by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 4, Sha'ban, 1436)
Imam Khomeini, who left this earthly abode and joined heavenly company on June 3, 1989, has had a profound impact on global politics. The Islamic Republic’s success in withstanding the global conspiracy of kufr and nifaq for more than 36 years is testimony to its strong Islamic roots.
June 3 marks the 26th anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s leaving this earthly abode and joining heavenly company. It is an anniversary that is marked globally by committed Muslims to pay homage to and reflect on the great contribution of Imam Khomeini in the 20th century.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the Islamic Revolution in Iran led by the Imam in 1978–1979 has had a profound impact on global affairs. All subsequent events can be traced to the change the Imam ushered in a country that was considered to be one of the strongest bastions of Western imperial domination. Only a few months prior to the start of the Islamic Revolution, then US President Jimmy Carter had described Iran under the Shah as an “island of stability” in a sea of turbulence. The Islamic revolutionary tide swept the so-called island of stability into the dustbin of history. It did more: the Islamic Revolution irrevocably changed the global political landscape.
For those willing to remove their blinkers, they would be able to see that despite decades of illegal sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country in the region — indeed one might venture to say, the whole world — that is truly independent and has gained strength and influence. In much of the Muslim East (aka the Middle East), there is chaos and confusion. Islamic Iran has weathered all the challenges — internal sabotage, external invasion, and sanctions — and come out stronger.
We need to consider the Imam’s great wisdom in understanding the imposed global order and his ability to mobilize the Muslim masses of Iran to rise up against it so that at least one part of the Ummah — in Iran — would gain true independence, live according to Islamic principles and be a model for other Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Since 1979, Islamic Iran has tried to present such a model in the most difficult circumstances.
There have been many political changes in the 20th century: the Marxist revolution in Russia in 1917; the coup d’etats in places like Egypt (1952), Indonesia (1966), Libya (1969), etc. All they did was replacing one set of oppressors with another. We can also consider the creation of Pakistan in 1947 as a remarkable phenomenon but regrettably, far from fulfilling the aspirations of the people, the new rulers simply continued the policies of the British raj. Only the Islamic Revolution led by the Imam, who was still in forced exile, was a totally transformative change.
Since the abolition of the khilafah, albeit merely a shell at the time Mustafa Kemal replaced it with a secular system in Turkey (1924), Muslims have been struggling to re-establish it. The first to make a move was Imam Hasan al-Banna in Egypt. A schoolteacher by profession, he established al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood — MB) in 1928. Initially it functioned as a social welfare organization but was soon sucked into the vortex of Egyptian politics. Imam al-Banna was shot and killed in February 1949 by state operatives because his popularity and the rise of the Brotherhood were seen as threats to the established order.
In another part of the world — British colonial India with a substantial although still a minority Muslim population — Maulana Abu al-Ala Maududi established the Jamaat-e Islami in Pathankot (present-day India) in 1941. The stated purpose of the Jamaat was also to establish the khilafah that he called the Islamic state. The poet-philosopher and visionary, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal persuaded Maulana Maududi to relocate to Lahore, which became part of Pakistan after independence in August 1947. British colonial rule had not ended yet, although there were unmistakable signs that it was on its way out.
In Iran, there were several uprisings against British interference culminating in the Constitutional movement of 1905–1907 as well as the uprising against the Shah in 1951–1953 but the ‘ulama in Iran had not made the ideological leap to establish an Islamic state in the absence of the Twelfth Imam. Thus, their struggle was largely confined to addressing specific issues without addressing the fundamental need to overthrow the Shah’s illegitimate Western-backed monarchy in order to establish the Islamic state. The Sunni ‘ulama had no such inhibitions because in Sunni political thought, living in an Islamic state or struggling to establish one is part of the natural thought process.
It was not until the Imam’s lectures about the importance of the Islamic government (al-hukumah al-Islamiyah) during his exile in Najaf (Iraq) that the Shi‘i ‘ulama were mobilized to ultimately launch the movement to overthrow the tyrannical regime of the Shah. The traditional Shi‘i ‘ulama in Najaf did not view with favor the Imam’s ijtihad on political thought and the Islamic state. It was the body of younger ‘ulama as well as Shi‘i masses that responded to the Imam’s call. Prior to his exile that started in 1964 — first in Turkey and then in Iraq — the Imam had started to challenge the Shah’s regime in unequivocal terms describing it as illegitimate and a puppet of imperialism and Zionism.
One of the Imam’s remarkable attributes was that he reached out to the ‘ulama of all schools of thought — Sunni and Shi‘i — and encouraged them to struggle for truth and justice. In one remarkable episode from his life’s struggle, the Imam had gone for Hajj in 1963. Maulana Maududi was also in Makkah to perform Hajj. The Imam made a special effort to meet Maulana Maududi and informed him about the terrible oppression unleashed by the Shah’s regime against committed Muslims. It is reported that Maulana Maududi, a great scholar in his own right, extended all the courtesy and respect that is due to a great scholar like the Imam. Upon his return from Hajj, Maulana Maududi’s translator, Khalil Ahmed Hamdi published a long article in the Jamaat’s magazine, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, severely criticizing the Shah’s regime for oppressing committed Muslims. The Pakistani regime, then headed by General Ayub Khan (he appointed himself “field marshal”!) promptly arrested Maulana Maududi and the entire leadership of the Jamaat for “undermining relations” with a friendly country and posing a threat to Pakistan’s “national interest.” Ayub’s military regime also banned the Jamaat as a political party.
The ban was challenged both in the West Pakistan High Court as well as the East Pakistan High Court (Bangladesh had not yet come into existence and the two “states” of Pakistan — West and East — constituted one country). The Jamaat won its case against the military regime in the East Pakistan High Court but lost it in the Western wing. The party then took the matter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where the highest court had judges on its bench who were still willing to adhere to the rule of law and challenge the military regime’s strong arm tactics. It declared the government’s ban on the Jamaat as illegal and ordered the release of all its leaders.
The following facts also need to be put on record. Within months of the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Imam sent two of his emissaries with a personal message to Maulana Maududi in Lahore clearly indicating the close personal relations and respect between them. In August 1979, Maulana Maududi was in Buffalo, New York for medical treatment. His physician son, based in Buffalo, had brought him to the US. A group of about 25 Muslims went to visit Maulana Maududi at his son’s residence and during the conversation, this writer specifically asked him about his opinion of the Islamic Revolution and of Imam Khomeini. He expressed great admiration for both and prayed that Allah (swt) would give the Islamic State the strength to survive the machinations and onslaught of the imperialists. Maulana Maududi passed away on September 22, 1979 in Buffalo and a large number of Muslims from Toronto participated in his janazah there.
The Jamaat has maintained cordial relations with the leadership of the Islamic Republic although some of its top members have been affected by Saudi largesse and roped into the royals’ circle of influence. It must be stated, however, that unlike many other “Islamic” parties and organizations in Pakistan, the Jamaat has operated above sectarian considerations even if its understanding of political issues has not been as sharp as one would expect of an organization dedicated to establishing an Islamic state.
Perhaps the most fatal mistake the Jamaat and the Ikhwan in Egypt have made is to operate within the existing colonial-imposed order in their respective societies. Both have suffered as a consequence. The Ikhwan have been brutalized far more than the Jamaat, and the agents of imperialism and now also of Zionism and Wahhabism have ruthlessly suppressed any expression of dissent. Participation in elections under the colonial-imposed order will not yield the results that the Ikhwan and the Jamaat had hoped for. The latest example of this was the brutal military coup in Egypt against the Ikhwan-supported government of elected President Mohamed Mursi in July 2013. Thousands of people were butchered in cold blood.
The Imam had no such confusion in his mind. He categorically rejected accepting the authority of any institution established by the Shah’s regime. When some people suggested to the Imam to lodge a case against the Shah’s regime in the courts, the Imam dismissed the suggestion saying if the regime is illegitimate, how can we accept the legitimacy of its courts? Nor did he apply to register a political party under the Shah’s system. His position was clear and forthright: this regime is an illegitimate agent of imperialism and Zionism. It has to go.
Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the people of Iran have had to pay a huge price in life and blood but they have withstood all these pressures, both internal and external. While it was expected that imperialists and Zionists would spare no effort to undermine the Islamic Republic because it challenged the colonial-imposed order, what is revealing is that the success of the Islamic Revolution also exposed the puppet regimes in the Muslim world. Their hatred of the Islamic Republic is now visible even if initially they were able to camouflage their hatred in sophistry.
We in the Crescent International have always maintained that these regimes are illegitimate and must be overthrown Iran-style through similar Islamic revolutions. Other approaches — coups, elections, party politics, etc. — have failed and will not yield the desired change in which the Muslim masses will have even a semblance of decent life. Our analysis has withstood the test of time and has been confirmed by subsequent developments.
Also, we have never indulged in any kind of sectarianism much less encourage it. We consider all Muslims to be our brothers, whether they are Sunnis or Shi‘is. Our guide has been the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). Based on this, we have extended full support to the Islamic Revolution despite most of our writers being of “Sunni” background. While this has led to nonsensical allegations against us by our detractors, these have not deterred us from fulfilling our Islamic duty of supporting the only Islamic state of our times.
As part of their propaganda, the so-called Muslim regimes that are subservient to imperialism and Zionism have branded the Islamic Revolution as “Shi‘i”. This is meant to detach the “Sunni” majority in the Muslim world from the Islamic Revolution but they have failed to offer a “Sunni” stand-in. The “Shi‘i” label is meant to play on the sectarianism of ill-informed Muslims. If the Da‘ish takfiri model of an “Islamic” state is all that these so-called “Sunni” regimes can offer then the Muslim world faces a very serious problem. True, some Sunni ‘ulama have denounced the takfiris and their brutal tactics but there has been no serious attempt in the rest of the Muslim world to come up with a leadership and government that represents their Muslim constituencies.
The Qur’an is very clear about what determines a Muslim’s status in life: not tribe, birth or ethnicity but taqwa (49:13). Further, the noble Messenger (pbuh) in his last khutbah at Hajjah al-Wida‘ clearly stipulated that the Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab (‘ajami) and a white person is not superior to a black person or vice versa. Again, the only determining criterion is taqwa. Among the closest companions of the noble Messenger (pbuh) were Bilal (Abyssinian), Salman (Persian) and Suhayb (Roman). True, the Arabian racists resented these “foreigners” but the Prophet (pbuh) was clear about his relations with and the lofty position of these illustrious companions based on taqwa.
Unfortunately the ‘asabiyah (exclusivism) prevalent then is present today as well and actively promoted by the likes of the Najdi Bedouins who have forcefully occupied the Arabian Peninsula. They are playing up sectarian differences as well as Arab/non-Arab issues. They act as if the Prophet (pbuh) was a “Saudi” or a Najdi.
We would like to remind all Muslims of this hadith narrated by ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar and recorded by al-Bukhari,
The Prophet (pbuh) mentioned [the following], “O Allah! Bless for us our Sham [geographical Syria/Levant]; O Allah, Bless for us our Yemen.” They [Muslims in attendance] said, “And our Najd?” He (pbuh) said, “O Allah! Bless for us our Sham; O Allah, Bless for us our Yemen.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah! And our Najd?” And as if the third time around, he (pbuh) said, “There [in Najd] will occur tremors, sedition, and with it shall arise a generation of Satan.”
Many Islamic scholars have noted that despite being asked repeatedly, the noble Messenger (pbuh) did not pray for or bless Najd. Instead, he prophesied that the region would be the epicenter of a great fitnah. The words used in the Arabic text are qarn al-shaytan, which are often literally translated as the horn of Satan; in this context, however, the Arabic word qarn refers figuratively to a generation (of people) who would do the bidding of Satan while wearing the guise of Islam.
In the context of the Islamic Revolution, Muslims must also keep in mind the ayah of the noble Qur’an in which Allah (swt) warns Muslims during the time of the Prophet (pbuh), “… And if you turn away [from Allah], He will cause other people to take your place and they will not be the likes of you” (47:38). In his explanation, Ibn Kathir narrates that the companions of the Messenger (pbuh) were surprised to hear this ayah and asked him who these people would be that would replace them (the Arabs)? The noble Messenger (pbuh) put his hand on the shoulder of Salman al-Farsi standing beside him and said, they will belong to his people. It must be noted that Ibn Kathir is considered one of the more conservative mufassirs of the Qur’an.
As the Arabians have abandoned Allah’s (swt) din, the progeny of Salman al-Farsi have grasped the message of the noble Qur’an and are trying to implement it in their lives. The Islamic Revolution brought about by Imam Khomeini is the fulfillment of the Qur’anic ayah and the explanation offered by the noble Messenger (pbuh). No amount of hateful propaganda can detract from this fact.