankarani

Ruhollah Khomeini was a lecturer at Najaf and Qum seminaries for decades before he was known in the political scene. He soon became a leading scholar of Shia Islam. He taught political philosophy, Islamic history and ethics. Several of his students (e.g. Morteza Motahhari) later became leading Islamic philosophers and also marja. As a scholar and teacher, Khomeini produced numerous writings on Islamic philosophy, law, and ethics. He showed an exceptional interest in subjects like philosophy and gnosticism that not only were usually absent from the curriculum of seminaries but were often an object of hostility and suspicion.

Political aspects

Khomeini studied not only traditional subjects like Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh al-shari`ah), and principles (usul), but also philosophy and ethics. His teaching often focused on the importance of religion to practical social and political issues of the day. He was the first Iranian cleric to try to refute the outspoken advocacy of secularism in the 1940s. His first book, Kashf al-Asrar (Uncovering of Secrets) published in 1942, was a point-by-point refutation of Asrar-e hazar salih (Secrets of a Thousand Years), a tract written by a disciple of Iran's leading anti-clerical historian, Ahmad Kasravi. In addition, he went from Qom to Tehran to listen to Ayatullah Hasan Mudarris- the leader of the opposition majority in Iran's parliament during 1920s. Khomeini became a marja in 1963, following the death of Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Husayn Borujerdi.

Khomeini held a moderate standpoint vis-à-vis Greek Philosophy and regarded Aristotle as the founder of logic. He was also influenced by Plato's philosophy. About Plato he said: "In the field of divinity, he has grave and solid views ...". On the other hand, Khomeini attacks the philosophy of Descartes and regards it as weak. Among Islamic philosophers, Khomeini was mainly influenced by Avicenna and Mulla Sadra.

Literature and Poetry

Apart from philosophy, Khomeini was also interested in literature and poetry. His poetry collection was released after his death. Beginning in his adolescent years, Khomeini composed mystic, political and social poetry.

"We" and "I" are both from reason That are used as ropes to bind
In mass of those who are drunk
Neither "I" is nor "We" to find

His poetry works were published in three collections The Confidant, The Decanter of Love and Turning Point and Divan.


After Khomeini began to achieve fame as the leader of the revolution, his religious writings, such as Resaleh Towzih al-Masa'el and Tahrir al-Vasileh, were examined critically by opponents who raised questions about their legalistic and hypothetical nature, especially the number of questions dealing with aberrant sex, bestiality, incest, defecation and urination. After mocking a fatwa by Khomeini dealing with "the problem of sex with chickens" and who may consume a sodomized chicken, author Azar Nafisi complained that "what was disturbing was that these texts were taken seriously by people who ruled us and in whose hand lay our fate and the fate of our country."

Early political activity

At the age of 61, Khomeini found the arena of leadership open following the deaths of Ayatollah Sayyed Husayn Borujerdi (1961), the leading, although quiescent, Shiite religious leader; and Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani (1962), an activist cleric. The clerical class had been on the defensive ever since the 1920s when the secular, anti-clerical modernizer Reza Shah Pahlavi rose to power. The "White Revolution" of Reza's son Muhammad Reza Shah, was a further challenge to the ulama.

Opposition to the White Revolution

In January 1963, the Shah announced the "White Revolution," a six-point program of reform calling for land reform, nationalization of the forests, the sale of state-owned enterprises to private interests, electoral changes to enfranchise women and allow non-Muslims to hold office, profit-sharing in industry, and a literacy campaign in the nation's schools. Some of these initiatives were regarded as dangerous, Westernizing trends by traditionalists, especially by the powerful and privileged Shiite ulama (religious scholars).

Khomeini and his son Mustafa
Khomeini and his son Mustafa

Ayatollah Khomeini summoned a meeting of the other senior marjas of Qom and persuaded them to decree a boycott of the referendum on the White Revolution. On January 22, 1963 Khomeini issued a strongly worded declaration denouncing the Shah and his plans. Two days later the Shah took an armored column to Qom, and delivered a speech harshly attacking the ulama as a class.

Khomeini continued his denunciation of the Shah's programs, issuing a manifesto that bore the signatures of eight other senior Iranian Shia religious scholars. In it he listed the various ways in which the Shah had allegedly violated the constitution, condemned the spread of moral corruption in the country, and accused the Shah of submission to America and Israel. He also decreed that the Nowruz celebrations for the Iranian year 1342 (which fell on March 21, 1963) be canceled as a sign of protest against government policies.

On the afternoon of 'Ashura (June 3, 1963), Khomeini delivered a speech at the Feyziyeh madrasah drawing parallels between the infamous tyrant Yazid and the Shah, denouncing the Shah as a "wretched, miserable man," and warning him that if he did not change his ways the day would come when the people would offer up thanks for his departure from the country.

On June 5, 1963, (15 of Khordad), two days after this public denunciation of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Khomeini was arrested. This sparked three days of major riots throughout Iran and led to the deaths of some 400. That event is now referred to as the Movement of 15 Khordad. Khomeini was kept under house arrest for 8 months and released in 1964.


to capitulation

During November 1964, Khomeini denounced both the Shah and the United States, this time in response to the "capitulations" or diplomatic immunity granted by the Shah to American military personnel in Iran. The famous "capitulation" law (or "status-of-forces agreement") would allow members of the U.S. armed forces in Iran to be tried in their own military courts. Khomeini was arrested in November 1964 and held for half a year. Upon his release, he was brought before Prime Minister Hasan Ali Mansur, who tried to convince Khomeini that he should apologize and drop his opposition to the government. Khomeini refused. In fury, Mansur slapped Khomeini's face. Two weeks later, Mansur was assassinated on his way to parliament. Four members of the Fadayan-e Islam were later executed for the murder.

Advisers to the Shah recommended executing the ayatollah perhaps, an accidental death. The Shah refused and sent Khomeini into exile to Iraq. "Former royalist officials now living in London, Paris and Los Angeles still grumble about the decision not to kill Khomeini in 1964."

Life in exile

Khomeini in his Exile
Khomeini in his Exile
Khomeini at Neauphle-le-Chateau
Khomeini at Neauphle-le-Chateau

Khomeini spent more than 14 years in exile, mostly in the holy Shia city of Najaf, Iraq. Initially he was sent to Turkey on 4 November 1964 where he stayed in the city of Bursa for less than a year. He was hosted by a colonel in Turkish Military Intelligence named Ali Cetiner in his own residence, who couldn't find another accommodation alternative for his stay at the time. Later in October 1965 he was allowed to move to Najaf, Iraq, where he stayed until being forced to leave in 1978, after then-Vice President Saddam Hussein forced him out (the two countries would fight a bitter eight year war 1980-1988 only a year after the two reached power in 1979) after which he went to Neauphle-le-Château in France on a tourist visa, apparently not seeking political asylum, where he stayed for four months. According to Alexandre de Marenches, chief of External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service (now known as the DGSE), France would have suggested to the shah to "organize a fatal accident for Khomeini"; the shah declined the assassination offer, as that would have made Khomeini a martyr.

By the late 1960s, Khomeini was a marja-e taqlid (model for imitation) for "hundreds of thousands" of Shia, one of six or so models in the Shia world.

While in the 1940s Khomeini accepted the idea of a limited monarchy under the Iranian Constitution of 1906-1907 — as evidenced by his book Kashf al-Asrar — by the 1970s he rejected the idea.

In early 1970, Khomeini gave a series of lectures in Najaf on Islamic government, later published as a book titled variously Islamic Government or Islamic Government: Authority of the Jurist (Hokumat-e Islami: Velayat-e faqih).

This was his most famous and influential work, and laid out his ideas on governance (at that time):

  • That the laws of society should be made up only of the laws of God (Sharia), which cover "all human affairs" and "provide instruction and establish norms" for every "topic" in "human life."
  • Since Shariah, or Islamic law, is the proper law, those holding government posts should have knowledge of Sharia. Since Islamic jurists or faqih have studied and are the most knowledgeable in Sharia, the country's ruler should be a faqih who "surpasses all others in knowledge" of Islamic law and justice, (known as a marja`), as well as having intelligence and administrative ability. Rule by monarchs and/or assemblies of "those claiming to be representatives of the majority of the people" (i.e. elected parliaments and legislatures) has been proclaimed "wrong" by Islam.
  • This system of clerical rule is necessary to prevent injustice, corruption, oppression by the powerful over the poor and weak, innovation and deviation of Islam and Sharia law; and also to destroy anti-Islamic influence and conspiracies by non-Muslim foreign powers.

A modified form of this wilayat al-faqih system was adopted after Khomeini and his followers took power, and Khomeini was the Islamic Republic's first "Guardian" or Supreme Leader.

Khomeini in Turkey where it is prohibited to wear a religious turban in government institutions
Khomeini in Turkey where it is prohibited to wear a religious turban in government institutions

In the meantime, however, Khomeini was careful not to publicize his ideas for clerical rule outside of his Islamic network of opposition to the Shah which he worked to build and strengthen over the next decade. Cassette copies of his lectures fiercely denouncing the Shah as (for example) "... the Jewish agent, the American snake whose head must be smashed with a stone", became common items in the markets of Iran, helped to demythologize the power and dignity of the Shah and his reign. Aware of the importance of broadening his base, Khomeini reached out to Islamic reformist and secular enemies of the Shah, despite his long-term ideological incompatibility with them.

After the 1977 death of Dr. Ali Shariati (an Islamic reformist and political revolutionary author/academic/philosopher who greatly popularized the Islamic revival among young educated Iranians), Khomeini became the most influential leader of the opposition to the Shah. He was perceived by many Iranians as the spiritual, if not political, leader of revolt. Adding to his mystique was the circulation among Iranians in the 1970s of "an old Shia saying attributed to the Imam Musa al-Jafar." Prior to his death in 799, al-Jafar was said to have prophesied that `A man will come out from Qom and he will summon people to the right path. There will rally to him people resembling pieces of iron, not to be shaken by violent winds, unsparing and relying on God.` Khomeini was said to match this description.

As protest grew so did his profile and importance. Although thousands of kilometers away from Iran in Paris, Khomeini set the course of the revolution, urging Iranians not to compromise and ordering work stoppages against the regime. During the last few months of his exile, Khomeini received a constant stream of reporters, supporters, and notables, eager to hear the spiritual leader of the revolution.

Supreme leader of Islamic Republic of Iran

Return to Iran

Arrival of Khomeini on February 1, 1979 When asked about his feelings of returning from exile in the plane, he responded none
Arrival of Khomeini on February 1, 1979 When asked about his feelings of returning from exile in the plane, he responded none
Main article: Iranian Revolution

Khomeini had refused to return to Iran until the Shah left. On January 16, 1979, the Shah did leave the country (ostensibly "on vacation"), never to return. Two weeks later, on Thursday, February 1, 1979, Khomeini returned in triumph to Iran, welcomed by a joyous crowd estimated at at least six million by ABC News reporter Peter Jennings, who was reporting the event from Tehran.

On the airplane on his way to Iran, Khomeini was asked by reporter Peter Jennings: "What do you feel in returning to Iran?" Khomeini answered "Hichi" (nothing) . This statement was considered reflective of his mystical or puritanical belief that Dar al-Islam, rather than the motherland, was what mattered, and also a warning to Iranians who hoped he would be a "mainstream nationalist leader" that they were in for disappointment.

Khomeini adamantly opposed the provisional government of Shapour Bakhtiar, promising "I shall kick their teeth in. I appoint the government. I appoint the government by support of this nation."` On February 11 [(Bahman 22)], Khomeini appointed his own competing interim prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, demanding, "since I have appointed him, he must be obeyed." It was "God's government," he warned, disobedience against which was a "revolt against God."

Establishment of new government

As Khomeini's movement gained momentum soldiers began to defect to his side, and Khomeini declared jihad on soldiers who did not surrender. On February 11 [(Bahman 22)], as revolt spread and armories were taken over, the military declared neutrality and the Bakhtiar regime collapsed. On March 30, 1979, and March 31, 1979, a referendum to replace the monarchy with an Islamic Republic passed with 98% voting yes (sic).

Islamic constitution and its opposition

Although revolutionaries were now in charge and Khomeini was their leader, many revolutionaries, both secular and religious, did not approve of or were unaware of Khomeini's plan for Islamic government by wilayat al-faqih, which involved rule by a marja` Islamic cleric -- i.e., by him. Nor did the new provisional constitution for the Islamic Republic, which revolutionaries had been working on with Khomeini's approval, include the post of supreme Islamic clerical ruler. At the same time, as the undisputed leader of the revolution with enormous mass support, Khomeini had considerable leeway to change the direction of the revolution. In the coming months, Khomeini and his supporters worked to suppress these former allies now becoming opponents, and rewrite the proposed constitution. Newspapers were closed, and those protesting the closings were attacked. Opposition groups such as the National Democratic Front and Muslim People's Republican Party were attacked and finally banned. Through a combination of popular support and questionable balloting pro-Khomeini candidates gained an overwhelming majority of the seats of the Assembly of Experts which revised the proposed constitution. The new constitution included an Islamic jurist Supreme Leader of the country, and a Council of Guardians to veto un-Islamic legislation and screen candidates for office, disqualifying those found un-Islamic.

In November 1979 the new constitution of the Islamic Republic was passed by referendum. Khomeini himself became instituted as the Supreme Leader (supreme jurist ruler), and officially decreed as the "Leader of the Revolution." On February 4, 1980, Abolhassan Banisadr was elected as the first president of Iran. Helping pass the controversial constitution was the Iran hostage crisis.

Hostage crisis

Main article: Iran hostage crisis

On 22 October 1979, the Shah was admitted into the United States for medical treatment for lymphoma. There was an immediate outcry in Iran and on November 4, 1979, a group of students, all of whom were ardent followers of Khomeini, seized the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 63 Americans hostage. After a judicious delay, Khomeini supported the hostage-takers with the slogan "America can't do a damn thing against us." 53 of the hostages were held prisoner 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 American refusal to hand over the Shah for trial and execution. On February 23, 1980, Khomeini proclaimed Iran's Majlis would decide the fate of the American embassy hostages, and demanded that the United States hand over the Shah for trial in Iran for crimes against the nation. Although the Shah died less than a year later, the crisis continued. Supporters of Khomeini named the embassy a "Den of Espionage", and publicized the weapons, electronic listening devices, other equipment and many volumes of official and secret classified documents they found there. Others explain the length of the imprisonment on what Khomeini is reported to have told his president: "This action has many benefits. ... This has united our people. Our opponents do not dare act against us. We can put the constitution to the people's vote without difficulty, and carry out presidential and parliamentary elections." The new theocratic constitution did successfully pass its referendum one month after the hostage-taking, which did succeed in splitting its opposition -- radicals supporting the hostage taking and moderates opposing it.

Relationship with other Islamic and non-aligned countries

Khomeini believed in Muslim unity and solidarity and the export of Islamic revolution throughout the world. "Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution." He declared the birth week of Muhammad (the week between 12th to 17th of Rabi' al-awwal) as the Unity week. Then he declared the last Friday of Ramadan as International Day of Quds in 1979.

Despite his devotion to Islam, Khomeini also emphasized international revolutionary solidarity, expressing support for the PLO, the IRA, Cuba, and the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

Iran–Iraq War

Main article: Iran–Iraq War

Shortly after assuming power, Khomeini began calling for Islamic revolutions across the Muslim world, including Iran's Arab neighbor Iraq, the one large state besides Iran with a Shia majority population. At the same time Saddam Hussein, Iraq's secular Arab nationalist Ba'athist leader, was eager to take advantage of Iran's weakened military and (what he assumed was) revolutionary chaos, and in particular to occupy Iran's adjacent oil-rich province of Khuzestan, and, of course, to undermine Iranian Islamic revolutionary attempts to incite the Shi'a majority of his country.

With what many Iranians believe was the encouragement of the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries, Iraq soon launched a full scale invasion of Iran, starting what would become the eight-year-long Iran–Iraq War (September 1980 - August 1988). A combination of fierce resistance by Iranians and military incompetence by Iraqi forces soon stalled the Iraqi advance and by early 1982 Iran regained almost all the territory lost to the invasion. The invasion rallied Iranians behind the new regime, enhancing Khomeini's stature and allowed him to consolidate and stabilize his leadership. After this reversal, Khomeini refused an Iraqi offer of a truce, instead demanding reparation and toppling of Saddam Hussein from power.

Outside powers supplied arms to both sides during the war, but the West wanted to be sure the Islamic revolution did not spread to other parts of the oil-exporting Persian Gulf and began to supply Iraq with whatever help it needed. Most military sales came from the USSR and the USA, and also from France, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Most rulers of other Muslim countries also supported Iraq out of opposition to the Islamic ideology of Islamic Republic of Iran, which threatened their own native monarchies. On the other hand most Islamic parties and organizations supported Islamic unity with Iran, especially the Shiite ones.[citation needed]

The war continued for another six years, with 450,000 to 950,000 casualties on the Iranian side and at a cost estimated by Iranian officials to total USD $300 billion.

As the costs of the eight-year war mounted, Khomeini, in his words, “drank the cup of poison” and accepted a truce mediated by the United Nations. He strongly denied however that pursuit of overthrow of Saddam had been a mistake. In a `Letter to Clergy` he wrote: `... we do not repent, nor are we sorry for even a single moment for our performance during the war. Have we forgotten that we fought to fulfill our religious duty and that the result is a marginal issue?`

As the war ended, the struggles among the clergy resumed and Khomeini’s health began to decline.

Rushdie fatwa

In early 1989, Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, an India-born British author. Khomeini claimed that Rushdie's assassination was a religious duty for Muslims because of his alleged blasphemy against Muhammad in his novel, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988. Rushdie's book contains passages that many Muslims – including Ayatollah Khomeini – considered offensive to Islam and the prophet, but the fatwa has also been attacked for violating the rules of fiqh by not allowing the accused an opportunity to defend himself, and because "even the most rigorous and extreme of the classical jurist only require a Muslim to kill anyone who insults the Prophet in his hearing and in his presence."

Though Rushdie publicly apologized, the fatwa was not revoked. Khomeini explained,

Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell.

Rushdie himself was not killed but Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the book The Satanic Verses, was murdered and two other translators of the book survived attempted assassinations More of Khomeini's fatwa were compiled in The Little Green Book, Sayings of Ayathollah Khomeini, Political, Philosophical, Social and Religious.

Life under Khomeini

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Shi'a Islam


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In a speech given to a huge crowd after returning to Iran from exile February 1, 1979, Khomeini made a variety of promises to Iranians for his coming Islamic regime: A popularly elected government that would represent the people of Iran and with which the clergy would not interfere. He promised that “no one should remain homeless in this country,” and that Iranians would have free telephone, heating, electricity, bus services and free oil at their doorstep. While many changes came to Iran under Khomeini, these promises have yet to be fulfilled in the Islamic Republic.

Khomeini was more interested in the religious devotion of Muslims than their material prosperity -- six months after his first speech he expressed exasperation with complaints about the sharp drop in Iran's standard of living: `I cannot believe that the purpose of all these sacrifices was to have less expensive melons`

Under Khomeini's rule, Sharia (Islamic law) was introduced, with the Islamic dress code enforced for both men and women by Islamic Revolutionary Guards and other Islamic groups Women were required to cover their hair, and men were not allowed to wear shorts. The Iranian educational curriculum was Islamized at all levels with the Islamic Cultural Revolution; the "Committee for Islamization of Universities" carried this out thoroughly.

Suppression of enemies and opposition

Opposition to the religious rule of the clergy or Islamic government in general was often met with harsh punishments. In a talk at the Fayzieah School in Qom, August 30, 1979, Khomeini warned opponents: "Those who are trying to bring corruption and destruction to our country in the name of democracy will be oppressed. They are worse than Bani-Ghorizeh Jews, and they must be hanged. We will oppress them by God's order and God's call to prayer."

The Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his family left Iran and escaped harm, but hundreds of former members of the overthrown monarchy and military met their end in firing squads, with critics complaining of "secrecy, vagueness of the charges, the absence of defense lawyers or juries", or the opportunity of the accused "to defend themselves." In later years these were followed in larger numbers by the erstwhile revolutionary allies of Khomeini's movement -- Marxists and socialists, mostly university students -- who opposed the theocratic regime.

In the 1988 massacre of Iranian prisoners, following the People's Mujahedin of Iran operation Forough-e Javidan against the Islamic Republic, Khomeini issued an order to judicial officials to judge every Iranian political prisoner and kill those who would not repent anti-regime activities. Estimates of the number executed vary from 1,400 to 30,000.

Although many hoped the revolution would bring freedom of speech and press, this was not to be. In defending forced closing of opposition newspapers and attacks on opposition protesters by club-wielding vigilantes, Khomeini explained, `The club of the pen and the club of the tongue is the worst of clubs, whose corruption is a 100 times greater than other clubs.`

Minority religions

Life for religious minorities has been mixed under Khomeini and his successors. Earlier statements by Khomeini were antagonistic towards Jews, but shortly after his return from exile in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering that Jews and other minorities (except Baha'is) be treated well. In power, Khomeini distinguished between Zionism as a secular political party that enjoys Jewish symbols and ideals and Judaism as the religion of Moses. As Haroun Yashyaei, a film producer and former chairman of the Central Jewish Community in Iran has said:

Take it from me, the Jewish community here faces no difficulties. If some people left after the revolution, maybe it's because they were scared.

By law, four of the 270 seats in parliament are reserved for three non-Islamic minority religions. Khomeini also called for unity between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims (Sunni Muslims are the largest religious minority in Iran).

Non-Muslim religious minorities, however, do not have equal rights in Khomeini's Islamic Republic. Senior government posts are reserved for Muslims. Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian schools must be run by Muslim principals. Compensation for death paid to the family of a non-Muslim was (by law) less than if the victim was a Muslim. Conversion to Islam is encouraged by entitling converts to inherit the entire share of their parents (or even uncle's) estate if their siblings (or cousins) remain non-Muslim. Iran's non-Muslim population has fallen dramatically. For example, the Jewish population in Iran dropped from 80,000 to 30,000 in the first two decades of the revolution.

Unlike the other non-Muslims in Iran, the 300,000 members of the Bahá'í Faith, are actively harassed. "Some 200 of whom have been executed and the rest forced to convert or subjected to the most horrendous disabilities." Starting in late 1979 the new government systematically targeted the leadership of the Bahá'í community by focusing on the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) and Local Spiritual Assemblies (LSAs); prominent members of NSAs and LSAs were either killed or disappeared. Like most conservative Muslims, Khomeini believed them to be apostates, for example issuing a fatwa stating:

It is not acceptable that a tributary [non-Muslim who pays tribute] changes his religion to another religion not recognized by the followers of the previous religion. For example, from the Jews who become Bahai's nothing is accepted except Islam or execution.

and emphasized that the Bahá'ís would not receive any religious rights, since he believed that the Bahá'ís were a political rather than religious movement.

the Baha'is are not a sect but a party, which was previously supported by Britain and now the United States. The Baha'is are also spies just like the Tudeh [Communist Party].

During the drafting of the new constitution the wording intentionally excluded the Bahá'ís from protection as a religious minority.

Emigration and economy

Many Shia Iranians have also left the country. While the revolution has made Iran more strict Islamically, an estimated "two to four million entrepreneurs, professionals, technicians, and skilled craftspeople (and their capital)" have emigrated to other countries. Partly as a result, the economy has not prospered in terms of inflation, unemployment and living standards. The poor have also exhibited dissatisfaction. Absolute poverty rose by nearly 45% during the first 6 years of the Islamic revolution and on several occasions the mustazafin have rioted, protesting the demolition of their shantytowns and rising food prices. Disabled war veterans have demonstrated against mismanagement of the Foundation of the Disinherited.

Death and funeral

Mausoleum of Khomeini in Tehran
Mausoleum of Khomeini in Tehran

After eleven days in a hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Khomeini died of a heart attack on Saturday, June 3, 1989, at the age of 86. Iranians poured out into the cities and streets to mourn Khomeini's death in a "completely spontaneous and unorchestrated outpouring of grief."

Despite the hundred-degree heat, crushing mobs created an impassable sea of black for miles as they wailed, chanted and rhythmically beat themselves in anguish ... As the hours passed, fire trucks had to be brought in to spray water on the crowd to provide relief from the heat, while helicopters were flown in to ferry the eight killed and more than four hundred injured ... "

It was the biggest funeral in recorded history, eleven million people attended it. Iranian officials aborted Khomeini’s first funeral, after a large crowd stormed the funeral procession, nearly destroying Khomeini's wooden coffin in order to get a last glimpse of his body. At one point, Khomeini's body actually almost fell to the ground, as the crowd attempted to grab pieces of the death shroud. The second funeral was held under much tighter security. Khomeini's casket was made of steel, and heavily armed security personnel surrounded it. In accordance with Islamic tradition, the casket was only to carry the body to the burial site. Khomeini's grave is now housed within a larger mausoleum complex.


Grand Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, a major figure of the Revolution, was designated by Khomeini to be his successor as Supreme Leader. The principle of velayat-e faqih and the Islamic constitution called for the Supreme Ruler to be a marja or grand ayatollah, and of the dozen or so grand ayatollahs living in 1981 only Montazeri accepted the concept of rule by Islamic jurist. In 1989 Montazeri began to call for liberalization, freedom for political parties. Following the execution of thousands of political prisoners by the Islamic government, Montazeri told Khomeini `your prisons are far worse than those of the Shah and his SAVAK.` After a letter of his complaints was leaked to Europe and broadcast on the BBC a furious Khomeini ousted him from his position as official successor.

Writers in the West report that the amendment made to Iran's constitution removing the requirement that the Supreme Leader to be a Marja, was to deal with the problem of a lack of any remaining Grand Ayatollahs willing to accept "velayat-e faqih." However, others say the reason marjas were not elected was because of their lack of votes in the Assembly of Experts, for example Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Golpaygani had the backing of only 13 members of the assembly. Furthermore, there were other marjas present who accepted "velayat-e faqih" Grand Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri continued his criticism of the regime and in 1997 was put under house arrest for questioning the unaccountable rule exercised by the supreme leader. He was released in 2003.

Political thought and legacy

See also: History of political Islam in Iran

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Throughout his many writings and speeches, Khomeini's views on governance evolved. Originally declaring rule by monarchs or others permissible so long as sharia law was followed Khomeini later adamantly opposed monarchy, arguing that only rule by a leading Islamic jurist (a marja`), would insure Sharia was properly followed (wilayat al-faqih), before finally insisting the ruling jurist need not be a leading one and Sharia rule could be overruled by that jurist if necessary to serve the interests of Islam and the "divine government" of the Islamic state.

Khomeini's concept of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (ولایت فقیه, velayat-e faqih) did not win the support of the leading Iranian Shi'i clergy of the time. Towards the 1979 Revolution, many clerics gradually became disillusioned with the rule of the Shah, although none came around to supporting Khomeini's vision of a theocratic Islamic Republic.

Whether Khomeini's ideas are compatible with democracy and whether he intended the Islamic Republic to be a democratic republic is disputed. According to the state-run Aftab News, both ultraconservative (Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi) and reformist opponents of the regime (Akbar Ganji and Abdolkarim Soroush) believe he did not, while regime officials and supporters like Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Khatami and Mortaza Motahhari believe Khomeini intended the Islamic republic to be democratic and that it is so. Khomeini himself also made statements at different times indicating both support and opposition to democracy.

One scholar, Shaul Bakhash, explains this disagreement as coming from Khomeini's belief that the huge turnout of Iranians in anti-Shah demonstrations during the revolution constituted a `referendum` in favor of an Islamic republic. Khomeini also wrote that since Muslims must support a government based on Islamic law, Sharia-based government will always have more popular support in Muslim countries than any government based on elected representatives.

Khomeini offered himself as a "champion of Islamic revival" and unity, emphasising issues Muslims agreed upon - the fight against zionism and imperialism - and downplaying Shia issues that would divide Shia from Sunni. Khomeini strongly opposed close relations with neither Eastern or Western Bloc nations, believing the Islamic world should be its own bloc, or rather converge into a single unified power. He viewed Western culture as being inherently decadent and a corrupting influence upon the youth. The Islamic Republic banned or discouraged popular Western fashions, music, cinema, and literature. In the Western world it is said "his glowering visage became the virtual face of Islam in Western popular culture" and "inculcated fear and distrust towards Islam." This has particularly been the case in the United States where Khomeini and the Islamic Republic are remembered for the American embassy hostage taking and accused of sponsoring hostage-taking and terrorist attacks, and which continues to apply economic sanctions against Iran.

Before taking power Khomeini expressed support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "We would like to act according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We would like to be free. We would like independence." However once in power Khomeini took a firm line against dissent, warning opponents of theocracy for example: "I repeat for the last time: abstain from holding meetings, from blathering, from publishing protests. Otherwise I will break your teeth."

Many of Khomeini's political and religious ideas were considered to be progressive and reformist by leftist intellectuals and activists prior to the Revolution. However, once in power his ideas often clashed with those of modernist or secular Iranian intellectuals. This conflict came to a head during the writing of the Islamic constitution when many newspapers were closed by the government. Khomeini angrily told the intellectuals:

Yes, we are reactionaries, and you are enlightened intellectuals: You intellectuals do not want us to go back 1400 years. You, who want freedom, freedom for everything, the freedom of parties, you who want all the freedoms, you intellectuals: freedom that will corrupt our youth, freedom that will pave the way for the oppressor, freedom that will drag our nation to the bottom.

In contrast to his alienation from Iranian intellectuals, and "in an utter departure from all other Islamist movements," Khomeini embraced international revolution and Third World solidarity, giving it "precedence over Muslim fraternity. From the time Khomeini's supporters gained control of the media until his death, the Iranian media "devoted extensive coverage to non-Muslim revolutionary movements (from the Sandinistas to the African National Congress and the Irish Republican Army) and downplayed the role of the Islamic movements considered conservative, such as the Afghan mujahidin."

Appearance, habits

Khomeini is described as "slim," but athletic and "heavily boned." He was "fairly tall by the Iranian standards of his day", at a height of 1.76 meters (5 ft 9 in). He was known for his punctuality:

He's so punctual that if he doesn't turn up for lunch at exactly ten past everyone will get worried, because his work is regulated in such a way that he turned up for lunch at exactly that time every day. He goes to bed exactly on time. He eats exactly on time. And he wakes up exactly on time. He changes his frock every time he comes back from the mosque.

and for his aloof and stern demeanor. He is said to have "variously inspired admiration, awe, and fear from those around him." His practice of moving "through the halls of the madresehs never smiling at anybody or anything. ... his practice of ignoring his audience while he thought, contributed to his charisma." He preached that "there are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam." And emphasized the serious nature of life: "Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer."

Khomeini adhered to traditional beliefs of Islamic cleanliness holding that non-Moslems - like urine, excrement, blood, wine, sweat of the excrement-eating camels, etc. - were one of eleven impure things contact with which required major ritual washing or Ghusl before prayer or salah. He is reported to have refused to eat or drink in a restaurant unless he knew for sure the waiter was a Muslim.


Even more famous was his mystique. He benefited from the widespread circulation of "an old Shia saying" attributed to the Imam Musa al-Kazim who is said to have prophesied shortly before his death in 799 that

`A man will come out from Qom and he will summon people to the right path. There will rally to him people resembling pieces of iron, not to be shaken by violent winds, unsparing and relying on God.`

Khomeini was the first and only Iranian cleric to be addressed as "Imam", a title hitherto reserved in Iran for the twelve infallible leaders of the early Shi'a. He was also associated with the Mahdi or 12th Imam of Shia belief in a number of ways. One of his titles was Na'eb-e Imam (Deputy to the [Twelfth Imam). His enemies were often attacked as taghut and mofsidin fi'l-arz (corrupters of the earth), religious terms used for enemies of the Twelfth Imam. Many of the officials of the overthrown Shah's government executed by Revolutionary Courts were convicted of "fighting against the Twelfth Imam". When a deputy in the majlis asked Khomeini if he was the `promised Mahdi`, Khomeini did not answer, "astutely" neither confirming nor denying the title.

Before the revolution, in late 1978, a rumour swept the country that Khomeini's face could be seen in the full moon.

Tears of joy were shed and huge quantities of sweets and fruits were consumed as millions of people jumped for joy, shouting `I've seen the Imam in the moon.` The event was celebrated in thousands of mosques with mullahs reminding the faithful that a sure sign of the coming of the Mahdi was that the sun would rise in the West. Khomeini, representing the sun, was now in France and his face was shining in the moon like a sun. People were ready to swear on the Qur'an that they had seen Khomeini's face in the moon. Even the Tudeh Party [the party of "Scientific Socialism"] shared in the [enthusiasm]. Its paper Navid wrote: `Our toiling masses, fighting against world-devouring imperialism headed by the blood-sucking United States, have seen the face of their beloved Imam and leader, Khomeini the Breaker of Idols, in the moon. A few pipsqueaks cannot deny what a whole nation has seen with its own eyes.`

As the revolution gained momentum, even some non-supporters exhibited awe, called him "magnificently clear-minded, single-minded and unswerving." His image was as "absolute, wise, and indispensable leader of the nation"

The Imam, it was generally believed, had shown by his uncanny sweep to power, that he knew how to act in ways which others could not begin to understand. His timing was extraordinary, and his insight into the motivation of others, those around him as well as his enemies, could not be explained as ordinary knowledge. This emergent belief in Khomeini as a divinely guided figure was carefully fostered by the clerics who supported him and spoke up for him in front of the people.

Even many secularists who firmly disapproved of his policies were said to feel the power of his "messianic" appeal. Comparing him to a father figure who retains the enduring loyalty even of children he disapproves of, journalist Afshin Molavi writes of the defenses of Khomeini he's "heard in the most unlikely settings":

A whiskey-drinking professor told an American journalist that Khomeini brought pride back to Iranians. A women's rights activist told me that Khomeini was not the problem; it was his conservative allies who had directed him wrongly. A nationalist war veteran, who held Iran's ruling clerics in contempt, carried with him a picture of `the Imam`.

Another journalist tells the story of an Iranian, who following bitter criticism of the regime in which he tells her he wants his son to leave the country and "repeatedly made the point that life had been better" under the Shah, turns "ashen faced" and speechless upon hearing the 85+-year-old Imam might be dying, pronouncing `this is terrible for my country.`

Family and descendants

Khomeini with grandson Hussein Khomeini and granddaughter Zahra Eshraghi.
Khomeini with grandson Hussein Khomeini and granddaughter Zahra Eshraghi.

In 1929, (some say 1931) Khomeini married Batoul Saqafi Khomeini, the 11-year-old daughter of a cleric in Tehran. By all acounts their marriage was harmonious and happy. 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, Mustafa, is rumored to have been murdered in 1977 while in exile with his father in Najaf, Iraq and Khomeini accused SAVAK of orchestrating it.

Khomeini's notable grandchildren include:

  • Husain Khomeini, (Sayid Husain Khomeini) Khomeini's other grandson, son of Sayid Mustafa Khomeini, is a mid-level cleric who is strongly against the system of the Islamic Republic. In 2003 he was quoted as saying:
Iranians need freedom now, and if they can only achieve it with American interference I think they would welcome it. As an Iranian, I would welcome it.

In that same year Husain Khomeini visited the United States, where he met figures such as Reza Pahlavi II, the son of the last Shah.

Later that year, Husain returned to Iran after receiving an urgent message from his grandmother. According to Michael Ledeen, quoting "family sources", he was blackmailed into returning.

In 2006, he called for an American invasion and overthrow of the Islamic Republic, telling Al-Arabiyah television station viewers, "If you were a prisoner, what would you do? I want someone to break the prison [doors open].". Another of Khomeini's grandchildren, Ali Eshraghi, was disqualified from the 2008 parliamentary elections on grounds of being insufficiently loyal to the principles of the Islamic revolution, but later reinstated.

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