In January 1979 a bloody revolution erupted in Iran. The Shiite sect of
Islam sought to eliminate all foreign influences and reestablish traditional
Muslim laws and customs. The man who led them was 75 year old Ruhollah
(Ayotollah) Khomeini. He became the ultimate authority in Iran, and called
for revolutions in other countries as well. "Feared and hated in the west, he
was passionately supported by millions of Iranians"( Diller 218).
It is believed that Khomeini was born sometime around 1902 in the
small village of Khomein. He was the fourth child of a poor religious scholar.
His father died a year later.
Khomeini and his brothers and sisters were raised by their
mother and an aunt, who instilled in them a deep religious fervor
and a strong sense of the importance of combating all enemies of
Islam. These included the British and members of other Muslim
sects, whose beliefs, Khomeini's family was certain, would
destroy the faith. (Haskins 112)
When he was nineteen, he moved to the city of Arak to study under Ayatollah
Abdul Karim Haeri, one of the foremost Islamic theologians of the day. He
spent many years studying with his teacher, and would eventually go on to
teach himself. "He specialized in ethics, philosophy, and mysticism"
(Kjeilen 2). By the 1950's he had earned the title "Ayatollah". An Ayatollah
is a high ranking member of Shiite Islam Clergy. Translated into English it
means "sign of God".
During this time, Shah Riza Pahlevi came to power in Iran. He
introduced sweeping reforms, such as the encouragement of Industry and the
importance of Western style education. Khomeini and other religious leaders
charged that he was destroying Islamic culture.
Riza was succeeded by his son Mohammed. Under Mohammed,
reforms were even more drastic. He began a program called the "White
Revolution". Public education and modernization increased. New rights
were given to women and non-Muslim Iranians Khomeini stood in strong
opposition to the reforms. He thought that traditional Muslim culture was
being replaced by Western ideas. In 1963 he was arrested for publicly
criticizing the Shah. Massive rioting broke out and Khomeini was later
released. Khomeini, who was already very popular in Iran, began to drew
many supporters in his protest of the government. A year later, Khomeini is
arrested again and exiled to Iraq.
From Iraq he continued to protest the Shah. He called for the complete
overthrow of Iran's monarchy, and its replacement by an Islamic republic. he
kept in close contact with his followers by sending audio taped messages
back to Iran. The tapes were received in the mosques and broadcast all over
the country. Due to this, massive rioting continued in Iran. The Shah
convinced Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq to expel Khomeini. Hussein
complied, and the Ayatollah fled to France.
From France Khomeini received tremendous attention from the world
media. He used the media coverage to build even more support in Iran allies.
By the late 1970's economic boom had slowed down, and the Shah was losing
control of his country.
In january 1979 opposition overwhelmed the Shah and he fled the
country. A month later Khomeini returned to Iran where he was greeted by
millions of supporters. He declared Iran an Islamic republic. A new
constituion was written in which Khomeini was given absolute power over
the country's public and military affairs. One of his first acts was reconizing
the PLO and renouncing the nation of Israel. This is yet another example of
his complete submission to Islam. Khomeini used his powere to enforce
drastic changes hroughout the country. Alcohol, movies, and wetern music
were all banned. Woman were forced to wear tradational veils. Western
journalists were forced out of the country. Newspapers were strictly
sensored. Khomeini sought to eliminate all "undesirables" from the country.
These people included homosexuals, prostitutes, adulturers, and anyone who
had supported the shah.