Imam Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini – A brief biography
Today is the birth anniversary of the person who changed the destiny of not just Iran but also world Muslims by ushering in the Islamic Revolution and establishing the Islamic system of government. Following is a special feature on Imam Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (God bless his soul).
The story begins over a century ago, or 116 lunar years to be exact. On the 20th of Jamadi as-Sani, while festivities were in progress in the town of Khomein on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Hazrat Fatemah az-Zahra (peace upon her), the daughter of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). News reached the respected scholar of the town, Seyyed Mostafa Musavi Hindí of the birth of an exuberant baby boy to him. As his first name suggests, Seyyed Mostafa, was a descendant of the Prophet’s daughter, and was naturally pleased with the divine blessings granted to him that auspicious day. He offered thanks to the Almighty Creator and named the newborn bundle of energy, Ruhollah –literally ‘Spirit of God’, the Islamic epithet for Prophet Jesus (PuH). Little did Seyyed Mostafa think that the boy born to him that day was destined to earn immortal fame for ridding Iran of centuries of monarchical oppression and in the process resurrecting Islam and reviving for the benefit of humanity the enlightened path of the Prophet and his Infallible Ahl al-Bayt. The baby Ruhollah’s future greatness was beyond the ken of mortals that day, but for Divine Providence, it was already a matter decreed. He would one day, in the true steps of his great ancestress Hazrat Fatemah (SA) and her Household, stand up against tyranny and disbelief and show the path of liberation to oppressed mankind. He would be tested with imprisonment and exile and after proving his mettle, would establish the first ever Islamic state in Iran and the contemporary world.
The first calamity that the boy suffered was being deprived of the love of his father. He was barely five months old, when Seyyed Mostafa Hindí was martyred by a group of brigands for having opposed their lawless ways. Nonetheless, his brave-hearted mother and aunt took over his grooming and instilled in him all those qualities and iron-resolve which would endear him to people around the globe one day. At the age of sixteen, he lost both his mother and aunt in the course of a single year. However, elder brother Seyyid Morteza Pasandideh, took the young Ruhollah under his charge, and encouraged him in his religious studies. Over six decades later, after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Pasandideh would recall the piety and devotion of his younger brother, now known to the world as ‘Imam Khomeini’ to the world, following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. He said that it was a general consensus in Khomein in those days that a brilliant career awaited the dynamic lad. At the age of 19, Seyyed Ruhollah moved to Arak to study under Ayatollah Shaikh Abdul-Karim Araki, who was a student of Mírza Hassan Shirazi, the Ayatollah whose ruling against the tobacco concession to the British had shaken Qajarid Iran in 1897. The teenager from Khomein excelled as a bright student in all fields especially in Akhlaq or ethics, and Irfan or Gnosis. When Abdul-Karim Araki moved to Qom to reorganize the Howzah or theological seminary, Seyyed Ruhollah followed his teacher to the holy city which would one day propel him to world fame. Here he had the opportunity to study gnosis and philosophy under Ayatollah Mohammad Alí Shahabadi, and astronomy under Ali Akbar Yazdi. At the age of 27 the bright young scholar, now known as Hojjatol-Islam Khomeini, wrote the book Misbah al-Hidayah in Arabic on the topic of ethics. At 29 he wrote a commentary on the famous pre-dawn or Sahar Supplication of the fasting month of Ramadhan and soon established himself as a budding scholar with a series of books and treatises to his name. He consequently reached the level of ijtihad and started holding his own classes, which were attended by hundreds of students, at a time when the British agent, Reza Khan Pahlavi, was consolidating his power in Tehran as the new monarch after ending the Qajarid dynasty.
From his speeches and writings, we find that Imam Khomeini, in his youth, besides being a jurisprudent of repute, was a fearless protagonist of social rights. His piety and disciplined way of life made him shun the company of the shallow-minded and he devoted his time and energies in deep reflection of the socio-political realities. In fact, so disciplined was his life and so punctual was he, that according to his friends and family, time could be told without the need of a clock by his movements and actions. In 1943, he wrote his famous work Kashf al-Asrar, after the removal from power of Reza Khan, thereby revealing the first signs of his political acumen. He clearly saw that the Pahlavi dictator’s mortgaging of national prestige and natural resources to foreigners, his repression of the Iranian people and their traditional values, his forced unveiling of women in the name of progress and civilization, were part of an elaborate plot conceived by world imperialism to eliminate Islam as a social and political force. He wrote:
“All the orders issued by the bandit Reza Khan have no value. The laws passed by his parliament must be scrapped. All the idiotic words that have proceeded from the brain of that illiterate soldier are rotten and it is only the law of God that will remain and resist the ravages of time.”
In the meantime, after the British replaced Reza Khan with his son Mohammad Reza in 1941, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini maintained his upright opposition to the upstart Pahlavis. Throughout the 1950s, he led a quiet life of study, contemplation and teaching that would reflect on his future greatness. Things, however, took a sudden change in 1963, when Reza Shah emboldened by the death of the leading marja of the time, Ayatollah Seyyed Hussain Boroujerdí, launched his so-called white revolution, which was no more than a whitewash to conceal his destruction of the country’s socio-religious infrastructure in order to make Iran totally dependent on the US. Seyyed Ruhollah, who was now known as Ayatollah Khomeini, sensed the danger. He warned the nation against the sinister plot. Matters were now moving towards a showdown, and when the ulema forbade the festivities of Nowrouz that year because it concurred with the martyrdom anniversary of the Prophet’s 6th Infallible Heir, Imam Ja’far Sadeq (AS), the Shah felt enraged and ordered his infamous attack on Madrasah Faiziyyeh in Qom the very same day, which resulted in the killing and wounding of several ulema and religious students. Things moved at a rapid pace and on June 3, 1963, which happened to be the Day of Ashura, that is, Moharram 10, the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Husain (AS), Ayatollah Khomeini delivered his famous speech in Qom which sent shockwaves to the peacock throne in Tehran. He compared the Shah’s oppression of the people to the persecution of the Prophet’s clan, the Bani Hashem, by the Omayyad regime and bluntly told the monarch that the nation would throw him out if he continued his anti-Islamic measures in the service of the US and the illegal Zionist entity called Israel. The Shah ordered his security police to arrest him, an incident which sparked the 15th of Khordad or June 5 Uprising. He was detained for two months and upon his release he called on the people to boycott the mock elections to be organised by the monarchy in October 1963. He was imprisoned again and held until May 1964. In October 1964, when the Shah signed the bill which came to be known as the ‘Bill of Capitulation’, since it exempted American citizens from facing any legal measures even if they were to violate Iranian laws, Ayatollah Khomeini expressed his strong opposition to this humility of the nation, saying: “If the dog of an American was to bite the Shàh, the latter will have no recourse except in an American court of justice perhaps.”
He was immediately arrested by the regime and exiled to Bursa in Turkey, from where he soon moved to Iraq to take up abode in the blessed sanctuary of Najaf, near the shrine of the Commander of the Faithful, the Prophet’s divinely-designated vicegerent, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS). Here, the innate qualities of faith and resistance in this great Gnostic definitely got a new veneer and made him so absorbed in the path of the Ahl al-Bayt, that he considered the martyrdom of his elder son Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Khomeini in 1977 in Iraq at the hands of the Shah’s secret service SAVAK, as a matter decreed by Allah. The grateful nation of Iran conferred on him the title Imam or Leader, which should not be confused with the “Infallible Imams” of the Prophet’s Household who are divinely-designated. It is sufficient to say that from his sojourn in holy Najaf, Imam Khomeini ably directed the rising tide of the Islamic Revolution which first lapped Qom in January 1978 after the publishing of an insulting article by the regime against him in the Daily Ettela’at, and then engulfed all Iran. The revolutionary events in Iran cut both ways. Not even the Shah but the Ba’thist regime ruling over the Shi’a Muslim majority of Iraq began to feel horrified. On October 4, the Ba’thists put pressures on him to leave Iraq. He reluctantly left the vicinity of the Shrine of Imam Ali (AS) and drove towards Kuwait, but at the border, despite having a valid visa he was stopped from entering that Persian Gulf Shaikhdom.
Imam Khomeini was the least perturbed, and after obtaining a visit visa for France, left two days later for Paris on October 6. He gave a memorable speech before departure:
“Now, I have to leave the vicinity of Mowla Amír ol-Mo’minin because I am not able to serve you in Islamic countries O deprived nations which have been attacked by foreigners and their dependents… I am flying to France. A specific place is not important for me. What is more important is divine obligation and the interests of Islam and Muslims.”
His guidelines generated the Islamic Revolution, and in February 1979, after a brief three-month stay in Paris, he returned to Iran to found the Islamic Republic, on the basis of the dynamic concept of “Wilayat-e Faqih” or Governance of the Supreme Jurist in the absence of the Infallible Imam. This was indeed a unique phenomenon and the keys to the steadfastness and success of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the face of heavy odds. Imam Khomeini thus delivered the country, not just from domestic despotism but from foreign hegemony. It was his astute guidance that saved Islamic Iran from the intricate plots of the Great Satan, the US, including the 8-year war imposed by the American stooge Saddam. The rest of the events of the last ten years of his life, are well documented and too vivid in our memory to be repeated in this brief biographical sketch. The fact that the Islamic system of government that today is under the able leadership of his successor, Leader of Islamic Umamh and Oppressed People Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei, is further proof of the greatness and farsightedness of Imam Khomeini, who restored to women their denied rights.