Ruhollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini founded the first modern Islamic republic

Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (آیت‌الله روح‌الله خمینی in Persian) (May 17, 1900 – June 3, 1989) 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. 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.

Life in exile

He was born in the town of Khomein as Ruhollah Mousavi (روح‌الله موسوی in Persian) in 1900. As a descendent of the prophet Muhammad, he was entitled to use the style Sayyid before his name. 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, 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 and 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

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

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. While freedom of speech and freedom of the press continued to be just as curtailed as it was under the Shah, the oppression by the "morality police" made life extremely difficult for those opposed to the veil (hijab). 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 allegations of systematic human rights abuses, 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 on Saturday, June 3, 1989. 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

Although considered a fundamentalist by the western countries, most Iranians believe that among Shia clerics, Khomeini was actually one of the reformists of his time. He made many reforms to the shia clerical ahkaam which were revolutionary in their own time, and many Iranian clerics were against him on those cases. His most famous fatwas are the ones allowing Muslims to play chess, allowing the Iranian Muslim TV to show women without hijaab, and allowing gender-change surgeries in hospitals (Iran has now become the only country in the region with the technology). It is even said that Khomeini was personally against the hijaab being compulsory in Iran, and it was done under the pressure of hard-liner pressure groups, some years after the 1979 revolution.

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.

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, 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, is a high-profile cleric, who is strongly against the system of the Islamic Republic. [1] After the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, he relocated to the holy city of Karbala.


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[1] After the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, he relocated to the holy city of Karbala. Khomeini's grandson, Hossein, is a high-profile cleric, who is strongly against the system of the Islamic Republic. 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. Ahmad, the younger son, died in 1995, under mysterious circumstances.

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

Such factors played an important part in the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who adheres closely to Khomeini, in the 2005 presidential elections. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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". 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).

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. 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. 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). 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.

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. 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. As such, he often advocated the banning of popular Western fashions, music, cinema, and literature. He viewed certain elements of Western culture as being inherently evil, and a corrupting influence upon the youth.

He was strongly against close relations with Western and East bloc nations, and believed that Iran should strive towards self-reliance. 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 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. 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.

It is even said that Khomeini was personally against the hijaab being compulsory in Iran, and it was done under the pressure of hard-liner pressure groups, some years after the 1979 revolution. His most famous fatwas are the ones allowing Muslims to play chess, allowing the Iranian Muslim TV to show women without hijaab, and allowing gender-change surgeries in hospitals (Iran has now become the only country in the region with the technology). He made many reforms to the shia clerical ahkaam which were revolutionary in their own time, and many Iranian clerics were against him on those cases. Although considered a fundamentalist by the western countries, most Iranians believe that among Shia clerics, Khomeini was actually one of the reformists of his time.

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. Khomeini's casket was made of steel, and it was surrounded by heavily armed security personnel. The second funeral was held under much tighter security. Over ten thousand people were said to have been injured.

At one point, Khomeini's body actually fell to the ground, as the crowd attempted to grab pieces of the shroud. 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. During the funeral, Tehran fell into chaos, requiring cancellation of the funeral, and new plans for a second funeral. After eleven days in a hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Khomeini died on Saturday, June 3, 1989.

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. Rushdie's book contains passages that some Muslims – including Ayatollah Khomeini – considered offensive to Islam and 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. 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.

In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, there were many allegations of systematic human rights abuses, including mass executions, and torture. 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. While freedom of speech and freedom of the press continued to be just as curtailed as it was under the Shah, the oppression by the "morality police" made life extremely difficult for those opposed to the veil (hijab). Under Khomeini's rule, Islamic law was instituted, with the Islamic dress code being strictly enforced for both men and women.

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. 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. 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. Shortly after taking power, Khomeini began calling for similar Islamic revolutions across the Middle East.

See also October Surprise.. Many commentators point to this failure as a major cause for Carter's loss in the following elections to Ronald Reagan. Some Iranians considered this to be a miracle. 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.

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. Supporters of Khomeini named the embassy a “Spy Den”, and fifty volumes of official and secret documents were gathered from it. 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. The remaining fifty men and two women were held for 444 days — an event usually referred to as the Iran hostage crisis.

Thirteen of the 66 hostages were released within two weeks, and one more in July 1980. Three additional hostages were taken at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. 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. On February 4, 1980 Abolhassan Banisadr was elected as the first president of Iran.

Khomeini himself became Supreme Leader for life, as "Leader of the Revolution". 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. Subsequent elections were held to approve of the newly-drafted constitution. Over 98% voted in favour of replacing the monarchy with an Islamic republic.

On March 30 and 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. Khomeini declared a provisional government, with Mehdi Bazargan as its prime minister, on February 11. Western media sources estimated that up to six million revolutionaries welcomed him. Only two weeks after the Shah left Iran on January 16, Khomeini returned to Iran, on Thursday, February 1, 1979, invited by the anti-Shah revolution which was already in progress.

Khomeini replaced the Shah's government with a religious system dominated by the clergy. 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. 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. This Faqih would have absolute authority, and could only be removed from power by that very same group of clerics.

Khomeini believed that the leader of an Islamic Republic should be a Faqih (Islamic Jurist), who should be selected by a group of clerics. 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). 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. 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.

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. In 1964 he was exiled from Iran for his constant criticisms of the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Khomeini was named an ayatollah in the 1950s. As a descendent of the prophet Muhammad, he was entitled to use the style Sayyid before his name.

He was born in the town of Khomein as Ruhollah Mousavi (روح‌الله موسوی in Persian) in 1900. . 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. In Iran, he is officially addressed as Imam rather than Ayatollah, and his supporters also adhere to this convention.

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. Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (آیت‌الله روح‌الله خمینی in Persian) (May 17, 1900 – June 3, 1989) 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.

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