by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 12, Jumada' al-Ula', 1439)
As the people of Iran and their friends and supporters worldwide celebrate another anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution this month, it would be worthwhile to reflect on its achievements. Entering its 40th year, the fact that the Islamic Revolution and its fruit, the Islamic Republic, have survived all these years amid unrelenting hostility is in and of itself a great achievement. What is even more remarkable is that it has made enormous progress in many vital fields despite facing many challenges. More on this later but first, let us consider a basic aspect of the current global environment.
When viewed against the backdrop of developments in contemporary history, the very survival of the Islamic State is nothing short of spectacular. The so-called global order imposed at the end of the Second World War has been an unmitigated disaster for most countries and societies. Divided into two blocs, one led by the US and the other by the erstwhile Soviet Union, newly emerging independent states were left with little choice but to join one or the other bloc for survival. These were like vast prisons from where escape was virtually impossible. Countries existed as vassals of one or the other superpower.
To achieve true independence was a pipedream. Even escaping from one bloc to the other was a risky undertaking. Countries that tried to break free from the deathly embrace of one or the other hegemonic power were quickly slapped back into place. Egypt and Indonesia offer ready examples. Others were overthrown by Western-engineered coups as witnessed in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Vietnam in 1963, Chile in 1973, and a host of others. It was the same story on the other side of the fence — the “Iron Curtain” — in the infamous words of the notorious war criminal and racist Winston Churchill. Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 staged Western-backed uprisings to break loose of the Soviet bloc only to be brought to heel by Soviet tanks.
Given this reality, the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was a seminal achievement. Neither bloc supported it; in fact, both blocs opposed it for their own peculiar reasons. Thus the struggle of the Iranian people led by Imam Khomeini was unique. First, to succeed and then to survive for so long despite numerous attempts, both internal and external, by the enemies of Islam to destroy the new Islamic order is even more spectacular.
The resilience to survive these serious challenges came from one source: the Iranian Islamic leadership and people’s reliance only on Allah (swt). This is called the power of Islam. It needs elaboration. Every system is based on certain ideas and values. The former Soviet Union and its satellites were based on Marxist ideology. The West has pursued capitalism. Muslims have the Islamic system of governance but only one country — Iran — has truly adopted it in contemporary history. Communism has long been abandoned while capitalism is on its deathbed because it has deepened global inequalities both within and between societies. This has resulted in immense suffering everywhere. The world is a deeply troubled place today.
If we focus on the Muslim East (aka the Middle East), the picture is not only dismal it is deeply troubling. There is hardly a country that is free of turmoil, whether internally generated or externally imposed. Most regimes are also totally subservient to the imperialists and Zionists and exist at their mercy. Islamic Iran, on the other hand, despite nearly four decades of Western-imposed sanctions affecting its economy badly, has not only weathered these challenges but has emerged much stronger. Hundreds of billions of dollars of Iranian assets, especially income from oil, were frozen and have still not been fully released. Even spare parts for civilian aircraft were embargoed posing a serious threat to passenger safety. This would constitute a war crime but in the imperialist order, the US rogue state commits such crimes and gets away it.
Others states, such as Iraq that were subjected to similar sanctions, have suffered grievously resulting in mass poverty, starvation, and the death of hundreds of thousands of people. In Iran’s case, far from bringing it to its knees, the leadership has used sanctions as an opportunity to develop a resistance economy, as repeatedly stressed by the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamene’i. True, not every segment of the government machinery has followed through on this advice thereby resulting in problems for ordinary people. The recent protests over rising prices, hijacked by foreign agents that degenerated into riots, was one manifestation of this phenomenon.
It also needs emphasizing that the Islamic Republic is not a perfect model of an Islamic State. There are good and not-so-good people in the government and state machinery. What is indisputable is that the overall ethos is Islamic and that the establishment is totally committed to and sincere about Islamic values and principles.
This is what explains the extreme hostility exhibited by the Western world led by the US toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. That such hostility is totally irrational and ultimately futile is also well-known. The Islamic Revolution that occurred 40 years ago this month (February) overthrew a Western-imposed regime in Iran. The Islamic Revolution did more: it drove a nail in the coffin of the Western crafted political order that was imposed after the Second World War. The imperialists and Zionists — beneficiaries of the imposed order — saw the Islamic Revolution as a threat to their vested interests, hence their hostility.
What is even more disturbing is that most of the regimes in majority Muslim countries are also openly hostile to the Islamic Republic and the revolution that brought it into being. This indicates their fear of the example it has set and its impact on Muslims worldwide. Indeed, the Islamic Revolution has influenced the thinking of even non-Muslims struggling to free themselves from the yoke of imperialism. This is particularly evident in South America and parts of Africa.
What is heartening to note is that the influence of the Islamic Revolution has spread far and wide; it is not confined to any particular sect, religion, or segment of humanity. Many people yearning for freedom and change have internalized the process it adopted. Today, Islamic Iran stands as a truly free country unbowed by the economic, military, political or diplomatic pressure exerted by predatory Western powers and their regional allies.
At this point, it may be pertinent to offer a definition of the Islamic Revolution. The late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, one of the leading experts on the Islamic Revolution, defined it thus, “ The Islamic revolution is that state of a society in which:
1. all the Muslims of an area become mobilized to the point where their collective will and effort becomes irresistible and undefeatable;
2. the Muslim society acquires a leadership that is positively committed to the civilizational goals of Islam and has no class or other interests of its own;
3. the energies thus released are capable of restructuring the society at all levels internally; and,
4. the social order acquires the confidence and the ability to deal with the external world on its own terms.” (Zafar Bangash (editor), Power Manifestations of Islam: Major Writings of Kalim Siddiqui. London, 1996; p. 136).
True, there are some Muslims, perhaps many, who are still not fully aware of or appreciate the importance of the Islamic Revolution. This is largely the result of relentless propaganda beamed from Western media outlets at the behest of their corporate or political masters. There are, however, other reasons as well for Muslims’ antipathy toward the Islamic Revolution.
Part of this has to do with long-entrenched sectarian prejudices that are constantly highlighted by illegitimate regimes to divert attention from their own failures. Unfortunately, most Muslims’ attachment to Islam is only cultural; they are generally unaware of the Qur’anic message or the Prophetic Sunnah and Sirah. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, even Arabic speaking, are woefully unaware of what Allah (swt) says to them in the noble Qur’an. This is both the result of the decline of Muslims as well as the secularization of Islam.
Islam has been reduced to a set of rituals; further, it has been turned into each individual’s personal affair, much like Christianity. From this follows another misunderstanding: that if in a particular society or geographical area, Muslims form a majority, then it is Islamic. There is little comprehension that a collection of Muslims in a particular society does not transform it into an Islamic state.
A state becomes Islamic when the laws of Islam are implemented in that society and it is able to deal with its enemies on its own terms, not those dictated by others. Further, that the Islamic state is an essential requirement for establishing Islam in society, as exemplified by the noble Messenger (pbuh) when he migrated from Makkah to Madinah.
Even those Muslims that understand the necessity of the Islamic state insist that unless it conforms to their peculiar fiqhi understanding, then the state is not Islamic. This is what has prevented some “Sunni” Muslims from appreciating the significance of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. They simply dismiss it as “Shi‘i”, as if Shi‘is are not Muslims (nastaghfirullah).
Unfortunately, there is a similar lack of understanding even among some Shi‘is. They are what we would refer to as “traditional Shi‘is”; they do not want to step out of their comfort zone. They refuse to take any steps against injustice in the absence of Imam Mahdi. Let the world be ruled by tyrants and oppressors; let injustice prevail. They would rather wait until Imam Mahdi re-appears to sort out the problems of the world than take any remedial steps themselves.
Viewed against this backdrop, one can begin to appreciate the immense challenges Imam Khomeini faced and how he overcame them in bringing about the Islamic Revolution. He had to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously, not with guns but with the power of ideas. While addressing all Muslims, he had to educate the Shi‘is who formed the bulk of the population in Iran. In a series of lectures that have been published in a book under the title, Islamic and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, the Imam outlined his reasons for the necessity of establishing the Islamic State. The book has been edited and annotated by Professor Hamid Algar, the leading authority on Iran. Muslims sincere about understanding the nature, purpose, and ethos of the Islamic Revolution should study the two scholars mentioned above.
In the meantime, it is incumbent on Muslims of whatever school of thought and wherever they may reside to offer moral, political, cultural, and intellectual support to the only Islamic State of our times. Anything less would be a betrayal of the principles of Islam.
Finally we must return to the issue of Iran’s development. Despite suffering decades of sanctions, Islamic Iran has taken major strides in the fields of science and technology. It is not dependent on any country for its self-defence. Instead, it is able to export large quantity of weapons to other countries. Iran is the only Muslim country in the world to have put a satellite into space. These are remarkable achievements by any standard and they are the direct result of the Islamic system in place in the Islamic Republic.