This unprecedented collection in English of notable works by Imam Khomeini, ranging in date from 1941 to 1980, makes it possible for non-Iranians to become directly acquainted with his ideas and to examine the convictions that underlay his indomitable mien.
Actually reading these works of Imam Khomeini will bring you to one rather terrifying realization: it is probable that everything you’ve ever read about Khomeini and Iran was written by people who didn’t bother to read what the Imam himself actually wrote about the revolution he led. The book is essential in this at least; that it will make you realize to what extent you have been hoodwinked and misled by people uninterested in grappling with the actuality of the revolutionaries’ ideology.
There are fatal weaknesses here; the Western reader accustomed to political theory that is profoundly concerned with questions of sovereignty, exception, and checks on abuses of power will find Khomeini’s Islamic Platonism extremely dangerous. And the egalitarian economics Khomeini preaches is unhappily sketchy — he is good in his criticism of the rapacious regime of the Shah but not as good when it comes to suggesting real solutions to the problems of the Iranian people. Indeed, it is here — in checks on clerical power, in economic development — that Western readers will see the failure of the revolution.
But there is a lot here to be hopeful about. Khomeini is surprisingly inclusive; at every turn he rejects sectarian conflict and tries to include Sunnis (and even Jews and Christians!) in his revolutionary plan. He is surprisingly democratic in his appeals to the people of Iran. (And perhaps it is because the ulama is constituted in so ‘populist’ a way — by reputation, prestige, and respect, rather than by an institutional hierarchy — that he is so unconcerned with checks and balances.) What he writes about the role of the (Islamic) intellectual in opposing and overthrowing tyranny is as stirring as anything ever written on the scholar’s role in society. I think you will probably leave this book shocked by how close Khomeini might have come to instituting something we would be happier in calling a ‘Republic’ — Islamic or not. And shocked by how much richer Khomeini’s ideology is than the intellectual bankruptcy of the Ba’ath or the Wahhabis.
The book also includes a lecture series Khomeini — who originally gained acclaim for his exposition of gnostic doctrines — delivered on the first surah of the Qur’an. It is in the sensitivity, subtlety, and insight of these lectures that I gained the most respect for this man; born and best fitted not to lead revolutions and give firebrand speeches but to talk about the mysteries of this world. “Everything,” Imam Khomeini writes, “is a name of God. The winds that blow are a name of God.”
A complex and ambivalent figure — but no man who wrote this should ever be slandered by the word “fanatic. (by Max Gasner)
About the Translator
Hamid Algar, who is responsible for the volume’s translation, annotations, and introduction, holds a Ph. D. in Oriental Studies form Cambridge. Since 1965 he has served on the faculty of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches Persian and Islamic history and philosophy. Dr. Algar had written extensively on the religious history of Iran and has translated many works for publication in several languages.
Title: Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini
Translated & Annotated: Hamid Algar
Publisher: Mizan Press, Berkeley Contemporary Islamic Thought, Persian Series
Pub. Date: 1981/01/21