In my view we have yet to explore and discover the great spiritual and intellectual dimensions that lie in the political thought and Ijtihad of the late Imam Khomeini, may Allah’s mercy be upon him. I would go so far as to suggest that perhaps a whole new research institute should be established dedicated to research and writing on the contribution of Imam Khomeini. But over the years I have learned that it is futile to make any suggestions to our Iranian brothers. Their standard answer is ‘we are already doing that’ or ‘we have already done it.’ In all cases almost invariably they have neither done it nor do they have any intention of doing it.
In the meantime we must press ahead with our task of spreading the message of the Imam to the entire Ummah. The area in which the Imam has made his greatest contribution is in our understanding of the processes of history. The Imam himself was a product of certain trends in history that began a long time ago. With the help of some Shi’i scholars I was recently able to trace the origins of Imam Khomeini’s thought to Allama Hilli (Jamaluddin Abu Mansur Hasan ibn Yusuf, d 1325 CE). The doors of ijtihad that were opened up by the usuli ulama only 200 years ago enabled Imam Khomeini to establish an Islamic State in 1979.
Imam Khomeini clearly realized that theology was getting in the way of history. He set about to redress the balance between history and theology. In Islamic literature of all schools of thought, history and theology had got mixed. Muslims had developed the almost fatal habit of writing history as theology. The two had to be separated, specially in the Shi’i school of thought where the absence of the Twelfth Imam had been used as an excuse for opting out of the historical process. In a sense all ijtihad by the usuli ulama over 200 years was concerned with defreezing history out of the freezer of theology. Imam Khomeini arrived on the scene at a time when history was ready for a final assault on its wayward ways.
Imam Khomeini took the bull of history and calmly led it out of the paddock of theology. The Imam’s last testament (wassiyah) is a masterpiece of restatement of his own position within the Shi`i school of thought, and a masterpiece of his statement on the arena of history which unites all schools of thought in Islam. Imam Khomeini treated history as an impartial factor in the progress of time. Theological purity was no guarantee to historical progress. History is intolerant of all degrees of perversion of the truth. Truth is also a historical reality, not only an abstract spiritual statement. A failure to compare actual facts with the promised and desired goals leads to erosion of morality and false claims to success and supremacy. History is contemptuous of those who indulge in this type of self-deception. A great deal of behaviour of the modern Islamic politicians is of this kind. Bureaucracies do almost nothing but indulge in self justification and self preservation. With the passage of time history develops a profile of deviation and half-truths and converts them into hard facts.
Imam Khomeini understood these inalienable characteristics of history on the widest possible canvas of time. But even in this short period since the Islamic Revolution this pattern of historical development can be traced and understood. The election of Bani Sadr to the presidency, the conduct of the war, the role of the liberals, the bureaucratic logjam and inefficiency, the episode of Ayatullah Montezari’s nomination and denomination, the failures of foreign policy...are all examples of history taking its revenge. Any attempt to hide behind theology, or to rewrite theology to fit uncomfortable facts, will be the shortest route to destroying the legacy of Imam Khomeini.
When in 1988 Imam Khomeini had to accept a ceasefire in the war with Iraq, he called it a ‘cup of poison,’ but he did not defend the decision in terms of theology. This was his unique taqwa. The courage to take responsibility for one’s own actions is, or must be, part of taqwa. For me, Imam Khomeini has changed the whole concept of taqwa. It is taqwa that is the essential quality of leadership, State and politics. This must mean that competence is part of taqwa. An incompetent man can also be muttaqi, provided he knows the limits of his competence. But to attempt or insist on performing a role above one’s competence is the opposite of taqwa; the person concerned may be a small official or a mujahid or even a marja’. On these issues Imam Khomeini was clear and made no compromises.
Imam Khomeini also realized that the processes of history must unite the Ummah. Anything that divides the Ummah or is an obstacle to unity could not be desirable in Islam. He found and defined the common ground on which the Ummah could stand, specially in the global struggle with the powers and agents of kufr. Many of his speeches and his annual messages to the pilgrims were designed to achieve this goal. He saw Hajj as the obvious arena for the exposure of nifaq in the Ummah. For him Hajj as worship (‘ibadah) was not enough; Hajj was the ultimate expression of the power of Islam. This is why he made Hajj and the liberation of Al-Quds central to his thinking. These are issues on which the Islamic State cannot negotiate in the diplomatic arena. These are not subjects for diplomacy. Imam Khomeini restored jihad to the top of the agenda of the Ummah.
In short, Imam Khomeini was an ocean of new insights into Islam in its totality. Any attempt to limit him and his relevance to Iran, or one school of thought in Islam, would be a great injustice to him, to Islam and perhaps also to Iran.
This was written in 1990 by the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, founder-leader of Britain’s The Muslim Parliament. It is republished here in conjunction with the 7th Anniversary of the passing away of Imam Khomeini on June 3, 1989.
Ijtihad: Independent legal judgement on issues not settled in the Qur’an or by the precept, the example and saying of the Prophet.
Ummah: The world community of Muslims.
Usuli: One who follow the usuli school of thought among Shi`i Muslims.
Ulama: Scholars of Islam
Taqwa: Faith in God, commitment
Muttaqi: one committed to the path of God
Mujahid: one who takes part in Jihad (see Jihad)
Marja’: a ‘Grand Ayatullah’ who is considered worthy of emulation
Kufr: Rejection of belief in God
Nifaq: hypocrisy, disimmulation or dissemblance
Jihad: any kind of struggle to promote or defend Islam or Muslims
Muslimedia: April 1996-August 1996