Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (آیتالله روحالله خمینی in Persian) (May 17, 1900 – June 3, 1989) was an Iranian Shia cleric and the political and spiritual leader of the 1979 revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the then Shah of Iran. He is considered to be the founder of the modern Shiite State and ruled Iran from the Shah's overthrow to his death in 1989.
He was born in the town of Khomein as Seyyed Ruhollah Mousavi (روحالله موسوی in Persian) in 1900. Khomeini was named an ayatollah in the 1950s. In 1964 he was exiled from Iran for his constant criticisms of the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He fled to Iraq, where he stayed until being forced to leave in 1978, after which he went to Neaufle-le-Château in France. According to Alexandre de Marenches (then head of the French secret services), France suggested to the Shah that they could "arrange for Khomeini to have a lethal accident"; the Shah declined the assassination offer, arguing that this would make him a martyr. Khomeini became one of the most influential opponents to the rule of the Shah, being seen as the spiritual leader of those fighting his rule.
Khomeini returned to Iran on February 1, 1979, invited by the anti-Shah revolution already in progress, and seized power on February 11. An Islamic republic was formed, under which a president is elected every four years, but only those candidates approved indirectly by the Supreme Leader (through a Council of Guardians) may run for the office. Khomeini himself became Head of State for life, as "Leader of the Revolution", and later "Supreme Spiritual Leader". On February 4, 1980 Khomeini approved the elected Abolhassan Banisadr as the first president of Iran.
Under Khomeini's rule Shia Islamic law was instituted, the strict Islamic dress code (hijab) became the law and was enforced for both men and women. Women lost many of their rights as equal citizens, and freedom of speech and press continued to be almost as curtailed as it was under the Shah. Khomeini became the center of a large personality cult, and opposition to the religious rule or Islam in general was often met with harsh punishments. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution there were widespread allegations of systematic human rights abuses, including torture.
Early in the revolution in the years of 1979 to 1981, Khomeini's followers abducted 52 United States citizens and held them hostage in Tehran's US embassy for 444 days – an event often referred to as the Iranian hostage crisis. Khomeini stated on February 23, 1980 that Iran's parliament would decide the fate of the American embassy hostages demanding the United States hand over the Shah for trial in Iran. President Jimmy Carter launched a commando mission to rescue the hostages, but the attempt was thwarted when the helicopters deployed failed under unexpected desert conditions in Tabas. Some Iranians considered this to be a miracle. Many commentators point to this failure as a major cause of Carter's loss in the following elections to Ronald Reagan.
Shortly after taking power, Khomeini began calling for similar Islamic revolutions across the Middle East. Ambitious to occupy the oil-rich Iran (particularly Khuzestan province) and fearful of the spread of Khomeini's militant brand of Shiism, the secular republic of Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran, starting what would become a decade-long Iran-Iraq war. During the war the people of Iran rallied around Khomeini and his regime and his personal popularity and power were unmatched.
In early 1989, Khomeini, in a fatwa, ruled the killing of Salman Rushdie a religious necessity for Muslims, because of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's novel, which examines the integration of Indian characters into modern Western culture, contains passages which can imply that the Qu'ran was not preserved perfectly, together with other passages that many Muslims – including Ayatollah Khomeini – considered highly offensive to Islam and Muhammad. This event caused many Westerners, particularly those on the left who had been generally in favor of the revolution against the Shah, to reconsider their support of Khomeini.
After eleven days in a hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Khomeini died on June 3, 1989. It is said that a crowd of more than a million Iranians gathered around the burial location which was not supposed to be revealed at the time. Khomeini is considered by many as one of the most influential men (for good or bad) of the 20th century, and was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1980.
Some books by and on Ayatollah Khomeini [in PDF]:
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