Imam Khomeini’s inspiring leadership

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by Zafar Bangash,, June, 2014

Given the paucity of good leaders in the Muslim world, Imam Khomeini, who joined heavenly company in June 1989, offers an example of great leadership.




Imam Khomeini was a towering personality who changed the course of history in profound ways. As Muslims worldwide commemorate the 25th anniversary of his departure (June 3) from this world, his legacy on the global stage remains firmly established. It can be said with confidence that he was perhaps the most successful revolutionary of the 20th century, unmatched and unrivalled by anyone.




His was a multi-dimensional personality: mujtahid, faqih, ‘arif, statesman, revolutionary, as well as a poet. Many of his works remain unknown to most people. To the outside world as well as many Muslims, Imam Khomeini is best known, and rightly so, as the leader who brought about the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978–1979. This is truly a remarkable achievement in contemporary Muslim history because hitherto Muslims had faced only defeat and humiliation. From the 1878 defeat of the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the abolition of the khilafah, albeit nominal, in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal in March 1924, Muslims were in retreat everywhere.




Kemalism’s great insult heaped on the Ummah was only marginally ameliorated by the hopes aroused by the creation of Pakistan in August 1947 when British colonial rule ended in India. These hopes were soon dashed when the ruling elites in the newly created state of Pakistan started to indulge in the kind of politics that have disillusioned people all over the world. More humiliations were in store for Muslims: the June 1967 defeat of Arabian armies at the hands of the Zionists and the surrender in December 1971 of 90,000 Pakistani troops to the invading Indian army in what was then East Pakistan (Bangladesh). These are truly dark episodes in contemporary Islamic history that Muslims would rather forget than recount.




It was against this backdrop of total darkness that the success of the Islamic Revolution came as a flash of lightning. What is less well understood is the environment in which Imam Khomeini succeeded. It was not another regime change like so many that had occurred in the Muslim world in previous decades. Many were military coups or noisy palace reshuffles with one set of elites replacing another, merely to continue the same exploitative anti-public and anti-Islamic policies that were already in vogue.




In order to appreciate the legacy of Imam Khomeini, we must briefly review the history of the last 200 years, especially relating to the Muslim world. This will enable us to understand the enormous challenges faced by the Imam and how he overcame them to bring about the Islamic Revolution. Most Muslim countries emerged from the bowels of colonialism in the last 60–70 years. By the middle of the 20th century, stirrings of revolt were evident almost everywhere; nationalist movements were demanding independence. Weakened by the bloodletting between European powers during the Second World War, the colonialists started abandoning physical control of their colonial possessions.




The Dutch were driven out of the East Indies; the subcontinent was partitioned leading to the creation of India and Pakistan. Others in Africa and Asia followed suit: Malaya (later to be renamed Malaysia), Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Somalia, and a host of others. But the colonial enterprise was not entirely unsuccessful, at least from the point of view of the colonialists. Even while they were forced to leave, the Europeans left behind local elites that have continued the white man’s “civilizing mission.” In 200 years of colonisation, the colonialists not only changed the socio-political and economic systems but also replaced the educational systems, supplanting local languages with colonial languages, and changing the tastes, habits as well as cultures of colonised societies. They created a class of people that looked like the natives but behaved and acted like white colonial masters, in short they were perfect “Brown Englishmen.” Independence was a myth and a cruel hoax.




Iran under the Shah was no exception. While endowed with vast oil and gas resources, the overwhelming majority in Iran languished in poverty; only a tiny parasitical class around the Shah acquired enormous wealth. The Shah himself, despite bestowing upon himself such titles as shahinshah (the king of kings), and descendant of Cyrus the Great, was totally subservient to the West.




It was against this backdrop that Imam Khomeini emerged on the scene. In studying his life, one finds that his political activism was underpinned by a deep study of Islam and keen awareness of the reality of everyday life including major political decisions and their impact on people’s lives. Unlike his predecessors or contemporaries in other parts of the Muslim world, especially the “Sunni” world, the Imam had to overcome three major obstacles. The first was internal to Shi‘i political thought; the second had to do with the oppressive regime and its state apparatus, and the third was and remains the Western-imposed world order that dominates and manipulates the policies of weaker states.




To overcome the inertia of history, especially underpinned by centuries of theology is a truly monumental task. The Imam achieved this with hikmah and courage. He mobilized the youth of Iran — men and women — by inspiring them to get involved in their own affairs so that oppression and exploitation would end. It was the youth who confronted and defeated the Shah’s heavily armed army during the revolution and it continues to stand as a bulwark against the West’s disruptive policies. Without being educated in the West, the Imam understood the West’s political and economic systems far better than most Western educated Muslims ever did. It was his total reliance on Allah (swt) that enabled him to surmount immense challenges in the struggle to establish the Islamic State.




June 4 is that doleful day in the history of Islamic Iran on which the Father of the Islamic Revolution left the mortal world for his heavenly abode, leaving a grateful nation in grief. As a matter of fact, conscientious people and the seekers of truth and freedom all over the world were aggrieved on the hearing of the news of the passing away of Imam Khomeini (may God bless his soul).




The reformer who shaped the most popular anti-oppression uprising of the century and revived Islam on the social and political scenes continues to rule the hearts of the faithful. Here is an exclusive feature on the 25th passing away anniversary of the Founder of the Islamic Republic.




God says in ayah 24 of Surah Anfaal, "O you who have faith! Answer Allah and the Prophet when he summons you to that which will give you life."




Religion means obedience to the commandments of God as conveyed to humanity by the Prophet. It is the key to real prosperity in life, and salvation in afterlife. For this reason, the fundamentals and principles of religion ought to remain unsullied, and this requires dedicated leaders in every age and era to strive to safeguard them, otherwise there is the risk of deviation and innovation by imposters.




Imam Khomeini, as a dedicated servant of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) and the Infallible Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace upon them), was indeed the most dynamic Islamic leader of the modern era. He revived in the society the concept of the holy Qur’an in order to remove retardation and backwardness. He used to say: Our nation which is fully committed to Islam and the holy Qur’an is honored to follow the religion which considers the Qur’an to be a living book catering to all aspects of life, instead of confining its recitation to funerals and at graveyards.




This statement of Imam Khomeini is indicative of his firm belief in the fundamentals of faith. He strove to safeguard religion and religious values from deviation in line with a narration from Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) that says: When innovation crops up among my ummah, every religious scholar ought to prevent it on the basis of his (correct) knowledge of religion, and whoever does not do this, God will curse him.




History is testimony to the changes wrought in various religions by imposters. The messages of the Prophets of the past were sadly tampered with by Godless elements to suit their vested interests. With the revelation of the holy Qur’an as the Final Scripture to mankind, God Almighty promised to protect this Divine Book from any interpolation. As a result the contents of the holy Qur’an, which have also been committed to memory over the past 14 centuries, have remained remarkably well preserved.




The deviants, however, have tried to tamper with the hadith attributed to the Prophet in a bid to present a wrong interpretation of the holy book to naïve and unsuspecting people. The dedicated ulema in every age and era have striven to thwart deviation. Today, while the enemies are trying to tarnish the image of Islam and targeting its lofty concepts such as the quest for justice and the struggle against oppression, certain divisive elements have emerged within the fold of Islam itself. These are the hypocrites who call for separation of religion from state affairs, and the Takfiris – also known as Wahhabis and Salafis – who advocate extreme violence and terrorism on the unconvincing pretext of presenting a so-called puritanical Islam.




Meanwhile there have always been true and brave defenders of Islam who have striven to preserve its genuine values in order to prevent deviation and innovation from creeping in. Such a dedicated person was Imam Khomeini, who presented a clear path for all those striving to serve Islam and thwart deviation and innovation.




He was a leader who on the basis of religious teachings succeeded, in not just overthrowing a despotic regime, but also in reviving in society the genuine teachings of Islam in order to prevent deviation and innovation from creeping in. It was he who brought the Islamic Revolution to victory and showed the practicability of Islamic laws in society by enshrining them in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.




At a time, when religious values were being negated from daily life with the slogan that religion is personal matter of individual worship and has nothing to do with political, social and cultural affairs of the community, Imam Khomeini launched the grassroots Islamic movement of the Iranian people. By doing so, he saved Iran, and rid the Iranian society widespread vices and the decadent culture of the West that was being promoted by the corrupt and treasonous Pahlavi regime. Imam Khomeini used to say: The harm, to which the ummah has been exposed ever since the passing away of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA), has reached its peak in our era.




Imam Khomeini said: A satanic plot had been hatched during the Omayyad and Abbasid misrules, and after that whatever regime that came to power, it followed that deviated approach to religion. He deplored the deteriorating situation of Muslim states, which under the influence of the communist east and the capitalist west, propagated the misconstrued idea that religion is a personal issue between God and man, while politics are separate from Islam and the ulema have no right to involve themselves in political issues.




Imam Khomeini decisively countered these absurd ideas. He considered separation of religion from politics as separation of the ummah from its independence and dignity. He said the slogan of separation of religion from politics is part of the propaganda of the colonialists, who do not want Muslim states to determine their own fate. For promoting and reviving Islamic thought, Imam Khomeini placed emphasis on the role of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) and Infallible Imams as perfect models of emulation. This way he revived religious values in society and in all spheres, including politics, culture, economy, etc.




He emphasized the necessity of establishing Islamic government, since as the Prophet and Imam Ali (AS) had shown: Social justice is possible only by establishing Islamic government. In part of his Last Will, the Late Imam has said: The Prophet of Islam founded a government just like any other, except that it sought to promote social justice and equity. The Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (AS) also pursued the same objective during his brief caliphate, but on a much wider scale.




Imam Khomeini thus considered the setting up of the Islamic government as a means of materializing the sacred ideals as well as campaigning against oppression and injustice by supporting the oppressed people.




The Islamic Republic of Iran that was founded by him, advocates harmony between religion and politics, in order to promote spiritual values in society and to help the people fight oppression and injustice.

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