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Imam Khomeini: Founder of Islamic Awakening

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The 1960s and 1970s are important eras in the contemporary history of Iran in terms of political, economic, and social developments as well as the ever-increasing Islamic Awakening and revival of religious thought.

A Historical Review

The 1960s and 1970s are important eras in the contemporary history of Iran in terms of political, economic, and social developments as well as the ever-increasing Islamic Awakening and revival of religious thought. During the two decades, a genuine movement with a real shape and core came into existence in the world of modern religious ideology under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. He was completely different from his preceding counterparts in terms of theoretical endeavor and practical activities. In this period, other ideological movements having strong belief in Islamic politics and establishment of a religious government supported Imam’s genuine and deep-rooted movement.

 International conditions

In the last year of 1960s, the international situation caused reduction of political suffocation and somehow an open political atmosphere as well as a controlled freedom surfaced in the Iranian community. The change in the international milieu, including the U.S.-influenced countries had been was brought about due to the victory of the Democratic Party in the United States led by John F. Kennedy, who put great emphasis on open political atmosphere and sociopolitical reforms. The aim behind the policy was to curb political and social crises in these countries and put obstacles in the way of the growing communism. The implementation of land reform and other principles of the White revolution in Iran were aimed at meeting the demands of Democrats of Kennedy’s government and the Pahlavi regime had given in to them, obeying their orders. The opposition of religious figures led by Imam Khomeini to the so-called reforms and Westernization of Iran under the all-out financial and spiritual patronage of the United States was the starting point of a new era of Iran’s history of intellectualism – with religious intellectualism and wave of Islamic Awakening leading the movement.


Emergence of Religious Intellectualism

At that time, a major change was made in the intellectual movement of Iran that was referred to as “religious intellectualism”.

Due to the rise of the wave of Islamic Awakening, Imam Khomeini and other clerics tried to engage the high religious authorities (maraji’e taqlid) in politics. To define the idea, some terms such as “spiritualism in politics” and “return to Iranian Muslim man’s self” were developed. To this end, Imam Khomeini strengthened the seminary.
The approval of Provincial and District Councils Bill on October 8, 1962 by the cabinet that stopped necessitating the elected persons and voters to be a Muslim and replaced the oath to the Holy Qur’an with the oath to the Holy Book caused a big crisis that paved the way for more crises and developments later. Thereafter, Imam Khomeini officially started his activities with a recall and organization of consulting sessions with Qom religious scholars. The new point in Imam Khomeini’s leadership was that the criticisms leveled at the government up to that time were from then on directed at Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The resistance of the Pahlavi regime against these reviving thoughts caused reformism to turn into revolutionary thought.
Imam Khomeini voiced his opposition to the aforesaid bill through shedding light on its illegitimate (non-Islamic) points, calling for its annulment. Imam Khomeini, in his telegraphs to the Shah and Alam (then prime minister), warned of serious repercussions of violation of the Qur’anic teachings and Islamic tenets. The opposition and campaign, due to Imam Khomeini’s efforts, became widespread. The followers and disciples of Imam Khomeini spread the news, information, and messages of the Imam in different cities in various ways, playing the role of a bridge linking Qom Seminary and Imam Khomeini with them.

 First Stage of Islamic Awakening

The first stage of the Islamic Awakening ended in success as the Pahlavi regime retreated and annulled the Provincial and District Councils Bill on December 1, 1962. The next stage witnesses the opposition of religious authorities and scholars to the referendum on six-element White Revolution that was held on January 26, 1963. The announcements, protests, speeches, and consulting meetings led to a lower turnout in the referendum. A major event took place on March 22, 1963, when the Pahlavi regime attacked the clerics in Qom Theological School and Talebieh School in Tabriz, killing and injuring a number of them. To mislead the public opinion, the Pahlavi regime said that a fight had erupted between the clerics who opposed the land reform and peasants who supported it and were making a pilgrimage. Like its previous anti-religion measures, the move backfired, causing rage and hatred across the country and even reactions from Najaf and Karbala theological schools that poured in telegraphs and announcements in protest. Imam Khomeini, for his part,
issued the most strongly-worded statement.


 June 1963 Uprising

The other stage of the movement was the uprising of June 5, 1963 (15 Khordad 1342) that due to its significance and impacts on the next Islamic movements turned to a turning point in the contemporary history. In Muharram of the same year (June 1963), the combatant clerics censured the Pahlavi regime for its brutal crackdown and the mourning circles turned to campaign and political centers. Three powerful classes of the Iranian society, i.e. businessmen from bazaars, university students, and seminarians displayed their unity.

The move reached its peak one the eve of Ashura – 10th of Muharram (June 3, 1963) – when Imam Khomeini delivered his historic speech in Qom Seminary. Imam Khomeini said, “The aim behind the movement is to fight against the Shah and Israel and protect Islam against dangers.”
Addressing the Shah, in another part of his speech, Imam Khomeini stated, “I do not want to see you become somebody like your father [face a fate like your father’s]. They plan to introduce you a Jew and I call you an apostate and then they will kick you out of Iran and deal with you.”

The uprising of June 1963 was, in fact, a display of clerics’ stronger orientation to political activities and efforts for materialization of political Islam, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. Bazaar businessmen replaced their nationalist ideology dating back to decades ago with political Islam-based ideology steered by religious authorities led by Imam Khomeini. That modern view was one of the features of the Islamic Awakening in the 1970s. The other point of that era was that the messages were conveyed and information was disseminated across Iran very rapidly and people from all walks of life had a strong presence. The uprising showed that the Islamic Awakening had turned to a powerful move.

Main features of the Islamic Awakening

The main features of the Islamic Awakening under Imam Khomeini’s leadership in those years were:

Developing the idea of forming a close bond between religion and politics

Rejecting any compromise with the Pahlavi regime

Establishing political ijtihad (individual inference) in theological schools

Associating preach and practice in the campaign against tyranny and colonialism, and

Targeting the global imperialism in the new era

The religious spectrum of student movement had also a considerable role in the Islamic Awakening in those years. They were either directly in contact with Imam Khomeini or through his companions such as Allemeh Tabatabaei, Ayatollah Motahhari, and Ayatollah Taleqani. The students forming the Islamic Students Association used their two decades of experience in this field focused on cultural issues, defending the religion of Islam against the Marxist and Western ideologies and emphasizing on unity among the Muslim nations. The students established their relation with Imam Khomeini as the Islamic movement got started. Imam Khomeini, as the political and religious leader, provided the student movement with religious leadership as well.

Islamic Awakening in the world

The Islamic Awakening movement in the world and campaign for the independence of the Islamic nations also affected the Islamic Awakening in Iran in the 1970s, particularly in its later years. The victory of Muslim fighters in Algeria and the Palestinian struggles had more impacts in that juncture.

But the main development of that era was the idea of establishing an Islamic government entitled “Velayat-e Faqih” put forward by Imam Khomeini in Najaf in 1969. Imam Khomeini, in his sessions, elaborated on the government led by jurisprudents and the bond between religion and politics, explaining why ideology was as crucial as worship. Imam Khomeini, in his discussions, also adopted a stance against the regimes in Iran and Islamic countries, calling on the thinkers and experts to make a thorough study in this field. Imam’s thoughts were conveyed to Iran through a network, resulting in enlightenment and a new move among Iranian fighters.

Student Movement

The Iranian Muslim students, who were in contact with Najaf through their Islamic associations, greatly helped spread and promote Imam Khomeini’s thoughts in Europe and the United States. The students’ access to the press and mass media in an open political atmosphere further enabled them to work and promote the ideas and views. To this end, the presence of Ayatollah Beheshti as the head of Hamburg Islamic Center and his contact with the students were of great significance. The Iranian Muslim students residing in Europe published a periodical named “Islam, School of Struggle” in 1966. In the 1980s, the speeches of Ali Shariati in Husseiniyeh Ershad and ban on his works further motivated the university students to study his books. His speeches that were a combination of sociology, history, philosophy, and religion boosted the Islamic Awakening movement among the religious spectrum of the students. The works and speeches of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari, Mohammad Mofatteh, and Fakhreddin Hejazi contributed to the convergence and constructive interaction between the seminaries and universities, equipping the Islamic Awakening movement with knowledge, faith, and up-to-date information.

Since early 1977, when political atmosphere was less tense and political prisoners were released, the Islamic Awakening got a better opportunity. The decrease in censorship of the press prompted the political opposition, particularly the religious figures to take the chance and make a wide-scale criticism of the Pahlavi regime through the media. As a striking example, the question posed by the Kayhan newspaper asking “What is Iran suffering from?” received more than 40 thousand responses sent by letters. As a whole, the Pahlavi regime’s controlled open atmosphere caused more unity among the political opponents and weakness of the ruling regime. The Islamic Awakening movement also made major steps toward the final victory by making progress in the theoretical and practical fields, making the Pahlavi regime fulfill its demands in the political, social, and cultural areas. The martyrdom of Mostafa Khomeini, Imam Khomeini’s eldest son, on October 23, 1977 and mourning and commemoration ceremonies for him were taken as an opportunity to slam the regime and pay tribute to Imam Khomeini and the Islamic movement. The network of freedom-fighters inside and outside the country disseminated information in different ways, emphasizing on the leadership of Imam Khomeini and continuation of struggle until the victory. Following the departure of Mostafa Khomeini, the Islamic Awakening turned to an undefeatable movement and the political Islam and religious leadership took the final leap for the establishment of an Islamic government. Finally in February 1979, i.e. after decades-long struggle and preparation, the Islamic government was established by Imam Khomeini.

Today, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei is a role model of the Muslims who have awakened across the world.

Dr. Ali Askari is Deputy President of Islamic Culture and Relations Organization for Cultural Affairs.



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