Imam Khomeini: the battle for hearts and minds

Developing Just Leadership

Afeef Khan

Rajab 22, 1434 2013-06-01


by Afeef Khan (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 4, Rajab, 1434)

One of the essential pre-requisites for leadership is to set a directional course and motivate people to follow it. This is what Imam Khomeini (ra) achieved and brought about the Islamic revolution in Iran.

Imam Khomeini won the battle for Muslim hearts and minds. America and the Zionists lost. He feared Allah (swt) and had no fear of presidents, princes, shahs, and any other human rivals to Allah (swt). He won because he had the clarity of conviction that translates into the ability to lead, in short, to be an imam.

The function of leadership is to produce transformational change. Effective leaders accomplish this by setting a directional course, aligning large groups of people to that course, and by motivating them to hold themselves accountable for their commitments of learning through action and deliberation. In the past 250 years for Muslims, no Islamic leader did this better than Imam Khomeini. True, there have been leaders of Islamic movements, but he was the only one to achieve success as a true imam. But this was no accident.

Setting a new direction is fundamental to leading. A new directional course requires intellectual clarity. This is the greatest gift an imam can offer to his hungry Muslim constituencies: having the confidence to know what to do in any given situation, having the confidence to engage in a rational process that allows the best ideas to dominate, and that does not require the validation of other human beings, especially those who have divided, in a binary way, the world into inferiors and superiors where the inferiors always require the endorsement of the self-declared superiors. This is how imperialists and Zionists look at the world, driving a wedge into the natural human tendency to co-associate. In point of fact, all human beings are inferior and Allah (swt) is their superior and as such all actions are to be validated according to Allah’s (swt) revealed reference points for humanity: the Qur’an and the prophetic precedent. Truth requires no human approval and it certainly needs no behavior of a preferred class to authenticate it. Truth is self-evident to anyone who thinks about it. Human activity is to be judged by Allah’s (swt) criterion of right and wrong, and right and wrong does not “rise” to the level of palatability by the “standard” and behavior of those who hold temporal power or prominence.

Setting a directional course creates a sense of urgency, produces an overall vision to strive for along with a strategy to get there, and satisfies the needs and rights of important constituencies in society. The Imam lived his entire life with a sense of urgency. All of us who remember Imam Khomeini know that in his executive capacity as head of state, he came out and immediately connected domestic oppression and degradation to its global counterpart in Washington, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, and Riyadh. Throughout his scholarly career and when he stepped onto the world stage, he rejected all Western ideological and philosophical ruminations, and thereby marginalized any governmental implementations based on these theories in the East and the West as being inconsistent with Allah’s (swt) command, the Prophet’s (pbuh) counsel, and the people’s liberation.

He showed his people that capitalism and communism were cut from the same cloth, and thus he was the first modern leader to break from the ideological stranglehold the West held over ideas that translated into representative political institutions whose goal was to satisfy the needs of all the people, and not some special interests. The full force of his lifelong resistance culminating in a decade of rule over an Islamic state showed all people that divinely inspired universal principles of social justice are fundamentally incompatible with the Western discourse and practice of governance, despite the high-sounding rubric of democracy, free markets and globalization. As a world leader with a vision, he even advised, in vain, Mikail Gorbachev, to liberate his people from the obvious problems besetting all Western societies in their dissociation from God.

Often when Muslims are queried about the one major problem in their societies, they say it is education, usually of a scientific, professional or technological nature, that is, medicine, engineering, information technology, environmental science, etc. Few Muslims, although this is changing, will point to unresponsive political institutions and impotent rulers. Imam Khomeini was not similarly confused. He knew that he had to separate the coordinated activities of his people from dead-end pursuits. He knew that an Islamic directional course would clarify what kind of education is essential and what kind is irrelevant. He wanted his people in particular, and all Muslims in general to understand that they need not look too far away to Oxford, Harvard, and even al-Azhar (in the depleted state it is in because of the legacy of Egyptian autocracy), that knowledge and wisdom come from the fountainhead of Allah’s (swt) guidance. The Imam did not initiate a policy to go out and build scores of universities so that his people could put a man on the moon; indeed he put his people on a collision course with those power structures who thrive on creating human conflict so that they can dominate. In this task, the nascent Islamic event in Iran found itself alone. It had no choice but to rely on Allah (swt). And in this process, it discovered and released its innate human potential.

Today’s Islamic society in Iran and the Muslims of the world are the beneficiaries of the Imam’s directional course, paved as it is with the fluid lives of hundreds of thousands of shuhada’. Islamic Iran in now world class in nuclear medicine and bridge building; its managed health care approaches, especially those directed at low-income households and villages, are now being studied and implemented across the world; its literacy rates, for both men and women, are among the highest in the world, now exceeding many advanced countries; it is one of nine countries in the world to indigenously build its own satellite and rocket technology with the result that it is the first Muslim country to independently put its own satellite into orbit. It is the only country in the modern world to not only survive a 30-year economic siege, but to show expansion when the rest of the world is in recession. Equivalent sanctions between the two world wars effectively crippled Germany leading to the emergence of Nazism. Not so with Islamic Iran. And there are many other achievements to come as the people come to grips with their capacities and their God-given promise.

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