A Review of Imam Khumayni's Political Thought
By: Kazim Qadizadeh
Translated by Mahdi Chamanzar
If we were to measure and compare various aspects of Imam Khumayni's political thought quantitatively, we would never reach a true outcome with respect to the extent of his preference for, or indifference about some of them. This is because, with the exception of a few of his books which were fully dedicated to certain Islamic political issues such as al-Bay' and Wilayat-i Faqih, Imam Khumayni had mostly addressed issues in accordance with the events of the relevant time. In addition, his speeches were mainly in response to people who referred him to understand their political responsibilities. Thus, the bulk of his speeches, reflect to a greater extent, the Islamic society's daily needs and requirements, than implying the degree of his preference for some of those aspects. For instance, although Imam Khumayni's call for unity in various ways was extensive, and the number of his sentences in this respect were several hundred, his views, collectively, were mainly general. Regarding popular freedom, in most of Imam Khumayni's statements in response to those reporters who had found the opportunity to interview him during his stay in Paris, and also in most of his exclusive speeches, there are fewer references and hints to subjects such as "freedom", "freedom of parties", and they go only as far as the scope of freedom as a whole.
There are only certain books of his, like al-Bay' and Tahrir al-Wasilah and a few of his speeches, in which the aforesaid issues have been raised. Actually, after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, he had addressed the issue merely to meet the questions raised by people and the state officials about these subjects. And he had never covered those issues comprehensively in his speeches. However, it seems that the novelty of his ideas in this respect were substantially more than other issues.
Accordingly, it would be difficult to arrange and compile a selection of Imam Khumayni's speeches, statements, messages and addresses and writings that would cover various aspects of his political thought and at the same time respond adequately to the existing questions, although, we might be able to achieve a greater portion of the above objectives through the general principles expressed by him.
One should remember that Imam Khumayni's political views were expressed in a eventful era under various political and social conditions. He was only 45 years of age when he compiled the book Kashf al-Asrar, and began to state views regarding the role of 'ulama ' in the government. At that age, when be was considered as an ordinary teacher, like other instructors at theology schools, he made his very first popular call to struggle against the Pahlavi regime and rise for the sake of Islam. 1
Sixteen years later, after the passing away of Grand Ayatullah Burujirdi, Imam Khumayni started his active opposition to the Shah and his government for their irreligious and unlawful acts. Now, he was regarded only as one of several prominent religious authorities, and his views and addresses faced the least support and hope to succeed. However, when his popular struggle reached its climax during the bloody uprising of 15th Khordad (5th June 1963), Imam Khumayni became the leading figure in the struggle against the regime and was considered as a distinguished personality among the 'ulama' and Shi'ite religious authorities. In those days, Imam Khumayni was increasingly under pressure and threat by the regime of the Shah, because of his statements and addresses. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 under his brilliant leadership which brought solidarity to the Iranian nation,2 Imam Khumayni, as the leader of the Revolution and the Founder of the Islamic Government, made speeches and addresses in a totally different political environment.
Thus, in view of the above elaboration, the majority of political scholars can better understand the justification for the changes in Imam Khumayni "s political views.
In politics, those who have remained fully stable in their political views are very few. Imam Khumayni's most important characteristics are his relatively stable political views throughout his political career. Moreover, steadiness not only can be seen in Imam Khumayni's general points of view but also may be witnessed throughout the cases and details of his thoughts and views' whereas, the changes in stands of individuals in dealing with various cases, are due to shifts and ups and downs in their personalities as the times goes by. I think it would be appropriate to briefly reflect upon, the uniformity in Imam Khumayni's political thought, and the cases where they seem to have faced with fluctuations, and also, the instances where his views had actually altered. The consistency in Imam Khumayni's perception of Islam as a religion, and his judgement of the relation between religion and politics can clearly be observed in his thought from the start to address in 1943 in which he called upon the 'ulama' to initiate an uprising against tyranny and oppression and to get involved in political issues related to Islam, and his last comprehensive call – to be known as "charter of 'ulama"' - three months before his demise, in which he made a distinction between the true authentic Islam of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and the American style of Islam by enumerating the characteristics of each one, and thus condemning the apolitical and reactionary American Islam, soundly show that Imam Khumayni remained steadfast in his thought. 4
Regarding the issues of Wilayat-i Faqih and the necessity for the leadership of a "Just Faq'ih' during the major occultation (Ghaybat-i Kubra) of the 12th Infallible Imam (A.S.), although there are differences of opinion among experts who analyze Imam Khumayni's thoughts, and some of them believe that he initially believed in "supervision" as a role for the Faqih, and then his views in this respect broadened to Wilayat, and at last he supported the role of "Absolute Authority". However, in my opinion, such an analysis of Imam Khumayni's views is far from being true. Although, he has suggested the role of "supervision" for Faqih in his book Kashf al-Asrar, there are some evidences in the same book that show he actually believed in Wilayat-i Faqih, but he avoided raising the issue directly for it wasn't possible to realize it at this time. So, Imam Khumayni only emphasized on what was politically possible and religiously appropriate - taking the oppressive atmosphere dominating the country into consideration. Interestingly, we can notice the same thing in Ayatullah Mirza Naini's writings regarding "constitutionalism". Below, is what he has written on the subject "Constitutional Government":
For a just government which is to safeguard the interests of the community the best choice is an infallible ruler, for he is fully submitted to the will of God. But, as long as such a type of government is not possible during the long as such a type of government is not possible during the major occultation of the 12th Imam ('a), efforts should be made to bring about a government under control of just men. However, since having access to leaders with such adored characteristics' is not common, and people usually have no say over such matters, it is thus obligatory to observe the following two principles:
1. To implement law.
2. To appoint wise men as "supervisors".
This way, at least, possible steps would be taken in order to prevent a huge gap between the existing situation and the desired goals.7
Observing the above two principles suggested by Mirza Na'ini, as can be conceived from the aforesaid statement, is because he had no hope with respect to realization of a government under the administration of just men. Thus, he saw "legitimacy" as a precondition for the would-be rulers who are not just. Or, it might be said that, at least, he tried to reduce the gap between the rulership of unjust individuals and the Islamic government, by employing the two means of "law" and "supervision by wise men".
Besides the book Kashf al-Asrar, Imam Khumayni in his other work al-Bay' has explicitly observed and supported the principle of "Absolute Authority" of the Faqih, and has regarded his authority as equal to that of the infallible Imam with respect to government affairs. In that book, he has incorporated the words "absolute" and "general" to elaborate on the subject of Wilayat-i Faqih.8 Although, it may be interpreted that the two terms "absolute" and "general" may bear various and even opposite meanings in different contexts and situations, and so, the same view might have been observed in al-Bay', Imam Khumayni's response in 1987 to the then president of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding the powers of the Islamic government, even in those cases where it might not be in line with the primary and secondary Islamic prescripts was that, they are comprehensive, since they are in accordance with the expediency of the Islamic government. This renders void any possible doubts surrounding Imam Khumayni's viewpoints regarding the issue of "Absolute Authority of the Faqih". If close attention is paid to the same response (letter) dated January 6, 1987, it becomes evident that, also in the past, Imam Khumayni did believe in such authority for the Faqih. Because in his reasoning, Imam Khumayni has referred to his conviction, that, whatever authority was entrusted to the Prophet by God, is also entrusted to the Waliyy-i Faqih. Moreover, Imam Khumayni had also in his prior statements emphasized on the exact similarity of the Faqih's authority to that of the Infallible Imams (A.S.) with respect to governmental affairs.9
Hence, it can be said that Imam Khumayni always expressed his actual views regarding the principle of Wilayat-i Faqih. However, the way he stated them differed according to various times and situations; sometimes, he saw it adequate to merely refer to the role of "supervision" for the Faqih due to the dominating political atmosphere, and at other times, he assumed it appropriate to elaborate on the issue without referring to the scope of the Faqih's authorities. Finally, under certain conditions, he deemed it wise and feasible to raise the subject comprehensively, covering all its aspects.'10
In view of the fact that, the criteria for the position of Wilayat-i Faqih are found more among religious figures and scholars who have been thoroughly trained at theology schools, it is important to point out that, Imam Khumayni had revised his views about the role of 'ulama ' in the government, and observed a much greater role for the Waliyy-i Faqih in leading the Islamic state. For instance, in the interviews during his stay in Paris, Imam Khumayni repeatedly stated that his future role would be to advise the government, and the role of the 'ulama ' would be to guide the nation. However, in the same period, by applying his authority as the Waliyy-i Faqih, Imam Khumayni dismissed the Shah's parliament and appointed a number of individuals to form a provisional government. He also selected others for certain important positions. So, with regard to these facts and considering that, he explicitly referred to the divine position of Wilayat-i Faqih, one can conclude, what Imam Khumayni meant by "giving advice to the government" was that, he would not interfere directly in the government's affairs, and only his appointees entrusted with some of his divinely envisaged authorities, would deal with those affairs with full authority.
Also, regarding the 'ulama, Imam Khumayni initially used to emphasize on their role as "guides" and "propagators of Islam", and his conduct at the outset of the movement proves this. Within a few days after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khumayni left the capital city - the center for making decisions - and took up residence in Qum. And those who were appointed by him to administer governmental and military affairs were generally lay men. It is said that he opposed well-known 'ulama' such as Ayatullah Dr. Beheshti to fill the position of presidency. In fact, no 'alim stood for the presidency in the first elections.
However, the corruption witnessed among the officials, very shortly after the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, left no choice for Imam Khumayni but to change his view in that respect, and thus emphasize his own role in leading the nation. For instance, he assumed full responsibility as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Moreover, after the impeachment of Bani Sadr - the first president - Imam Khumayni did not appoint anyone as his deputy with respect to that highly sensitive position until nearly the last days of the sacred defense. Furthermore, he allowed the 'ulama ' to participate in governmental and state authorities. This is why, following the martyrdom of Muhammad 'Ali Raja'i - the 2nd president - Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali Khamene'i became the first 'alim to take over the office of presidency. In that period, there were a number of 'ulama' participating in the highest ranks of government. Ever since, 'ulama' have filled the leading positions of the three branches of government: Legislative Body, Executive Body and Judicial Body.
Of course, it should be pointed out that, Imam Khumayni's views regarding the role of 'ulama ' with respect to the judiciary and to some extent the legislature had always remained the same. He supported their participation in such activities and in filling those positions, since, from the very beginning, he had emphasized on the active participation of judges with the Islamic degree of ijtihad who naturally could be selected from among the 'ulama '. Thus, as one may notice, the top ranks of the judiciary have always been chosen from among the 'ulama'. Regarding the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament) and the Assembly of Experts, Imam Khumayni never objected to the participation of 'ulama', because of the nature of activities of the two assemblies and due to their relations with the fundamentals of Islam.
Some believe that Imam Khumayni views had faced changes concerning people's political freedom. It should be noted that the majority of Imam Khumayni's speeches and addresses on the issue of freedom were made during his stay in Paris and the early days after the victory of the Islamic Revolution. As was mentioned before, Imam Khumayni's addressing this issue broadly in that particular period was due to the great number of questions raised in this respect. Regarding religious freedom, as Imam Khumayni had repeatedly asserted its observance, it continued to exist and is still respected. In practice, he showed that religions and their followers were free to practice their rituals and ceremonies. Moreover, it appears that followers of the official religions in Iran - Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians - are quiet happy and satisfied with the religious freedoms they enjoy.
With respect to the issue of political freedom, when conspiracies and plots by counter revolutionaries terribly increased, and some of them began plundering Muslim public treasury and refused to turn in the fire arms stolen from the state, by which they eventually assassinated great revolutionary personalities, Imam Khumayni limited such freedom to some extent and actually started confronting the counter-revolutionary groups. It may be said that, since those misled groups misused their freedom of speech and press as well as their political freedom, Imam Khumayni decided to curb their activities in the larger interests of the nation and Islamic values. Therefore, it is not justified to say that the shift in Imam Khumayni's practices in this respect during the very tense period of the early days of the victory of the revolution and throughout the war era, means that he was in a sense, against political freedom. Unfortunately, those who believe the other way around, point out that Imam Khumayni pretended to support and advocate freedom during his movement merely to draw more attention and undermine any opposition against the establishment of the Islamic system.
It is very important to note that Imam Khumayni deeply respected women's rights and advocated their social roles. Imam Khumayni viewed women's role in the Islamic movement of Iran, highly important and even persuaded them to get involved in social activities. In fact, he showed this by supporting his own daughters to become educated and obtain higher university degrees.
Of course, one may raise such questions as: Considering that, Imam Khumayni opposed women's voting and their being voted for in the early years of his Islamic movement, wouldn't this - permitting women to participate in social activities - be called a change in his views?
The answer is, "no". Imam Khumayni's opposing women's participation in social activities during the corrupt regime of the Shah, was merely because of the wicked goals of the regime in this respect. In Imam Khumayni's opinion, women's presence in the society's affairs at that time, would have brought about more and more corruption for themselves and the society. Consequently, what a dangerous turn the Iranian society took with the spread of immoralities within a few years from the time of women's participation in the then society's affairs, is an evidence of Imam Khumayni's foresight. This is why, even after the victory of the Islamic Revolution Imam Khumayni always emphasized that women's participation in political, social and economic affairs is admissible only if Islamic values are observed.
Imam Khumayni had always held the same views with respect to social justice and unity of the Islamic society. His views on independence and glory for all Muslims had always remained unchanged. Indeed, it was due to his resolve in seeking independence and honour and his opposing evil capitulation, which had caused him to be exiled by the Shah's regime.
Imam Khumayni always sought to globalize the Islamic Revolution and to defend Islam and the Islamic doctrine throughout the world, particularly in the Islamic states. But, some believe that before the Revolution, Imam Khumayni's main goals were to deliver Iran, bring about independence, freedom and cultural and economic improvement for the country. However, his goals after the victory of the Revolution, were annihilation of arrogance; globalization of the Islamic Revolution; defending Islam - even if it was at the expense of some of the economic resources - etc. 10
It is quite true that some of the goals declared after the Revolution were not mentioned before its victory. But, would it really have been wise to talk about more advanced goals before succeeding in actualizing the preliminary aims? Even, in the Holy Qur'an, the believers are told to initially fight against the disbelievers who are in their vicinity:
"0 you who believe! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you" (9:123).
If Imam Khumayni, who during his exile in Najaf and then in Paris, was under indirect surveillance and at any time could have been denied further stay in those countries, had declared his intention of globalization of the Islamic Revolution and fighting against arrogant powers throughout the world, many would have doubted his resourcefulness as a religious leader. Besides, before the victory of the Islamic Movement, there was no such thing as the Islamic Revolution for Imam Khumayni to declare its globalization. And, also, there was no such example - the Islamic Revolution - so that other nations could be called to follow it.
However, before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khumayni had always and in many ways defended the Muslims throughout the world. An instance of this, was Imam Khumayni's addresses in defending Palestinians and Lebanese, and his aiding them financially through the 12th Imam's share of Khums. 12
1. Sahifah-yi Nnr "The Book of Enlightenment", vol. I, p. 3.
2. There are various views with respect to the effective factors which led to the victory of the Islamic Movement. Imam Khumayni believed in Islam, religious beliefs, and people as the main factors. Imam Khumayni actually never mentioned his role of leadership as one of the factors for achieving victory, and that's not surprising due to his modesty. Some like to claim, the roles of armed opposition groups and the political struggles of nationalists and leftists were more decisive in the victory of the Iranian nation and the Islamic Movement. However, in my opinion, the decisive factors were Imam Khumayni *s views together with his direct leadership, although, each one of the other aforementioned factors had a small share in the victory.
3. Imam Khumayni's steadfastness in his views regarding the arrogant powers such as the USA and the former USSR as well as his permanent view about the usurper State of Israel, are only a few instances. His views regarding some internal groups such as the so-called Mujahidin (Munafiqin) Khalq Organization were negative and never changed; whereas, majority of the intellectual ulama who were active in the struggle against the despotic regime of the Shah had a specially positive view about this infidel group, some of whom even for sometime after the victory of the Islamic Revolution.
4. Sahifah-yiNur , vol. I, p. 3 and vol. 21, p. 88.
5. Those who are innocent spiritually and are just as well. In other words, the government of the "Infallibles" or, of the just and pious individuals.
6. The two principles are: Observing the law and the supervision by the wise.
7. Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Tanbih al-Ummah wa Tanzih al-Millah, . 15.
8. Imam Khumayni, Kitab al-Bay', vol. 2, p. 483.
9. What Imam Khumayni means here is temporal authority in running state affairs, and not the spiritual powers and status of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and the Infallible Imams, who in the light of hadith existed before the creation of the universe as forms of light. Refer to Imam Khumayni's " Islamic government".
10. The following which is part of an interview given to Professor Hamid Algar on 28 December 1979, clearly reveals Imam Khumayni's strong beliefs in the vast authority of the Leadership, although, he had not fully disclosed his views in that respect because of the special circumstances: "What is mentioned in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding the powers of Waliyy-i-Faq'ih is merely part of his authority." The book Sahifah-yi Nur, vol. II, p. 133.
11. Mahdi Bazargan, "The Iranian Revolution, the Two Paths", pages 79, pages 111 and 112 in particular.
12. Imam Khumayni's letter to Abu Jihad, (Sahifah-yi Nur vol 22, p. 17), and also Imam Khumayni's response to Jalal al-Din Farsi's letter about the issue of Lebanon in 1976 (the aforesaid book, page 111). Also, Imam Khumayni's letter to Mr. Farsi in 1977, about the very same issue