Imam Khomeini successfully monitored struggle for Islamic Revolution while in exile

Imam Khomeini successfully monitored struggle for Islamic Revolution while in exile

Imam Khomeini was, in fact, constantly, and acutely aware of the connections between Iranian affairs and those of the Muslim world in general and the Arab lands in particular.

Imam Khomeini had also to deal with changing circumstances in Iraq.

The Ba’th Party, fundamentally hostile to religion, had come to power in July 1967 and soon began exerting pressure on the scholars of Najaf, both Iraqi and Iranian. In 1971, as Iraq and Iran entered a state of sporadic and undeclared war with each other, the Iraqi regime began expelling from its territory Iranians whose forebears had in some cases been residing there for generations.

The Imam, who until that point had scrupulously kept his distance from Iraqi officialdom, now addressed himself directly to the Iraqi leadership condemning its actions.

This awareness led him to issue from Najaf a proclamation to the Muslims of the world on the occasion of the hajj in 1971, and to comment, with special frequency and emphasis, on the problems posed by Israel for the Muslim world.

The Imam’s strong concern for the Palestine question led him to issue a fatwa on August 27, 1968 authorizing the use of religious monies (vujuh-i shar’i) to support the nascent activities of al-Asifa, the armed wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization; this was confirmed by a similar and more detailed ruling issued after a meeting with the Baghdad representative of the PLO.

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 15 Khordad continued to develop despite the brutality unhesitatingly dispensed by the Shah.

Numerous groups and individuals explicitly owed their allegiance to the Imam. Soon after his exiling there came into being an organization called Hay’atha-yi Mu’talifa-yi Islami (the Allied Islamic Associations), headquartered in Tehran but with branches throughout Iran.

Active in it were many who had been students of the Imam in Qum and who came to assume important responsibilities after the revolution, men such as Hashimi-Rafsanjani and Javad Bahunar. In January 1965, four members of the organization assassinated Hasan ‘Ali Mansur, the prime minister who had been responsible for the exiling of the Imam.

There were no individuals designated, even clandestinely, as Imam Khomeini’s authorized representatives in Iran while he was in exile.

However, senior ulama such as Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari, Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Bihishti (d. 1981), and Ayatullah Husayn ‘Ali Muntaziri, were in contact with him, directly and indirectly, and were known to speak on his behalf in important matters. Like their younger counterparts in the Hay’atha-yi Mu’talafa-yi Islami, all three went on to perform important functions during and after the revolution.

The continued growth of the Islamic movement during Imam Khomeini’s exile should not be attributed exclusively to his abiding influence or to the activity of ulama associated with him. Important, too, were the lectures and books of ‘Ali Shari’ati (d. 1977), a university-educated intellectual whose understanding and presentation of Islam were influenced by Western ideologies, including Marxism, to a degree that many ulama regarded as dangerously syncretistic.

When the Imam was asked to comment on the theories of Shari’ati, both by those who supported them and by those who opposed them, he discreetly refrained from doing so, in order not to create a division within the Islamic movement that would have benefited the Shah’s regime.

The most visible sign of the persisting popularity of Imam Khomeini in the pre-revolutionary years, above all at the heart of the religious institution in Qum, came in June 1975 on the anniversary of the uprising of 15 Khurdad.

Students at the Fayziya madrasa began holding a demonstration within the confines of the building, and a sympathetic crowd assembled outside.

Both gatherings continued for three days until they were attacked on the ground by commandos and from the air by a military helicopter, with numerous deaths resulting.

The Imam reacted with a message in which he declared the events in Qum and similar disturbances elsewhere to be a sign of hope that “freedom and liberation from the bonds of imperialism” were at hand. The beginning of the revolution came indeed some two and a half years later.

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