As Muslims worldwide commemorate the late Imam’s 27th anniversary, we reflect on some of his greatest achievements, among them his ijtihad on Islamic government.
The late Imam Khomeini, whose 27th anniversary will be commemorated on June 3 with ceremonies in many parts of the world, was a towering personality of the last century. It would be no exaggeration to say that he had the most profound impact on global politics by bringing about a revolution that was completely Islamic in nature. In fact, almost every event since February 1979 when the Islamic Revolution achieved total victory over the forces of darkness and oppression led by the Shah of Iran, can be traced to the movement led by the late Imam. Equally remarkable is the fact that the Imam was at the advanced age of 77 when he led the Islamic movement in Iran to victory.
The late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui — a great admirer and supporter of the Imam — described the Islamic Revolution as that point in the struggle of the Islamic movement when it completely overwhelms the forces of oppression, demolishing the old order to usher in a new order based on the teachings of Islam. This is what occurred in Iran after a year of relentless struggle in which an estimated 80,000 people were martyred. Unlike other revolutions, the Islamic Revolution in Iran was completely peaceful in the sense that no violence was resorted to for the overthrow of the old order.
The Western-backed established order was the one that used excessive force to crush the people’s aspirations for change. It needs emphasizing that despite appeals by his supporters to either use force against the Shah’s soldiers or compromise with him, the Imam stood firm. He had unshakable faith in Allah (swt) and was confident that ultimately the committed Muslims will triumph.
It needs recalling that unlike revolutions in other places like Russia or China, the Islamic Revolution in Iran did not come about when the old order had been weakened by wars or internal turmoil. The Shah’s regime was seen as 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 (November 1977) 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.
Those willing to remove their sectarian blinkers 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 add, the whole world — that is truly independent and has gained strength and influence. This also explains the imperialists and Zionists’ relentless and vicious propaganda against the Islamic Republic. American exceptionalists may take issue with the claim about Iran being the only truly independent country but they should note that the US is virtually a Zionist colony. Numerous American academics have expressed concern about this reality.
The Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei drew attention to the imperialists’ enmity toward Iran in his address at the commencement ceremony for graduates at Imam Husayn Military Academy in Tehran on May 23. “The main cause of all these enmities and fabrication of pretexts is [Iran’s] defiance of istikbar [a Qur’anic term used for arrogant and hegemonic powers],” the Rahbar said. It must be noted that unlike any other Muslim leaders, the Rahbar often uses Qur’anic terms and references to explain global reality. This is the hallmark of a true Islamic personality that is grounded in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). It also highlights the fact that the Rahbar is a faithful student of the late Imam Khomeini who was deeply spiritual and surrendered totally to Allah (swt).
The imperialists and Zionists and their regional puppets, like the Najdi Bedouins cut from the same cloth as the Shah of Iran, have also come out openly against the Islamic Republic. They allege that by strengthening its defences such as building an indigenous missile program, Iran is destabilizing the region. They also falsely accuse Tehran of having a military nuclear program when in fact, its nuclear portfolio is completely peaceful and within its right. Most of the accusers — the US, Zionist Israel et al. — are themselves nuclear powers yet they shamelessly hurl allegations against Iran.
“Were the Iranian people ready to surrender, they [the arrogant powers] would have glossed over [Iran’s] missile development and nuclear energy and they would have made no mention of human rights,” said the Rahbar. He said US officials have admitted that Iran’s refusal to submit to bullying tactics by the arrogant powers is due to its firm adherence to Islamic ideology. The Rahbar then reiterated that “steadfastness,” “defiance of the enemy,” and “safeguarding the revolutionary and Islamic identity” are the main factors of the strength of the Islamic establishment and the Iranian people.
The strength and power of the Islamic Republic emanate directly from its adherence to Islamic principles. The Islamic system of governance established by the late Imam Khomeini after the victory of the Islamic Revolution is what gives strength and power to the valiant people of Iran. It is also Islam that enables them to make great sacrifices. Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the affairs of the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) would see that there is utter chaos and confusion in many countries. Islamic Iran is the only stable country that has weathered all the challenges — internal sabotage, external invasion and sanctions — and come out stronger.
While not educated in the West and having had little contact with it, the late Imam Khomeini fully understood the injustices inherent in the Western system. This has come to be acknowledged by many fair-minded Western writers as well. We witness this for instance in the manner in which Senator Bernie Sanders has come out against the corrupt system in the US. Similarly, the British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has also exposed the injustices inherent in the British system and policies. If Muslims want to rid themselves of this unjust imposed system, why should that be such a bad idea?
The Imam showed great wisdom in understanding the imposed global order. His solution was to mobilize the Muslim masses of Iran to rise up against this corrupt order so that at least one part of the Ummah — in Iran — would become truly independent, 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 this model in the most difficult circumstances.
Since the abolition of the khilafah — although it had been reduced to a mere shell by the time Mustafa Kemal delivered the final blow in 1924 replacing it with a secular system in Turkey — Muslims have been struggling to re-establish the Islamic system of government. Attempts in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna through al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood — MB), and by Maulana Abu al-‘Ala Maududi who established the Jamaat-e Islami in hopes of ushering the Islamic State have not yielded the desired results. Only Imam Khomeini succeeded in establishing the Islamic order in society.
Even in Iran, prior to the Imam’s movement, there were several other uprisings especially against British interference culminating in the Constitutional movement of 1905–1907 as well as the uprising against the Shah in 1951–1953. Those movements, however, suffered from the weakness that the ‘ulama had not made the ideological leap to establish the Islamic state in the absence of the Twelfth Imam. Their struggle was largely confined to addressing specific issues without addressing the fundamental need to overthrow the illegitimate Western-backed monarchy to establish the Islamic state.
The Imam’s great contribution was that he moved beyond the traditional Shi‘i political thought to urge establishment of the Islamic government even in the absence of the Twelfth Imam. This was revolutionary at several levels, the most important of which was that it went against 1,300 years of Shi‘i theology. Not surprisingly, the traditional Shi‘i ‘ulama in Najaf (where the Imam was living in exile) did not view his ijtihad on political thought and the Islamic state with favor. In fact, many of them actively opposed it (there is still opposition to the Imam’s ijtihad in some traditional Shi‘i circles).
It was the body of younger ‘ulama as well as the masses in Iran that responded to the Imam’s call. One of the Imam’s remarkable qualities was that he reached out to ‘ulama of all schools of thought — Sunni and Shi‘i — and encouraged them to struggle for truth and justice. This is the hallmark of a great Islamic scholar.
Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the people of Iran have paid a huge price in life and blood but they have withstood all 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. The Najdi Bedouins’ vicious propaganda against Islamic Iran is ample proof of their hatred of Islam. They have by their own conduct also exposed themselves as agents of imperialism and Zionism.
As part of their propaganda, the proxy regimes in Muslim countries 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” alternative. 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.
In the context of the Islamic Revolution, Muslims must 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 were that would replace them (the Arabs)? The noble Messenger (pbuh) put his hand on the shoulder of Salman al-Farsi (ra) 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 (ra) 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.