by Abu Dharr (Guest Editorial, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 6, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1425)
Revolutions have many enemies. The enemies of an Islamic Revolution are one of two types: those that confront it from the outside and those that creep up on it from within...
Revolutions have many enemies. The enemies of an Islamic Revolution are one of two types: those that confront it from the outside and those that creep up on it from within. During the 23 dynamic years of the Prophetic era, the new faith-community encountered both kinds of enemy. The counter-Islamic forces inside Arabia initially put up massive opposition to Islam and Muhammad (saw), only to realize that Islam was the irresistible wave of the future. Thus, in the final years of this 23-year period many hitherto staunch and public enemies of Islam, having failed to beat the Muslims, joined them instead. Later, it was many of these who effectively hijacked the Islamic project and took Islamic governance down a completely false path. It took time; but they were willing to wait until the right moment presented itself: when it did they showed their true colours.
The Islamic Uprising in Iran a quarter of a century ago is too important and too special for Muslims to simply watch it wander from its original and true course. We remember all too clearly the impact this breakthrough had on Muslims everywhere. For the first time in modern history, Muslims had risen against a corrupt government and its imperialist and zionist sponsors, and were able to take control of their own country, and begin to show the rest of us how things should be done.
Of course, the road forward was not likely to be smooth. The sponsors of the Pahlavi regime could not be expected to sit and watch a people shape their own future on the basis of their Islamic faith and commitment. Throughout the last 25 years, America and Israel have been working to bring the Islamic government in Iran to its knees, with the support of their Western allies, Iran’s pro-Western neighbours and even supporters within Iran. Iran’s borders amount to some 8,000 kilometers; American troops are now based across six thousand kilometers of this border. This grim scenario has been gradually built over 25 years, and has passed almost unnoticed by most Muslims, and even most Iranians. There has never been any cessation of hostilities between the followers of the line of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), who refuse to compromise when it comes to the independence and sovereignty of the Islamic state, and the numerous other interests wanting to shape the state on their terms.
Part of our object in this new column is to look at some of the gaps that have developed since the passing of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), many of which are rooted in earlier events, and how these gaps have caused serious problems about which we can no longer remain silent. But before we walk into this sensitive area, one point needs to be made absolutely clear. This is that none of the points we make are intended to express any criticism of Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the successor to Imam Khomeini (r.a.) as Rahbar of the Islamic State. Many of the points we make will be highlighting natural processes in the evolution of post-Revolutionary state and society. Others will indeed involve criticism of errors and failures in Iran, mainly on the part of those who have been responsible for aspects of Iranian government and policy at the executive level. It was inevitable that such errors and failures should emerge over a quarter of a century in an unprecedented and highly-pressured historical situation; unfortunately they have contributed greatly to what many now see as the Islamic experiment’s current stagnation.Sometimes frank statements of truth can be bitter pills to swallow; we hope no-one will consider this column to be too bitter a pill. We say what we say only to express our honest understanding of the issues. If we are correct, we appeal earnestly to Allah to accept our humble words to our humble readers. If not, we request Allah’s forgiveness and correction from anyone able to do so; without, we hope, descending into personal issues or hidden agendas. Ameen.
This was a period in which the true and dedicated Muslims gave freely of their possessions and lives for the cause of Allah, against the military powers that stood as barriers between Islam and the larger world out the Arabian peninsula. The attention of the Muslim public was so fixed on the expansion of Islam into areas controlled by the dominant powers of the time, the Romans and Persians, that they little noticed that rottenness emerging in the heart of their own community. This, in essence, is the root of the degradation of the political legitimacy of the Ummah that began with Abu Sufyan, was brought into the open by Mu‘awiyah, who proclaimed himself "the first King of Muslims", and was consolidated by Yazid.
Abu Sufyan saw, towards the end of the Prophet's 23-year struggle, that Islam was there to stay, acknowledging that "hadha amrun qad tawajjaha": "this affair [of Islam] has become irreversible." He said this after lifelong opposition to Islam, having sensed that it was no longer realistic to stand against it. With him came his son Mu‘awiyah, who during the last Islamic return to Makkah, when the Makkan establishment finally conceded defeat to the power of Islam emerging from Madinah, was among those who became known as the tulaqa', those who were released (singular: taliq). These were the remnants of the Makkan nobility who were assembled at the request of Allah's Prophet (saw). He asked them: "madha tadhunnuna anni fa‘ilun bikum al-yawm?": "How do you think I will treat you today?" They, the hard-core enemies who had resisted him for more than two decades, replied: "akhun karim wa ibnu akhin karim": ‘You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brother.' And he told these lifelong enemies: "idh-habu fa-antum al-tulaqa" – ‘Go! You are all released.'
Waiting in the wings was Yazid, the man who would later take his forebears' deviation to its logical conclusion, confirming the end of the genuine khilafah-imamah, and poisoning the Islamic body politic, with the most devastating possible treachery: the tragedy of Karbala'.
Human nature is human nature, and changes little if at all. The same or very similar motivations, and social dynamics, are still fond in modern Muslim societies. What the Islamic movement in Iran, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini (ra), achieved is precisely what all Islamic movements all over the world are striving for: the emulation of the Islamic Revolution in Arabia 14 centuries ago. Like that revolution, the Islamic Revolution in Iran also has its die-hard enemies.
In the years before the Muslims of Iran welcomed Imam Khomeini back to Iran, and in the early period of consolidation of the Islamic state, some of his enemies recognized the irresistible momentum of the Islamic movement and, like many enemies of Islam before them, found it convenient to embed themselves inside the Revolution rather then stand against it. Like Mu‘awiyah and Yazid before them, they opted to ride the Islamic tide. Abu Sufyan and Mu‘awiyah in some Islamic circles gained the honorific title of sahabi, a companion of Allah's Messenger. We should hardly be surprised, therefore, to find embedded within the Islamic Revolution of Iran people of the same kind, hiding behind respected titles such as Hujjatul-Islam and even hizbullahi. The question we must consider is: who are the Abu Sufyans, the Mu‘awiyahs, and potentially the Yazids of the Islamic Revolution, waiting for the right moment to subvert the government with such deviations as ‘secular Islam' or ‘American Islam'?
Imam Khomeini's ijtihad on the wilayat-e-faqih was a massive break with the traditional, hidebound political culture of the Shi'i scholarly establishments. From the earliest days of the Revolution, however, there were in Iran numerous traditionalists and status-quo culturalists who considered this ijtihad a step too far from their set ways, and the Islamic Revolution that it inspired a deviation rather than the proper direction for the Ummah to take. For these people, the pressures of subsequent political events have only confirmed their yearning for a return to the comfort and security of an Islam without political strength. Looking back at the early years of Islam, we can see the Abu Sufyans, the Mu‘awiyahs, and the Yazids of the past, and the debates of that time may appear academic. The real issue now is to be able to identify today's Abu Sufyan, the present Mu‘wiyah, and tomorrow's Yazid. This is not an academic issue; it is an essential matter upon which the survival of the Islamic Revolution depends.
To some people all this may seem an old story, no longer relevant a quarter of a century after the Revolution. However, during Imam Khomeini's years we witnessed a keen understanding of history, personalities, and movement. We saw how the understanding and momentum of the Revolution was maintained by the vigilance of the Imam and those around him against the influence of such individuals as Shari‘atmadari, Yazdi, Bani Sadr and their like, who wanted to undermine the Revolution from within. There is no reason to suppose now that this danger has passed. Indeed, it is only to be expected that such threats to the integrity of the Revolution may have increased; we may today be faced with a swarm of Shari‘atmadaris, hosts of potential Bani Sadrs.
We should note that Abu Sufyan, after accepting Islam, is reported to have gone to war for Islam; he lost an eye fighting against his previous comrades-in-arms at al-Ta'if and the other at al-Yarmuk. He literally went blind for the cause of Allah. When the Prophet (saw) died, Abu Sufyan had risen to the position of governor of Najran. We should not, then, expect the danger to the Revolution to come only from those who have refused to stand for the cause, who have made no sacrifices, and performed no public service. It is not necessarily their commitment that is in doubt, but their understanding. Just as Abu Sufyan, a taliq, and Mu‘awiyah, the self-proclaimed first king in Islam, are remembered for positive contributions – Mu'awiyyah is listed in history books as a katib al-Wahy, a scribe of God's word – how many individuals may there be in Iran who are overtly committed, have made sacrifices for the Revolution, have made their way up the political ladder, but deep down inside are still not convinced of the "political correctness" of Islam?
Were these late converts to Allah’s cause merely feigning Islam? Did they remain, in their hearts and souls, opposed to the message and leadership of Muhammad (saw)? He was, after all, the man who had radically challenged the social and religious status quo of the society in which they had held high status. Or was their commitment to Islam, even if it was genuine, simply too weak to stand against their hunger for power and its trappings within the new order, if they could not maintain the old order? Was it simply that, not having been through the formative crucible of history that was the Madinan period, they did not have the vision and imagination to build a radically new kind of political order, rather than reverting to the norms of the order that Islam was supposed to replace? However we read what they did, the damage they did to the Islamic body politic is beyond question.
Imam Khomeini (ra) was also a radical who broke with the established socio-religious order of this time, even though this order was based on a reduced, emasculated and apolitical Islam, rather than on non-Islam. The risk of the custodians of that pre-Revolutionary religious order producing modern equivalents of Mu‘awiyah and Yazid to undermine the body-politic of Islamic Iran from within, and that these figures may even have risen to positions of prominence within the structures of state and society, cannot be ignored. There are those in Iran now willing to subvert the wilayat-e-faqih just as Mu‘awiyah subverted the khilafah, and possibly even to try to destroy it as Yazid tried to destroy the imamah. However these figures are understood, and however they may present their agendas, they must not be permitted to damage the essence and institutions of the Islamic Revolution and the only Islamic state in the world today.