Iran held a major International Congress on “The Elucidation of the Islamic Revolution” in Tehran from October 2-4, to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Imam Khomeini. The Congress was organized by the Institution for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Work, and proved an opportunity for scholars - friends and foes alike - from all over the world to come together to remember the Imam and his work.
The Congress was opened by Iran’s president, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami, who spoke on the uniqueness of the Imam’s personality. He particularly highlighted aspects of the Imam’s life before the Islamic Revolution, urging contemporary ulama to learn from his example. After Khatami’s speech, Sayyed Ali Akbar Muhtashamipour gave a speech that outlined the Imam’s attitude to the atrocities committed by the USA around the world, which was widely understood as deliberately emphasising the official Iranian views regarding the hegemonic role of the USA.
Sessions of the Congress were arranged around several topics, focusing mainly on the historical, economic, social, cultural and political elucidation and analysis of the Revolution, including presentations on the Islamic Revolution and international problems, and the Revolution and the challenging realities. There were also sessions on the Imam’s political thought, and on aspects of the Imam’s leadership. The lectures, numbering over 60, were spread over three halls in the impressive conference complex built for the 1997 summit of the OIC.
Several western scholars were invited, but they tended stick to their own obsessions, like the Rushdie issue or paradigms of Imam Khomeini as a charismatic leader. However, the western scholars, especially the Americans, were grilled publicly and privately about their government’s policies, such as the recent allocation of US$20 million by the US Congress to topple the Revolution. The wisdom of inviting zionists and other western scholars to such an event is debatable. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to catch them out of their element, but on the other hand their vitriolic tirades are tedious and at times even insulting.
The highlight of the closing ceremony consisted of speeches by Shaikh Sayyed Hasan Nasrullah of Hizbullah and Sayyed Hasan Khomeini, the grandson of Imam Khomeini. Sayyed Nasrullah’s fiery speech focused on the issue of Palestine, which, important though it was in the thought of Imam Khomeini, was otherwise absent throughout the Congress. Shaikh Nasrullah emphasized that ‘Israel’ is the offspring of the oppressive powers of the world. He insisted that the liberation of Palestine cannot begin by counter-acting the zionist lobby of the White House. His speech caused some discomfort among the western academics attending the Congress, one of whom was heard complaining that figures like Nasrullah ignite the youth with ‘anti-Israel’ sentiments. The other highlight of the closing session was Sayyed Hasan Khomeini’s brilliant discussion of the roots of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in Shi’i fiqh and thought.
Throughout the Congress, security was high. Guests were heavily guarded and strictly chauffeured back and forth between the hotels and the Congress venue. This was apparently to guard against attacks by opposition groups, who have threatened foreign guests. How-ever, even with all the security, particularly during the opening and closing ceremonies, there were no obvious weapons or even uniformed personnel to be seen around. As many of the guests from Muslim countries noted, it was a change to see police and security forces protecting Muslims. However, this high level of security was perhaps to be blamed for some shortcomings in organization.
Despite its high points, one serious shortcoming of the Congress was the lack of a vision. Of course, it is important to commemorate Imam Khomeini; but it is just as important to learn the lessons of his thoughts and teachings, and follow his example in applying them. Unfortunately, the Congress seemed at times to be leading nowhere in particular. Congress organizers did not meet with the guest speakers, as customarily done in the form of reception either before or after the event, and too few of the organizers were interested in discussions beyond cliched praises of the Imam and the Revolution. Some of the guests were tempted to think that they were invited to add an international gloss to an Iranian event.
But the vibrancy of Iranian society, and the number and quality of international events being held there, were clear. Along with the Congress on ‘The Elucidation of The Islamic Revolution’, at least two other international events were taking place in Tehran at the time: one was a congress on the importance of Muslim women in the Imam’s thought, perhaps because the Imam’s birthday coincided also with that of Fatima Zahra (as), and the other was the Tehran International Industrial Exhibition. Both were also attended by large international audiences. (The simultaneous presence of three large overseas contingents may also have contributed to the events’ logistical problems).
The presence of such international crowds in Tehran is evidence that Iran has never ceased to be part of the international community, whatever the west may like to pretend. But its membership is on Islamic Iran’s own terms, and the vast majority of those present were activists of the Islamic movement, both of which are unique characteristics in the modern world.
[Sister Ghada Ramahi, of New York, USA, was a guest at the Congress on ‘The Elucidation of the Islamic Revolution’.]
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999