The Years of Spiritual and Intellectual Formation in Iran

Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini was born on Jamadi al-Akhar 20, 1320 (September 24, 1902), the anniversary of the birth of Hazrat Fatemeh (SA), in the small town of Khomein, some 160km southwest of Qom. He was the child of a family with a long tradition of religious scholarship. His ancestors, were the descendants of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS), the seventh Imam of the infallible Household of the Prophet (S).

Imam Khomeini's grandfather, Seyed Ahmad, settled in Khomein to assume responsibility for the religious needs of its citizens. By the time of his death, Seyed Ahmad had fathered two children, a daughter by the name of Sahebeh, and Seyed Mostafa, born in 1885, the father of Imam Khomeini.

Seyed Mostafa began his religious education in Isfahan with Mir Mohammad-Taqi Modarresi before continuing his studies in Najaf and Samarra under the guidance of Mirza Hassan Shirazi (d. 1894), the principal authority of the age in Shia jurisprudence. This corresponded to a pattern of preliminary study in Iran followed by advanced study in the Atabat, the shrine cities of Iraq, which for long remained normative; Imam Khomeini was in fact the first religious leader of prominence whose formation took place entirely in Iran.

In March 1903, some five months after the Imam's birth, Seyed Mostafa was attacked and martyred while travelling on the road between Khomein and the neighboring city of Arak. Seyed Mostafa had aroused the anger of the local landowners because of his defense of the impoverished peasants.

Imam Khomeini described his memories when he was 12 years old, "I recall both world wars. I was attending elementary school. I used to see Soviet troops in the center we had in Khomein. In the First World War we were often subject to raids. We used to build bunkers. By the age of 17, we were given rifles and were taught how to use them. Chaos had overtaken everything and every place. The central government was powerless. They once took a borough of Khomein but the people fought them off. People took up guns and we were with them."

Imam Khomeini began his education by memorizing the Qoran at a religious school operated near his home. He memorized the holy Qoran by the age of seven. He next embarked on the study of Arabic with Sheikh Ja'far, one of his mother's cousins, and took lessons on other subjects first from Mirza Mahmoud Eftekhar-ul-Olama, and then from his maternal uncle, Haj Mirza Mohammad Mahdi.

After his arrival in Qom in 1922, the Imam first devoted himself to completing the preliminary stage of school education known as sotouh; this he did by studying with teachers such as Sheikh Mohammad Reza Najafi, Mirza Mohammad Taqi Khansari, and Seyed Ali Yasrebi Kashani. However, from his early days in Qom, the Imam gave an indication that he was destined to become more than another great authority on Ja'fari jurisprudence. He showed an exceptional interest in subjects that not only were usually absent from the school curriculum but were often an object of hostility and suspicion: philosophy, in its various traditional schools, and mysticism.

The teacher who had the most profound influence on Imam Khomeini's spiritual development was, however, Mirza Mohammad Ali Shahabadi (d. 1950); to him the Imam refers in a number of his works as Aref-e Kamel.

As a teacher, mysticism and ethics were the subject of the first classes taught by the Imam. The classes on ethics taught by Haj Javad Aqa Maleki Tabrizi were resumed, three years after his death, by Shahabadi, and when Shahabadi left for Tehran in 1936, he assigned the class to Imam Khomeini. The class ranged beyond the text to touch on a wide variety of contemporary concerns. It proved popular to the extent that the townsfolk of Qom as well as the students of the religious sciences attended, and people are related to have come from as far afield as Tehran and Isfahan simply to listen to the Imam.

This popularity of the Imam's lectures ran contrary to the policies of the Pahlavi regime, which wished to limit the influence of the ulama outside the religious teaching institution. The government therefore secured the transfer of the lectures from the prestigious location of the Feizieh School to the Molla Sadeq School, which was unable to accommodate large crowds.

However, after the deposition of Reza Shah in 1941, the lectures returned to the Feizieh School and instantly regained their former popularity. The ability to address the people at large, not simply his own colleagues within the religious institution, that the Imam displayed for the first time in these lectures on ethics, was to play an important role in the political struggles he led in later years.

While teaching ethics to a wide and diverse audience, Imam Khomeini began teaching important texts of mysticism, such as the section on the soul in al-Asfar al-Arba'eh of Molla Sadra (d.1640), and Sabzevari's Sharh-e Manzoumeh, to a select group of young scholars that included Mortaza Motahhari and Dr. Mohammad Mofatteh, who subsequently were among his principal collaborators in the revolutionary movement he launched some three decades later.

He assumed a public political stance in a proclamation dated May 4, 1944, that called for action to deliver the Muslims of Iran and the entire Islamic world from the tyranny of foreign powers and their domestic accomplices. The Imam begins by citing Qoran 34:46, "Say: I enjoin but one thing upon you, that you rise up for Allah, in pairs and singly, and then reflect." The Imam's interpretation of "rising up" is, however, both spiritual and political, both individual and collective, a rebellion against lassitude in the self and corruption in society.

The same spirit of comprehensive revolt inspires the first work written by the Imam for publication, Kashf al-Asrar (Tehran, 1945). He is said to have completed the book in 48 days from a sense of urgency, and that it indeed met a need is proven by the fact that it went through two impressions in its first year. The principal aim of the book, as reflected in its title, was a work calling for a "reform" of Shia Islam.

Imam Khomeini connected all assaults on tradition with the anti-religious policies of Reza Shah and bitterly criticized the Pahlavi regime for destroying public morality. He proposed that an assembly of competent jurisprudents should choose a just system which would not violate God's laws and would shun oppression and wrongdoing, which would not transgress against men's property, lives and honor. There can be no doubt that the better system already envisaged by Imam Khomeini in 1944 was Velayat-e Faqih, which became the constitutional cornerstone of the Islamic Republic of Iran established in 1979.

The Imam's activity began to change with the demise of Boroujerdi on March 31, 1961. He became marja-e taqlid for the Iranian Shias. His leadership role was, however, destined to go far beyond that traditional for a religious leader and to attain a comprehensiveness unique in the history of the Shia clergy.

This became apparent soon after the demise of Boroujerdi when Mohammad Reza Shah, secure in his possession of power after the CIA-organized coup of August 1953, embarked on a series of measures designed to eliminate all sources of opposition, actual or potential, and to incorporate Iran firmly into American patterns of strategic and economic domination. In the autumn of 1962, the government promulgated new laws governing elections to local and provincial councils, which deleted the former requirement that those elected be sworn into office on the Qoran.

Seeing in this a plan to permit the infiltration of public life by the atheists, Imam Khomeini telegraphed both the Shah and the prime minister of the day, warning them to desist from violating both the law of Islam and the Iranian Constitution of 1907, failing which the ulama would engage in a sustained campaign of protest. Rejecting all compromise measures, the Imam was able to force the repeal of the laws in question seven weeks after they had been promulgated. This achievement marked his emergence on the scene as the principal voice of opposition to the Shah.

In January 1963, the Shah announced a six-point program of reform that he termed the White Revolution, an American-inspired package of measures designed to give his regime a liberal and progressive facade. Imam Khomeini summoned a meeting of his colleagues in Qom to press upon them the necessity of opposing the Shah's plans, but they were initially hesitant. Imam Khomeini issued on January 22, 1963 a strongly worded declaration denouncing the Shah and his plans.

On January 26, the referendum was held, with a low turnout that reflected the growing heed paid by the Iranian people to Imam Khomeini's directives. He continued his denunciation of the Shah's programs, issuing a manifesto that also bore the signatures of eight other senior scholars. In it he listed the various ways in which the Shah had violated the constitution, condemned the spread of moral corruption, and accused him of comprehensive submission to America and Israel: "I see the solution to lie in this tyrannical government being removed, for the crime of violating the ordinances of Islam and trampling the constitution, and in a government taking its place that adheres to Islam and has concern for the Iranian nation," the Imam said.

The very next day, paratroopers were sent to the Feizieh School in Qom, the site where the Imam delivered his public speeches. They killed a number of students, beat and arrested a number of others, and ransacked the building. Unintimidated, the Imam continued his attacks on the regime. On April 1, he denounced the persistent silence of certain apolitical ulama as "tantamount to collaboration with the tyrannical regime. When the Shah sent his emissaries to the houses of the ulama in Qom to threaten them with the destruction of their homes, the Imam reacted contemptuously by referring to the Shah as "that little man." Then, on April 3, 1963, the fortieth day after the attack, he described the Iranian government as being determined to eradicate Islam at the behest of America and Israel, and himself as resolved to combat it.

Confrontation turned to insurrection some two months later. The beginning of the month of Moharram saw demonstrators in Tehran carrying pictures of the Imam and denouncing the Shah in front of his own palace. On the afternoon of Ashura (June 3, 1963), Imam Khomeini delivered a speech at the Feizieh School in which he drew parallels between the Umayyad caliph Yazid and the Shah, and warned the Shah that if he did not change his ways the day would come when the people would offer up thanks for his departure from the country.

This warning was remarkably prophetic, for on January 16, 1979, the Shah was indeed obliged to leave Iran amidst scenes of popular rejoicing. The immediate effect of the Imam's speech was, however, his arrest two days later at 3 o'clock in the morning by a group of commandos, who hastily transferred him to the Qasr Prison in Tehran.

As dawn broke on June 3, the news of his arrest spread first through Qom and then to other cities. In Qom, Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, and Varamin, masses of angry demonstrators were confronted by tanks and ruthlessly slaughtered. It was not until six days later that order was fully restored. This uprising of Khordad 15, 1342 (the day in the Iranian calendar on which it began) marked a turning point in Iranian history. Henceforth the repressive and dictatorial nature of the Shah's regime, reinforced by the unwavering support of the United States, was constantly intensified, and with it the prestige of Imam Khomeini as the only figure of note willing to challenge him. The arrogance imbuing the Shah's policies also caused a growing number of the ulama to abandon their quietism and align themselves with the goals set forth by the Imam. The 15th of Khordad movement can therefore be characterized as the prelude to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79; the goals of the revolution and its leadership had already been determined.

After his release, shortly before dawn on November 4, 1964, again a detachment of commandos surrounded the Imam's house in Qom, arrested him, and this time took them directly to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran for immediate banishment together with his son Haj Mostafa to Turkey. The decision to exile him was based no doubt on the hope that in exile he would fade from popular memory. On September 5, 1965, Imam Khomeini left Turkey for Najaf in Iraq, where he was destined to spend thirteen years.

The distribution in Iran, on however limited a scale, of the proclamations and fatwas of Imam Khomeini, was in itself enough to ensure that his name not be forgotten during the years of exile. Equally important, the movement of Islamic opposition to the Shah's regime that had been inaugurated by the uprising of the 15th of Khordad continued to develop despite the brutality unhesitatingly dispensed by the Shah. Numerous groups and individuals explicitly owed their allegiance to the Imam.

The chain of events that ended in February 1979 with the overthrow of the Pahlavi regime, and the foundation of the Islamic Republic, began with the martyrdom in Najaf on October 23, 1977, of Haj Seyed Mostafa Khomeini, unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. This martyrdom was widely attributed to the Iranian security police, SAVAK, and protest meetings took place in Qom, Tehran, Yazd, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tabriz. Imam Khomeini described the death of his son as one of the "hidden favors" of God, and advised the Muslims of Iran to show fortitude and hope.

The esteem in which Imam Khomeini was held was demonstrated once again on January 7, 1978 when an article appeared in the semi-official newspaper attacking him in scurrilous terms as a traitor working together with foreign enemies of the country. The next day a furious mass protest took place in Qom; it was suppressed by the security forces with heavy loss of life. This was the first in a series of popular confrontations that, gathering momentum throughout 1978, soon turned into a vast revolutionary movement, demanding the overthrow of the Pahlavi regime, and the installation of an Islamic government.

The martyrs of Qom were commemorated forty days later with demonstrations and shop closures in every major city of Iran. Particularly grave were the disturbances in Tabriz, which ended only after more than 100 people had been killed by the Shah's troops. On March 29, the fortieth day after the killings in Tabriz was marked by a further round of demonstrations in some fifty-five Iranian cities

Faced with the mounting tide of revolution, the Shah decreed martial law and forbade further demonstrations. On September 9, a crowd gathered at the Jaleh Square in Tehran was attacked by troops that had blocked all exits from the square, and some 2000 people were killed at this location alone. Another 2000 were killed elsewhere in Tehran by American-supplied military helicopters hovering overhead. This day of massacre, which came to be known as Black Friday, marked the point of no return.

Too much blood had been spilt for the Shah to have any hope of survival, and the army itself began to tire of the task of slaughter. As these events were unfolding in Iran, Imam Khomeini delivered a whole series of messages and speeches which reached his homeland not only in printed form but also increasingly on tape cassettes. His voice could be heard congratulating the people for their sacrifices, denouncing the Shah in categorical fashion as a criminal, and underlining the responsibility of the United States for the killings and the repression.

Most importantly, the Imam recognized that a unique juncture had been reached in Iranian history, that a genuinely revolutionary momentum had come into being which if dissipated would be impossible to rebuild. He therefore warned against any tendency to compromise or to be deceived by the sporadic conciliatory gestures of the Shah: "Noble people of Iran! Press forward with your movement and do not slacken for a minute, as I know full well you will not! Let no one imagine that after the blessed month of Ramazan his God-given duties have changed. These demonstrations that break down tyranny and advance the goals of Islam are a form of worship that is not confined to certain months or days, for the aim is to save the nation, to enact Islamic justice, and to establish a form of divine government based on justice."

After a period of hesitation in which Algeria, Lebanon and Syria were considered as possible destinations, Imam Khomeini was forcibly sent to Paris, where his second son, Haj Seyed Ahmad Khomeini, by now had joined him. Once arrived in Paris, the Imam took up residence in a suburban house.

Telephonic communications with Tehran were far easier from Paris than they had been from Najaf. The messages and instructions the Imam issued flowed forth uninterrupted from the modest command center he established in a small house opposite his residence. Moreover, a host of journalists from across the world now made their way to France, and the image and the words of the Imam soon became a daily feature in the world's media.

In the beginning of Moharram, the Imam issued a declaration in which he likened the month to "a divine sword in the hands of the soldiers of Islam, our great religious leaders and respected preachers, and all the followers of Imam Hussein (AS)." He continued, "They must make maximum use of it; trusting in the power of God, they must tear out the remaining roots of this tree of oppression and treachery."

On January 3, 1979, Shahpour Bakhtiar was appointed prime minister of Iran to replace General Azhari, and plans were drawn up for the Shah to leave the country for what was advertised as a temporary absence. None of these maneuvers distracted the Imam from the goal now increasingly within reach. The very next day after the formation of the regency council, he proclaimed from France the formation of the Council of the Islamic Revolution, a body entrusted with establishing a transitional government to replace the Bakhtiar administration.

On January 16, amid scenes of feverish popular rejoicing, the Shah left Iran for exile and death. Conditions now seemed appropriate for Imam Khomeini to return to Iran and preside over the final stages of the revolution. After a series of delays, he left on the evening of January 31, 1979, and arrived in Tehran the following morning.

Amid unparalleled scenes of popular joy, it has been estimated that more than ten million people gathered in Tehran to welcome the Imam back to his homeland. The following day the Supreme Military Council withdrew its support from Bakhtiar, and on February 11, 1979, all organs of the regime, political, administrative, and military, finally collapsed.

There can be no doubting the centrality of Imam Khomeini's role and the integrally Islamic nature of the revolution he led. Physically removed from his countrymen for fourteen years, he had an unfailing sense of the revolutionary potential that had surfaced, and was able to mobilize the broad masses of the Iranian people for the attainment of what seemed to many inside the country as a distant and excessively ambitious goal.

His role pertained, moreover, not merely to moral inspiration and symbolic leadership; he was also the operational leader of the revolution. He took all key decisions himself, silencing early on all advocates of compromise with the Shah. It was the mosques that were the organizational units of the revolution and mass prayers, demonstrations and martyrdom that were -- until the very last stage -- his principal weapons.

On June 4, 1989, after eleven days in the hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Imam Khomeini lapsed into a critical condition and passed away. The outpouring of grief was massive and spontaneous, the exact counterpoint to the vast demonstrations of joy that had greeted his return to Iran a little over ten years earlier. Such was the press of mourners, estimated at some nine million, that the body ultimately had to be transported by helicopter to its place of burial in Behesht-e Zahra.

The testament of Imam Khomeini was published soon after his death. A lengthy document, it addresses itself principally to the various classes of Iranian society, urging them to do whatever is necessary for the preservation and strengthening of the Islamic Republic. Significantly, however, it begins with an extended meditation on the hadith-e Saqalein: "I leave among you two great and precious things: the Book of God and my household; they will never be separated from each other until they meet me at al-kauthar."

Bloody uprising of Khordad 15th

Today Iran commemorates the 52nd anniversary of a public uprising in June 5, 1963 that ignited the flames of Islamic Revolution of Iran.

The demonstrations of June 5, 1963, known as 15th of Khordad Uprising, were the public protest against the arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after his strong remarks on Iran’s Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Israel and the United States. The protestors were harshly suppressed but the event marked the vitality and power of the opposition against Pahlavi dynasty and the support Iranian nation had for their religious and political figure, Ayatollah Khomeini, who 15 years later led the Islamic Revolution to establish the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Historical Background

Six months earlier, on January 1963, Iran’s Shah issued a set of reforms called “White Revolution”. This six-point plan was claimed to be prepared for Iran’s further development and called for land reform, nationalization of forests, empowering private sector, electoral changes, and establishment of an anti-illiteracy campaign. However, the anti-religious and Western nature of the program was clear for religious figures including Ayatollah Khomeini.

Talks between these religious figures and the representatives of Shah all ended without any result as Shah refused to clarify the dimensions of the program.

Finally Ayatollah Khomeini and other religious figures decided to boycott the referendum on White Revolution. Two days later, the Shah took an armored column to Qom and delivered a speech harshly attacking the religious figures as a class.

The referendum was carried out and the program was approved despite the opposition.


The Arrest

The religious and public opposition to Pahlavi dynasty has continued in different ways, from declarations to cancelation of Nowruz (Iranian New Year) celebrations. Yet, the turning point was the speech delivered by Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, 1963, at the Feyziyeh Seminary School. The ceremony was held to commemorate the anniversary of Ashura or 10th of Moharram, marking the tragic martyrdom of Imam Hussein (PBUH) in Karbala. In his speech, Ayatollah Khomeini strongly criticized the Shah’s government for its anti-Islam policies and drew parallels between the tyrant Umayyad ruler Yazid, by whose order Imam Hussein was killed, and the Shah.

Adressing a large gathering of people, students and religious scholars, Imam exposed the treasons of the Pahlavi regime to the Iranian nation. He pointed out: "They are against the foundations of the divine religion of Islam and the ulema and aim at destroying Islam and the ulema. O People! you should know that our Islam and country are threatened. We are deeply concerned about the situation of Iran and the state of the Shah’s despotic regime."

Two days later at three o'clock in the morning, security men and commandos descended on Khomeini's home in Qom and arrested him. Ayatollah Khomeini's influence and popularity was to the extent that the commandos refused his request for waiting only 5 minutes to allow him perform his morning prayers, in order to take no risk of people finding about the detention. Moreover, they even did not dare to start the car engine and pushed the car for some distance as they feared the sound of engine would wake the neigbour who would for sure prevent the arrest. They hastily transferred him to the Qasr Prison in Tehran.



On June 5, 1963, the Iranian people, wearing particular white clothes used for burying the death as a sign of their readiness for dying for their cause, staged massive demonstrations against the US-backed Shah, following news of detention of the Father of Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (RA) in the aftermath of his bold exposure to the public of the evil nature of the Pahlavi regime. The regime attacked the people and brutally suppressed them, martyring and wounding a large number of Iranian Muslims. The historical uprising known as "15th of Khordad" marked the starting point of the Islamic movement which was to change Iran's destiny. Though Imam Khomeini was exiled a year later, the movement culminated in his eventual return home and the triumph of Islamic Revolution on February 11, 1979. Following the Revolution, Imam Khomeini ordered the day to be marked as a national mourning day on Iranian calendar.