Imam Khomeini, we remember you
Without doubt Imam Khomeini was one of the brightest lights of Islam in the last one hundred years. Among other things it was he who slowed down the rapid spread of the cultural and psychological domination of the West among Muslims restoring self-respect in the minds of Muslims everywhere on the globe. To quote from the editorial of Washington Post following his death in 1989: “Khomeini taught us a few unpleasant lessons too. One is that the rigid right-left pattern that we superimpose on the politics of every country we behold around the world, does not fit some of them at all. Another lesson is that there are some political figures who stand well outside the reach of blandishments and pressures we have come to believe the leaders of all systems, however inimical to us, will respond to.”
Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire in early twentieth century and the repeated humiliation of Muslim armies in wars with Israel in mid twentieth century, the Islamic model was universal decline. The Western model was considered the only relevant one for progress. Many Muslims started having serious doubts in the Islamic model as a hope for the future, even though they considered it a good religious faith. It was Imam Khomeini who implored Muslims to reflect on the progressive nature of Islam and have faith in its re-emergence as a force in the future. He explained to them that the Islamic ideal is as compatible with science, technology, modernization and democracy as the Western model. He persuaded them to stop following the Western system blindly. He similarly demonstrated the hollowness of Communism.
At first blush the outside world perceived Imam Khomeini to be either a zealot or an ascetic. About a year after he assumed power in Iran it was widely believed that soon either the Communists or the military will push him and the clerics aside. For a man who had spent the last fifty years studying and teaching Islamic theology, Imam Khomeini turned out to be a shrewd, skilled and determined politician. First he neutralized the Western elements of the Iranian army, replacing them with nationalists. Next he persuaded the army to eliminate the God-less Communists.
In about four years the Islamic revolution gained complete control of Iran. The vast majority of Iranians returned to the Islamic way of life. People, who talk of the violence that occurred in the first year of the Islamic revolution in Iran, need to look at the French revolution, the Russian Bolshevic revolution and the Chinese revolution et al. A revolution that completely changes the direction of society and has a vast number of enemies is not a Sunday picnic.
On the balance though, Imam Khomeini can be credited with significant achievements in the remarkably short span of ten years that he was in command in Iran. Muslims in far flung countries, namely Russia, China, Britain, France, North America, Australia and African counties, reverted back to pride in their Islamic heritage and developed enough confidence to be proud of the Islamic philosophy. After almost a hundred years, the Western writers, intellectuals and leaders started paying serious attention to Islam.
Imam Khomeini achieved this universal acceptance of Islam not by rhetoric but by the actual practice of Islam’s progressive and egalitarian features. A few years after coming to power, he organized the elections of the Iranian parliament, which became the true governing body where all affairs of the state and policies are discussed publicly. The Friday prayers became another forum of public discourse on the policies of the state.
Despite his near hysterical popularity in Iran, he refused to rule and preferred be a guide to the government. He steadfastly refused to allow any member of his family to either join the government or the ruling clerics in a dominating role. He allowed equal opportunities to women to take part in Iran’s political and social life, encouraging them to speak out on issues. He especially asked the men in power to honor Islam’s concept of equality of genders.
Finally, in an act of statesmanship, he ordered the constitution of Iran, which he had himself prepared, to be reformed to allow a multiparty system and reduce the influence of the clergy. He even proclaimed that the leader of the nation should be well versed in politics, economics, jurisprudence and theology and not just a senior cleric. Yet, he refused to name a successor and asked his followers to choose one from among them. Imam Khomeini was a sort of Pope, a real leader that Muslims had not seen for a very long time. Like Lenin he represented something which would go very far and would have a very wide impact on the whole world.
The secret of Imam Khomeini’s charisma was his record of selfless struggle of the causes of downtrodden Muslims all over the world, be they African, or Middle Eastern or Asian or European. He had a clear vision of the Islamic ideal and what it can do for the dispossessed.