30 years ago, on February 1, 1979, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini returned from nearly two decades in exile to his native Iran. Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, shah (king), had fled the country on January 16, faced with growing public discontent with his rule.
Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (1902-1989), the Iranian Shi‘i Muslim religious scholar and major leader of the Iranian Revolution, was born into a clerical family in the small
Orphaned by the age of sixteen, he traveled to the city of
In the 1940s,
Khomeini first emerged as a major public critic of the new shah in 1962, following the death of
Khomeini, now an ayatollah, was saved from execution by the country’s senior ‘ulama, including Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Kazim Shari‘atmadari, who recognized him as a grand ayatollah and marja‘ al-taqlid, the most senior level in the Twelver Shi‘i clerical hierarchy. No grand ayatollah had ever been executed, and Khomeini’s sentence was commuted and he was released. After criticizing the shah for granting
While in Najaf, Khomeini delivered a series of lectures in January and February 1970 which were transcribed and later published as Hukumat-e Islami (Islamic Government). In these lectures, he called for the implementation of his theory of wilayat al-faqih, “guardianship of the supreme jurist,” a governmental system where the senior religious jurist (faqih) would lead society until the messianic return of the twelfth Shi‘i Imam, who is believed to be in occultation. A modified form of this theory would form the basis of the political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran when it was founded in 1979.
Following a year of severe unrest and mass protests against his rule, Shah Muhammad Reza and his family fled
Khomeini, and particularly his theory of wilayat al-faqih, remain controversial among Twelver Shi‘is. Among some, he is greatly admired and called “the imam,” a title of great symbolic importance.
View an example of how Khomeini is revered by his followers. This is a video commemorating the grand ayatollah's last days. It includes rare footage.
View rare footage of Khomeini's funeral, which drew millions of Iranians.
Abrahamian, Ervand. Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic.
Algar, Hamid, ed. and trans. Islam and Revolution I: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini.
Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in
Martin, Vanessa. Creating an Islamic State: Khomeini and the Making of a New
Moin, Baqer. Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah.