by Editor (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 4, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1443)
The demise of American exceptionalism and unipolarity and the emergence of a multipolar world are the direct result of the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran. The movement was led by Imam Khomeini whose death anniversary is being marked this month. It was on June 3, 1989 that the Imam passed away after a brief illness. He had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his stomach but did not recover.
His death was marked by intense emotional scenes in Tehran when more than 10 million people converged on the Iranian capital to pay homage to their great leader. Never before had such massive turnout been witnessed in Iran’s history. The crowds surpassed even those that had welcomed the Imam on February 1, 1979 when he returned from 14-year exile. The authorities had to ask the people from outlying areas not to come to Tehran because there was no more room to accommodate them.
What was Imam Khomeini’s contribution and how did he succeed where other Islamic leaders, among them Ustadh Hassan al Banna and Maulana Maududi failed? The Imam had to overcome challenges at multiple levels. First, he had to bring about a radical change in Shi‘a theology through his ijtihad regarding the necessity of the Islamic government (Hukumat-e Islami) in the absence of the Twelfth Imam.
The traditional Shi‘a theological view dominant for more than 1300 years posited that the ulama should not participate in politics or governance until the re-emergence of the Twelfth Imam. Many traditional Shi‘a ulama and other traditionists still cling to this view.
The second challenge was to correctly analyze the imposed global order. Despite his traditional education, the Imam correctly diagnosed what afflicted the world: imperialism and zionism. Both were dominant in Iran as well as the rest of the world. Many Muslim rulers have still not broken the chains of mental slavery even today. Pakistani politicians and generals offer a ready example.
The third challenge the Imam faced was to mobilize the masses in Iran. Given the widespread oppression unleashed by the US-backed Shah regime, it was not easy. People were terrified. Those who spoke out against the terror unleashed by Savak, the Shah’s secret service, paid a heavy price. Tens of thousands of people, many of them ulama, languished in Iran’s notorious prisons suffering brutal torture. It was difficult to determine who was more fortunate: those that survived or died under torture thereby ending their horrific ordeal.
Despite living in exile, the Imam was able to mobilize the Iranian masses to defy the Shah’s illegitimate rule. The simple cassette played a major role in communicating the Imam’s message to the masses (remember, the age of the Internet had not arrived yet). A large number of young ulama, most of them students of the Imam, were instrumental in mobilizing the masses through the vast network of mosques.
The year 1978 was marked as the year of the revolution. While the masses offered immense sacrifices against the Shah’s brutal army, the Imam’s clarity of thought ensured that the movement would not be ambushed along the way. When the Islamic movement in Iran gained momentum, the Shah and his courtiers proposed that the Shah was prepared to become a constitutional monarch. Some of Imam Khomeini’s followers were prepared to accept this proposal. The Imam rejected it outright saying that nothing short of the Shah’s removal from power and the dismantlement of the old order was acceptable.
It is such clarity of thought that distinguishes great leaders from mediocres. There was another point about the Imam that distinguished him from other leaders of the past: the Imam did not occupy any of the palaces of the Shah. Instead, he went to live in the humble house he had in Qum before he was exiled in 1964. When his health deteriorated and he had to move to Tehran, he rented a very humble house there.
The masses in Iran saw in the Imam a true leader who was concerned about their well-being and not someone who used his power to enrich himself. His humble lifestyle endeared him to the masses as well as inspired people worldwide.
It was the Imam’s clear understanding of the nature of imperialism and zionism that stands out so brilliantly. He had no illusions about the evil nature of the twin systems that spared no effort to exploit other people. It may be asked: why the Imam was so concerned about zionism when Iran shares no border with Israel and it does not occupy any of its territory?
The Imam’s opposition to zionism can only be understood properly if we realize that he was not concerned only about Iran but the entire Muslim Ummah. The occupation Masjid al Aqsa and the holy land of Palestine deeply troubled him. That explains why in August 1979, he declared that the last Friday of Ramadan should be observed as Quds day to draw attention to the illegal occupation of Masjid al Aqsa (the first Qibla of Muslims) in Al-Quds/Jerusalem. Today, millions of Muslims and fair-minded non-Muslims worldwide participate in Quds day rallies in almost all major cities of the world.
The Imam constantly emphasized the importance of Masjid al Aqsa and its liberation as a sacred duty. Towards this end, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made enormous sacrifices to fulfill this noble mission. The emergence of such Islamic resistance movements as Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine and Ansar-Allah in Yemen as well as Iraq and Syria are the direct result of Iran’s efforts.
The emergence of this bloc, referred to as the ‘Resistance Front’ has given enormous confidence to these movements. It has brought the day of the liberation of Al-Quds closer, in sha Allah. The Imam may have joined heavenly company but his legacy lives on. It is now for the rest of the Ummah to join this struggle for true independence and liberation.