Al-Mussavi Ruhollah Al-Khomeini

(b. 1902)

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(b. Khomein, Persia, 25 Sept. 1902; d. Tehran, 3 Jun. 1989)

Iranian; Leader-Guardian 1979–89 Khomeini was born a Sayeed (descendant of Prophet Mohammed), the son and grandson of mullahs. Educated at Qom's theological seminary, he became a distinguished religious scholar and mujtahid (authority on divine law), later teaching there. His first major work, published in 1941, was a factor in the murder of the anticlerical author, Kashravi, by an Islamist terrorist in 1945. Hojjatoleslam Khomeini led a delegation of mullahs to the Shah (Pahlavi) to ask for the terrorist's pardon. During the 1950s, Khomenei rose to the rank of Ayatollah. He had a large and devoted following, including Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Khamenei, Montazeri, and Motahari, which formed the Islamic revolutionary movement under his leadership. Khomeini launched their campaign against the Shah's regime in 1962 by assailing its new anti-Islamic electoral legislation. By now convinced that no compromise with the Shah was possible, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini publicly denounced him, attacked his ‘White Revolution’ for conflicting with Islamic values and issued a fatwa forbidding collaboration with his regime. He was arrested in the June riots of 1963, rearrested after anti-American agitation in 1964, then exiled for the next fifteen years.

By now Khomeini was a charismatic figure who used his period of exile to transform Shi'i Islam from quietism into an activist political movement, to devise a revolutionary system of Islamic government and launch a revolution to overthrow the Shah. Many militant followers recognized his charisma by calling him Imam Khomeini—suggesting a divinely guided, infallible leader—from 1970 onwards. In 1977, Khomeini issued a public fatwa ‘deposing’ the Shah and ‘abrogating’ the constitution. He also sent a secret message to Motahari and the radical mullahs ordering the revolution to begin. The first mass demonstration—the principal revolutionary tactic—took place at Qom in January 1978. Khomeini's expulsion to France in 1978 gave access to the world's media, which he skilfully manipulated to discredit the Shah and undermine the legitimacy of his regime. In January the Shah fled, Khomeini formed the Islamic Revolutionary Committee—the provisional government—and returned to Iran in February 1979. The system of Islamic government devised by Khomeini in 1969, and centred on the guardianship of the people by the just and pious jurisconsult in the absence of the occulted twelfth Imam, was established by the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran of 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini held this guardian-leadership, with its transnational applicability, throughout the war with Iraq until his death in 1989.

Subjects: Politics.

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