By Syed Zafar Mehdi
Imam Khomeini was “one of the most prominent world leaders of his time” who led a movement not only against the Iranian monarchy but also against the 'complacent" theological class "that had emerged as supporters of this tyrannical monarchy”, according to an analyst.
Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a professor and former chairman and coordinator of the Centre of Advanced Study in History at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in northern India, in an interview with the Press TV website, said the Islamic Revolution spearheaded by Imam Khomeini "transformed the world".
He said a "large number of clerics "had been misled" to support the "anti-people, unethical and totalitarian regime of the Pahlavis" when Imam Khomeini started his movement.
Imam Khomeini, he said, rallied against the Pahlavi monarchy together with his supporters, which included both theological and non-theological classes, “to change the popular perceptions” and eventually establish the Islamic Republic.
“Here was a man who had been exiled twice, once to Iraq, and then to Paris. But he transformed this debilitating act into an opportunity to reach out to the world. He used the technology which was available then, and along with examples of his own piety, brought down an empire which was celebrating 1000 years of kingship,” Prof. Rezavi told the Press TV website.
The Indian historian and author, who currently holds the charge of Secretary at the Indian History Congress (IHC) and President of the Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology (ASHA), said Imam Khomeini-led Islamic Revolution in 1979 “transformed the world”.
“The arrogant world, both the Western imperialism as well as the Left-oriented East was bound to be affected by its reverberations. Whether one accepts it or not, Perestroika was made possible only after the Islamic Revolution,” said Rezavi, who is also a Fellow of Shiah Institute, London.
“The West too, amongst other things, was now forced to open its eyes towards what the actual message of Islam was. In-depth research started into analyzing what the Imamia faith was all about.”
He said the Isna‘ashari faith was until then “treated as an aberration at the most” and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution many centres of advanced research sprung up in the West, both in Europe and in the US, “whose basic job was to understand what Shi’ism was all about”.
“I mention this, as most commentators confine themselves only to the political fallout of what Imam Khomeini achieved! Perhaps even Shi’i scholarship itself got back its lost voice and started to assert itself and made tangible efforts to make their voices heard,” Prof. Rezavi stated.
He also referred to Imam Khomeini’s championing of the cause of the mustazafīn, the “weak ones”, which later became one of the core principles of Iran’s foreign policy.
“Unlike others, who claimed to have stood for the downtrodden or weak, Imam Khomeini’s words met with action: he was not just talking, but walking the talk. And this was one of the main reasons how, with no army or weapons, his movement not only became successful but has continued for more than four decades,” the Indian historian asserted.
Imam Khomeini’s ideology of “looking after the downtrodden, helping the poor and degraded, equality to all, a society at liberty to practice what it believes, the supremacy of justice and providing the voice to the voiceless”, Prof. Rezavi stated, “is still relevant”.
“It was these elements of his movement which made Sunnis forget the Shi’i core of his thought, and made it the clarion call for all who stood for righteousness. From Yemenos to Palestinians to Chechens, or inhabitants of Kashmir, Imam Khomeini was not a Shia voice, but a voice of their own. That is why this thunder made the Saudis, the Baathists and the imperialists tremble,” he noted.
The AMU professor further stated that the late Iranian leader’s movement “was not confined either to the so-called Islamic world, or to Western imperial powers (the Great Satan US and its European allies like the UK)”, but its “deep impact was felt even in a country like India and of course Pakistan”.
“Imam Khomeini’s call was quite simple to people here: he was giving a voice to the voiceless and giving a call to countries like India neither to fear the West nor the Soviets. One could stand apart from these blocks, just as once Jawaharlal Nehru (Independent India’s first prime minister) had once visualized,” he stressed.
“To the non-Muslims, Imam Khomeini’s message was a message of brotherhood and parity. To the Muslim sects, the clarion call was to stand united.”
On the impact of Imam Khomeini’s message of unity and tolerance in India, Prof. Rezavi said there was a time when the commemoration of Muharram and lamenting Karbala was something “which crossed religious and sectarian boundaries” in the Hindu-majority country.
“Th taziya and the mournings around it could be seen not only in Shi’i households, but they were also common amongst the Sunnis and the Hindus. Ta’ziyas of Scindias and Holkars and those Hindu Raja of Banaras or the zamindars of Bengal and Maharashtra were as important as those of Nawabs of Awadh, the Nizam’s and the ruler of Rampur,” he said, referring to the communal amity in India that time.
“But then, fratricidal sectarian and communal clashes had rendered asunder these mutual practices. Howsoever, the Islamic Revolution in Iran once again tried to mend those fences which had been rendered weak. Ayatollah Khomeini’s message acted as a balm and helped heal the wounds of sectarian and communal terror.”
Thirty-four years after his passing, Imam Khomeini’s life and legacy and messages “still reverberate and still remain relevant”, the professor said.
“It is the call which is quite similar to the one given by Imām Ali and Imām Husain: stand with the poor, oppose the powerful and establish the rule of law,” he told the Press TV website.