The neutrality of this page is disputed.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (آیتالله روحالله خمینی in Persian) (May 17, 1900 - June 3, 1989) was an Iranian Shiite fundamentalist 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 Ruhollah Mousavi in 1902. Khomeini was named an Ayatollah in the 1950s. In 1964 he was exiled from Iran for his constant criticisms of the government. He fled to Iraq, where he stayed until being forced to leave in 1978, after which he went to France. He returned to Iran on February 1, 1979, invited by a revolution already in progress against the Shah, and seized power on February 11. From then on an Islamic Republic was formed in which a president is elected every 4 years. Only those candidates approved by the Ayatollahs may run for the office. Khomeni 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.
Khomeini's rule quickly ended the westernized society that had existed under the Shah. Shia Islamic Law was instituted, strict dress code became the law and enforced for both men and women. Women lost many of their rights as equal citizens, and freedom of speech and press continued to be curtailed. Khomeini became the center of a large personality cult, and opposition to the religous rule or Islam in general was often met with very 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 - 1981, Khomeini's followers held 52 Americans captive in Tehran's US embassy, holding them hostage for 444 days. Khomeini stated on February 23, 1980 that Iran's parliament would decide the fate of the American embassy hostages. President Jimmy Carter attempted to rescue the hostages, but this failed when the helicopters sent on this mission failed under 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. Fearful of the threat of the spread of Khomeini's militant brand of Shiism, the republic of Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran, effectively starting what would become a decade-long Iran-Iraq war.
In early 1989 Khomeini ordered the killing of Salman Rushdie for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammed. The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's novelistic examination of the integration of Indian characters into modern Western culture, contains passages which can be read as implying, amongst other things, that the Koran has not been preserved perfectly. This event caused many Western leftists, 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. 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 some as one of the most influential men (for good or bad) of the 20th century, and was name Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1980.
Quotes concerning Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolution
- Michel Foucault speculated at the time of the Iranian revolution that "Islamic government" could initiate a new "political spirituality" and herald a "transfiguration" of the world, the sort unknown in the West since the rise of modernity.
- "The Islamic Revolution of Iran presented a new example of perfect human beings and society... This is the reason behind the West's enmity towards it. Khomeini gave a new meaning to the lives of the Iranians." - Roger Garaudy, French intellectual and Holocaust denier
- "The ideological monopoly of Marxism among Third World liberation movements seems to dissolve. ... The Persian Revolution strikes into the heart of the Western belief in progress. ... In Persia, the people try to elude from a process at whose beginning they stand; in contrast we try the same from the peak of this development. And from this peak of developement, something essential in our lifes comes to the fore: Im speaking about religion and the Holy. ... Too much is asked where this will lead and what to do, and there I don't know an answer, and don't even want to know one." - Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister, before starting his political career in 1979 
- "Imam Khomeini and the Iranian nation performed a great historical act. In my opinion, as a western and non-Muslim person, I believe, it is a miracle that a divine revolution in today's world takes place in such a manner." - Robert Kalson, Canadian scientist
- "The Islamic Revolution of Iran is honourable for it is the cry which has its origin in Ayatullah Khomeini's conscience." - William Wersey, American author and journalist
- "One should express his viewpoint regarding what he performed in his country and in a vast part of the world with great respect and deep thought." - Pope John Paul II
- "The name of Khomeini will always remain in the new chapter of Iranian history." - Erich Honecker, East German Communist Leader
- "What he [Stalin] did in Russia we have to do in Iran. We, too, have to do a lot of killing. A lot." - Behzad, Iranian interpreter for Western journalist V.S. Naipaul
- "Khomeini has offered us the opportunity to regain our frail religion ... faith in the power of words." - Norman Mailer, at a meeting of authors regarding the fatwa, New York City, February 1989
- "The freedom-lovers of the world mourn the sad demise of Imam Khomeini." - Ernesto Cardinal, Nicaraguan combatant scholar
- "I thought using the Ayatollah's money to support the Nicaraguan resistance was a neat idea." - Oliver North
Quotes from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
- "Americans are the great Satan, the wounded snake."
- "In Islam, the legislative power and competence to establish laws belong exclusively to God Almighty."
- "The author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I ask all Moslems to execute them wherever they find them."
- "If one permits an infidel to continue in his role as a corrupter of the earth, his moral suffering will be all the worse. If one kills the infidel, and this stops him from perpetrating his misdeeds, his death will be a blessing to him."
- "Familiarize the people with the truth of Islam so that the young generation may not think that the men of religion in the mosques of Qum and al-Najaf believe in the separation of church from state, that they study nothing other than menstruation and childbirth and that they have nothing to do with politics.
- Christian, Jewish and Baha'i missionary centers are spread in Tehran to deceive people and to lead them away from the teachings and principles of religion. Isn't it a duty to destroy these centers?"
- "All those against the revolution must disappear and quickly be executed" (as reported by dissident cleric Hossein-Ali Montazeri, once in line to be Iran's supreme leader)
Some books by and on Ayatollah Khomeini [in pdf]: