Historic letter to Gorbachev proves Imam's unique visionan and revolutionary leadership

Historic letter to Gorbachev proves Imam's unique visionan and revolutionary leadership

Imam Khomeini asked that “Indeed, how can Islam be the opium of the people—the religion that has made Iranians as firm as a mountain against superpowers?”

That Imam Khomeini was a unique visionary and revolutionary leader is attested to by western scholars Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.  Describing the Imam as a combination of charismatic and religious authority, the Leveretts write, “This combination made him a unique figure among history’s revolutionaries,” which allowed him “to advance the case for Islamic government as his country’s rightful political orientation.” 

The Islamic Revolution in Iran and Imam Khomeini’s role had caught the attention of officials in Moscow long before the dispatch of the letter.  The former Soviet Union had substantial Muslim populations, especially in its former satellite states in Central Asia that included Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. What to do about the rise of Islamic revivalism as a result of the revolution in Iran was a point of contention in the Kremlin, according to American scholar on Central Asia Martha Brill Olcott.

Noting that Moscow recognized that Islam “is a supranational faith in a way that Christianity is not,” Olcott continued that the Soviet leadership, which included Gorbachev at that time, saw that the Islamic Revolution “had an impact on the religious identification of some Soviet citizens.”  Furthermore, she pointed out that Muslims in the Soviet Union wanted “to be able to ‘recapture’ their past” which meant “gaining respect for religion and the role of Islam....” 

Of course, Imam Khomeini was fully aware of the yearning of Soviet Muslims for reconnecting with their Islamic roots.  Hence, the Imam took it upon himself to reach out to the new, progressive-thinking leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, with a personal letter, which was delivered by the Imam’s personal envoy, Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi Amoli.  Gorbachev met for two hours with the three-person delegation from the Islamic Republic on 7 January 1989. 

Arguably, the letter had a profound effect on the Soviet leader.  As General Secretary of the Supreme Soviet, Gorbachev was himself attempting to introduce political, economic and social reforms in the Soviet Union under the rubric of perestroika and glasnost.  The word perestroika literally means rebuilding while glasnost means transparency, and both were fundamental elements in Gorbachev’s vision of revolutionary reforms for revitalizing his country. 

It was perhaps Gorbachev’s revolutionary spirit that allowed him to be receptive to Imam Khomeini’s message.  In expressing his appreciation to Ayatollah Amoli and his delegation for the dispatch from the Imam, the Soviet leader is reported to have said, “Moscow intended to rectify its past mistakes and to create a healthy life for the people, materially and spiritually.”   Unfortunately for the longevity of the USSR, other Soviet leaders neither shared Gorbachev’s vision nor valued the Imam’s letter.

The letter contained bold insights and much prescient material.  The Imam correctly predicted that Gorbachev’s “boldness and initiative” would be “likely to bring about changes that would result in upsetting the equations of power dominating the world.”  Within less than three years, on 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved and as a result, the Imam keenly foresaw that “communism will only have to be found in the museums of world political history....” 

The leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran warned the Soviet premier “not to get trapped, while tearing down the walls of Marxist illusions, in the prison of the West and the Great Satan [the U.S.].”  The Imam bluntly advised Gorbachev that his allies were “no longer willing to sacrifice their subterranean and surface resources to keep alive the myth of the success of communism” and that he should “reflect once again on the materialistic and theistic worldviews.” 

The Imam proceeded to relate an intuitive example to demonstrate the existence of Absolute Knowledge and Absolute Power, and hence, God.  Starting with the given that, unlike material objects, mankind and animals are aware of themselves and their surroundings. This implies an entity separate and distinct from matter. Man also strives for increased power and knowledge, “Therefore, there must be some Absolute Power and Absolute Knowledge to which man is attached,” concluded the Imam.  “It is God we all seek although we may not be aware of it.” 

Imam Khomeini next pointed out that mankind’s quest for eternal life proves the existence of an Eternal World.  The Imam then suggested that, if Gorbachev desired to become more familiar with Islamic concepts, the Soviet leader should command his scholars to study the philosophical works of al-Farabi, Avicenna, Sohravardi and Mullah Sadra to become familiar with the “nature of knowledge” which is different from the “nature of matter.”  

Imam Khomeini’s letter to Gorbachev drew criticism from a few reactionary clerics in Qom.  Of course, he referred to philosophers and mystics, whose works and arguments would be known to the Soviet leader.  Most Muslim philosophers followed the Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle, and so called because he would move about while teaching.   Al-Farabi, for example, tried to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with that of Plato, and the latter two would certainly be familiar to Soviet scholars.

The intransigent clerics, who belonged to a fringe group known as “The Protectors of Jerusalem,” objected to the Imam’s references to philosophers and mystics in place of orthodox Islamic authorities in his letter suggesting to Gorbachev that he “study Islam earnestly.”  Failing to grasp the Imam’s reason for referring to philosophers in his letter to the Soviet premier, the pompous clerics asked, “Does it [the letter] mean that the leaders of Islam are unable to explain the truth of the Qur’an without resorting to philosophy and mysticism?”

In a letter dated 22 February 1989 addressed to the narrow-minded clerics in Qom, Imam Khomeini responded with vigor, pointing out that he himself had “suffered more from stupid reactionary mullahs than anyone else.”  Continuing to lambast his narrow-minded clerical critics, the Imam wrote, “When theology meant no interference in politics, stupidity became a virtue.”

In the aftermath of the delivery of the Imam’s letter, some Soviet officials tried futilely to suppress it, but the document was copied and distributed secretly among the eager Soviet youth.  For his part, Gorbachev was impressed by the letter and dispatched his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, with a response for the Imam.  

During a meeting with the Imam on 26 February 1989, Shevardnadze, who later became president of Georgia, complimented the Founder of the Islamic Republic. “There is deep consideration over the fate of humanity in your letter,” said Shevardnadze, who also commented that “we have always welcomed your revolution.” 

Had the rest of the Soviet leadership welcomed the Imam’s letter as did Chairman. Gorbachev, perhaps a new USSR could have emerged.  Instead, disregard and outright suppression of the profound ideas and concepts within the Imam’s epistle ultimately led to the collapse of Soviet Union, just as he had predicted.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, Imam Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini, not only was the spiritual force behind the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but also influenced other world leaders, among them was Mikhail Gorbachev.  In January of 1989, the Imam wrote a letter to the former premier of the Soviet Union that contained much wisdom and sound advice, the value of which endures to this day.

(Source: https://ahtribune.com/religion/1426-khomeini-letter-gorbachev.html)

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