The historic letter of The Great Leader of the Islamic Revolution and Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khomeini, has attracted attention of the world’s pundits, analysts, spiritual men and religious scholars.
The Great Leader of the Islamic Revolution and Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
To President Mikhail Gorbachev, Leader of the Soviet Union
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Your Excellency Mr. Gorbachev, Chairman of the Presidium of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
With due wishes for the happiness and prosperity of Your Excellency and the people of the Soviet Union.
Since your assumption of office there has been the impression that Your Excellency, in analyzing world political events, particularly those pertaining to the Soviet Union, have found yourself in a new era of reassessment, change, and confrontation; and your boldness and initiative in dealing with the realities of the world is quite likely to bring about changes that would result in upsetting the equations of power dominating the world. I have therefore found it necessary to bring certain matters to your attention.
Even if your new approach and decisions are merely used as a means to overcome the party crisis, and to solve some of the problems confronting your people, your courage in reappraising a school of thought that has for decades enchained the revolutionary youth of the world behind its iron curtain is indeed worthy of praise. If, however, you are considering taking a further step forward, the first thing that will ensure your success is that you re-evaluate your predecessors’ policy of obliterating God and religion from society, a policy that has no doubt given the heaviest blow to the Soviet people. Rest assured that this is the only way whereby world problems can be dealt with realistically.
Viewing Islam as a remnant of the pre-socialist stage, Marxists took two major approaches to confront it: to wipe out Islam as an alien element from the scene of public life by openly challenging it, and to assimilate Islam into Russian society by Russianizing Muslims. Stalin, the most notorious of all communist leaders, persecuted Muslims on a large scale by banishing certain Muslim peoples collectively to Siberia and Asia Minor. The astonishing number of Russian anti- religious publications distributed in Islamic countries is part of the Soviet government’s universal struggle against Islam. The occupation of Afghanistan was the Soviet Union’s last attempt to penetrate the Islamic world.
Of course it is possible that as a result of wrong economic policies of former communist authorities, the Western world, an illusory heaven, will appear to be fascinating; but the truth lies elsewhere. If you hope, at this juncture, to cut the economic Gordian knots of socialism and communism by appealing to the center of Western capitalism, you will, far from remedying any ill of your society, commit a mistake which those to come will have to erase. For, if Marxism has come to a deadlock in its social and economic policies, capitalism has also bogged down, in this as well as in other respects though in a different form.
Reality must be faced. The main problem confronting your country is not one of private ownership, freedom and economy; your problem is the absence of true faith in God, the very problem that has dragged, or will drag, the West to vulgarism and an impasse. Your main problem is the prolonged and futile war you have waged against God, the source of existence and creation.
It is clear to everybody that from now on communism will only have to be found in the museums of world political history, for Marxism cannot meet any of the real needs of mankind. Marxism is a materialistic ideology and materialism cannot bring humanity out of the crisis caused by a lack of belief in spirituality—the prime affliction of the human society in the East and the West alike.
You may have not in theory turned your back on certain aspects of Marxism—and may continue to profess your heartfelt loyalty to it in interviews—but you know that, in practice, the reality is not so. The leader of China struck the first blow to communism and you have
struck the second and, apparently, final blow. Today we have no such thing as communism in the world.
I earnestly call on you, however, not to get trapped, while tearing down the walls of Marxist illusions, in the prison of the West and the Great Satan. I hope you will attain the honor of removing the decayed layers of 70-year communist aberration from the face of history and of your country. Today those allies of yours that are genuinely concerned about their homelands and people are no longer willing to sacrifice their subterranean and surface resources to keep alive the myth of the success of communism—an ideology whose din of collapse has already reached the ears of their children.
When after 70 years the call, “Allah is Great” and the testimony to the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad (peace be upon him and his posterity) were heard from the minarets of the mosques in some of your Republics, all the followers of the pure Muhammadan Islam were moved to tears out of ecstasy.
Therefore, I have found it necessary to remind you to reflect once again on the materialistic and theistic worldviews. Materialists consider sense to be the sole criterion of knowledge and are of the opinion that whatever cannot be known through the senses falls outside the realm of knowledge. They identify existence with matter and consider as nonexistent anything that has no material body. Inevitably, they regard the world of the unseen—God Almighty, Divine Revelation, Prophethood, and the Resurrection—as mere fiction.
On the other hand, theists consider both sense and reason to be the criteria of knowledge, and maintain that whatever can be known through reason lies within the realm of knowledge, although it is not perceptible. To theists, therefore, existence is inclusive of both the unseen and the manifest. For a thing to exist it is not necessary to have a material body. In the same way that a material thing depends on an incorporeal thing, sensory perception is dependent on rational perception.
The Holy Qur’an reprobates the fundamentals of materialistic thought and, addressing those who say:
“We shall never believe in thee until we see God manifestly,”
“Vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends all vision; and He is the Knower of subtleties, the Aware.”
I should not like to present here Qur’anic arguments concerning Divine Revelation, Prophethood and the Resurrection which from your point of view are debatable. In fact, I do not wish to entangle you in the twists and turns of philosophical arguments, particularly those of Islamic philosophy. I will content myself by presenting one or two simple, intuitive examples of which even politicians can avail themselves.
It is self-evident that matter, whatever its nature, has no awareness of self. Consider a stone statue: each side is ignorant of the other side. Whereas human beings and animals clearly observe and are aware of their surroundings. They know where they are and are aware of what goes on around them. There must be, then, an element in men and animals that transcends matter and is separate from it, living beyond the life of matter.
Intrinsically, man seeks to attain absolute perfection. He strives, as you well know, for absolute power over the world; he is not attached to any power that is defective. If he has the entire world at his command, he naturally feels inclined to have command of another world once he is informed of its existence. No matter how learned a person may be if he learns of some other branch of knowledge, he naturally feels inclined to attain mastery of that branch of knowledge as well.
Therefore, there must be some Absolute Power and Absolute Knowledge to which man is attached. It is God we all seek although we may not be aware of it. Man strives to attain Absolute Truth, so that he may be annihilated in God. Basically, the desire for eternal life that is inherent in every individual is proof of the existence of an Eternal World to which destruction cannot find its way.
Should Your Excellency desire further information on these matters, you may command those scholars of yours who are well-versed in this field to study, in addition to the works of Western philosophers, the writings of Peripatetic philosophers, al-Farabi and Avicenna,
peace be upon them. It will then become clear that the law of causation on which all knowledge depends is a rational, not sensible law. Likewise, perception of general laws and concepts on which all reasoning rests is reached not by means of sensory experience but through rational argument. Your scholars may further refer to the Ishraqi theosophy of Suhrawardi, and explain to you that the flesh, as well as any other material thing, is in need of Pure Light which has no material entity, that man’s witnessing of his own truth does not take place by means of any sense organ.You may also have the scholars familiarize themselves with Transcendental philosophy of Mulla Sadra (may Allah be pleased with him and resurrect him with the prophets and the pious), so that it may become clear that the nature of knowledge is different from the nature of matter and that intellect, far removed from matter, cannot be restricted by the laws governing matter.
I won’t tire you further by mentioning the works of mystics, in particular Muhyi’d-Din ibn al-‘Arabi. If you wish to make yourself acquainted with the doctrines of this celebrated mystic, send a number of your brilliant scholars, who are well-versed in this field, to Qum so that, by reliance on God, they may, after a couple of years, glimpse the depth of the delicate stages of gnosis, which will be impossible for them to acquire without making such a journey.
After mentioning these problems and preliminary points, let me call on you to study Islam earnestly, not because Islam and the Muslims may need you but because Islam has exalted universal values which can bring comfort and salvation to all nations and remove the basic problems of mankind. A true understanding of Islam may forever release you from the problem of Afghanistan and other similar involvements. We treat Muslims of the world as Muslims of our own country and will ever share in their destiny.
By granting certain liberties to some of your Republics in matters pertaining to religious practices, you have shown that you no longer consider religion as the “opium of the people.” Indeed, how can Islam be the opium of the people—the religion that has made Iranians as firm as a mountain against superpowers? Is the religion that seeks the administration of justice in the world and man’s freedom from material and spiritual shackles, the opium of the people? Only that religion is the opium of the people that causes the material and spiritual resources of Islamic and non-Islamic countries to pass into the clutches of super and lesser powers and that preaches that religion is separate from politics. This, however, cannot be called a true religion; it is what our people call “an American religion.”
In conclusion, I declare outright that the Islamic Republic of Iran as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world can easily fill the vacuum of religious faith in your society. In any case, our country, as in the past, honors good neighborhood and bilateral relations.
Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.
Ruhullah al-Musawi al-Khomeini
[January 1, 1989]