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spiritual, revolutionary, and then supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Ruhollah Hendi was born on September 24, 1902, in the desert town of Khomein, into a family of strong religious traditions. His father was martyred by agents of rich landowners when Khomeini was only a few months old. His childhood and youth were spent under the care of his mother and his aunt, but he lost both in the course of a single year when he was fifteen.
In 1921, he left Khomein to study religious science at a theology institute in Arak; he moved to the city of Qom a year later. It was at Qom that he attended lectures on ethics and Islamic mysticism; he also spent six years studying under the Ayatollah Aqamirza Mohammad Ali Shahabadi. In 1929, at the age of 27, he began teaching Islamic philosophy, theoretical mysticism, jurisprudence, and Islamic ethics.
Khomeini's first political statement was written in 1941 and published in book form under the title Kahfol-Asrar. In this book he revealed what he considered to be the crimes of the 20-year monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and detailed his ideas of an Islamic government and the need for an uprising to establish such a government.
As his popularity amongst the Iranian people increased, so too did his threat to the Pahlavi regime. On March 22, 1963, government forces attacked the Feyziyeh theological center in Qom. Khomeini's messages and speeches condeming the attack stirred and incited his followers. On June 5, Khomeini was arrested by goverment soldiers and taken to Tehran. His arrest further inflamed his followers and led to numerous protests. Ten months later, the Iranian government capitulated and freed Khomeini.
Khomeini's freedom did not last long, however, as he was again arrested at his home on November 4, 1964. According to previously arranged agreements, he was immediately taken to the airport and put on a plane to Turkey. After eleven months of closely-observed exile in Turkey, Khomeini left for Iraq. Throughout his period of exile Khomeini continued his campaign for major political reform in Iran. Forced to leave Iraq in 1978, he took up residence in a suburb of Paris, from whence he continued his campaign against the Shah, as well as against the Shah's principal backer, the United States. He produced tape recordings calling for massive disobedience, which were smuggled into Iran and broadcast to the people via shortwave radio.
Khomeini's "long-distance protests" eventually forced the Shah to flee Iran on January 16, 1979. On February 1, 1979, after fourteen years in exile, Khomeini was allowed to return to Iran. In November 1979, Khomeini's open anger against the United States led to the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the seizure of 53 hostages -- a situation that would end up lasting until January 1981.
Under a new Constitution adopted in December 1979, Khomeini was named supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran for life. Under Khomeini, almost every aspect of Iranian politics and economics underwent enormous change. The legal system of Iran became based on the strict ideals and principles of the Koran, and all vestiges of the capitalist economic system were essentially eradicated.
Extremely popular with the people, he nonetheless faced major challenges. After ten years of political instability, economic hardship, and a debilitating war with Iraq, Khomeini was finally forced to reconsider the course of his country. On April 24, 1989, he called for a Council of Experts to be formed and be charged with the responsibility of looking into the reforms needed to the constitutional law and codifying them in order to both improve the lives of Iran's people and to better implement Islamic laws. He would not live long enough to see those reforms made, however.
Khomeini died in a Tehran hospital on June 3, 1989, ten days after being operated on for a digestive disorder.
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This page was last updated on April 21, 2017.