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Islamic Revolution of Iran in the View of Zimbabwean Professor

Islamic Revolution of Iran was not inspired by foreigners or by foreign philosophies (such Marxism, Socialism etc.). It attracted everybody, the young and the old, from university students to factory workers, women, men, academics, clerics and peasants.

Professor Obvious Vengeyi is a faculty member in the University of Zimbabwe. He was born on 21 May 1976. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two children; a son (12 years) and a daughter (3 years old). He is an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (majoring in Old Testament with a special focus on interreligious/intercultural biblical studies). He joined the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy of the University of Zimbabwe with an Honours Degree in Religious Studies as a Teaching Assistant in April 2005. He became full time/substantive lecturer in 2006 upon completion of a Master of Arts in Religious Studies (specialising in Old Testament Studies).  In 2008 September he left Zimbabwe to embark on PhD studies in Germany at the University of Bayreuth. In 2012 October he returned to the University of Zimbabwe to continue teaching in the same department. In 2017 March he was promoted on the basis of research and publications to the grade of Associate Professor.

Ijtihadnet interviewed him on the 41st anniversary of the Victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

  1. When did you first hear about Imam Khomeini and Islamic Revolution of 1979?

I am not sure now about the actual date but what I remember is it was in 1999 sometime around September during one of our classes at Domboshawa Theological College. At the college, we were simultaneously registered for two programmes: Diploma in Pastoral Studies and a Diploma in Religious Studies. The Diploma in Religious Studies was offered by the University of Zimbabwe while the Diploma in Pastoral Studies was offered by Domboshawa Theological College. It was during a Phenomenology of Religion Class that one of the topics we dealt with had to do with the role of religion/religious leaders in socio-political transformation. It was then when I heard of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution of Iran. I have to be honest, I had never heard about this before. Of course the revolution was discussed in passing hence with little detail. What was emphasised was the role of Imam Khomeini as a religious leader in shaping the scope and nature of the revolution. But of course, we memorised the name Imam Khomeini and 1979 as the date of the Revolution for the purposes of examination and nothing more.

  1. How did you get to know about Islamic Revolution of Iran and its goals?

I could say the brief discussions we had set the stage for further inquiry and a desire to know more about the Islamic Revolution. The opportunities to learn more about the Islamic Revolution came in bits and pieces along my academic and personal journey. First, during my years as a student at the University when I registered for an Honours Degree in Religious Studies, such cases as the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran were topics for discussion. Now there was more flesh added to the material I had gathered at Diploma level. Also at the University, a cross section of disciplines could refer to that Revolution. I remember some of my student friends in Political Science and Law talked about that. Students in our Department who wrote dissertations in Islam discussed this subject. All that contributed to broadening my understanding of the goals and nature of the revolution.

However serious interest at personal level to know more about the Islamic Revolution and the role of Imam Khomeini started in 2006 when the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Cultural Centre entered into some MOU with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Zimbabwe. I was chosen to be one of the committee members. We arranged two symposia together at the University of Zimbabwe. It was from 2006 that I began to be invited to attend events to do with Islamic Revolution of Iran. The many papers presented at these symposia and the speeches given by various participants; academic, clerics and others became important lectures to me at least. I gathered a lot from them.

From around that time 2006 I began to be interested in knowing more about not only the Islamic Revolution but about Iran as a country including its politics, academic institutions, cultures and societies and others. Press TV became handy in this endeavour. It used to cover a lot of documentaries and shows broadcasting about Iran and the Islamic Revolution. It was through Press TV that I learnt a lot of Iranian political history from George Galloway for example. When I went to Germany in 2008 internet access improved compared to Zimbabwe. I made great use of it to learn about the Islamic Revolution, Iranian society contemporary topics. I watched on YouTube documentaries and interviews particularly of President Ahmadinejad and I liked the way he presented issues to do with the Revolution and Iran as a country. For me, he used to do a great job in debunking Western media reports about Iran.

Last but not least I thank friendships I have developed with Iranians that I have met here at home and abroad. I have learnt a lot from them. They had the patience and tolerance to accept to be bothered by any question. In Germany I met (during our language course in Goettingen) two great Iranians: Alireza Apoursh (he is a professor in Iran) and Zahra. In 2016 in the Department I met with Prof Talebi Darabi (of University of Religions and Denominations). We automatically became friends and brothers.  Later in 2019 I met another Iranian lecturer Dr Karimi in the Department. This year 2020, another Iranian Dr Latifi is in the Department fulfilling the MOU between Zimbabwe and Iran. From all these people, I have learnt a lot about not only the revolution in Iran but also about life in Iran generally. And to them I am grateful.  From this long and winding journey, I have come to appreciate that the Islamic Revolution of Iran aimed to restore dignity and self determination in the Iranian peoples. It further sought to establish Iran towards the path of social justice irrespective of gender, economic class, religion or political affiliation.

  1. Do you consider Islamic Revolution of Iran religious revolution or a political one?

That the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 was both cannot be contested. After all, the separation, fragmentation and compartmentalisation of spheres into politics, religion, economics and society etc. is academic. It is not a reality of life. For me, these spheres are inseparable. Therefore, the Islamic Revolution of Iran was all encompassing. It had to purify the whole Iranian atmosphere that was contaminated.

  1. In your eyes, what are the distinguishing features of Islamic Revolution of Iran?

To me, first the Islamic Revolution of Iran was indigenous. It was not inspired by foreigners or by foreign philosophies (such Marxism, Socialism etc.). Secondly, the Revolution attracted everybody, the young and the old, from university students to factory workers, women, men, academics, clerics and peasants. Thirdly, leaders of the Revolution remained committed to the ideals of the Revolution. By this I mean Imam Khomeini for example remained in touch with the common people and did not live large after the revolution. He just had a modest living house.

  1. So far, what are the main achievements of the Islamic Revolution of Iran?

I could briefly say, self determination, sovereignty and dignity are to me the most important achievements of the Revolution. Whatever Iran has registered as development be it in politics, social, economic and scientific among other arenas of life, it was because of these.

More directly, Iran has made enormous strides in all spheres of life. Post revolution Iran has made more friends in the world than before. Iran inspired any across the world. It is important to note that Iran today is as democratic as any other progressive country. Political space is open for all; men and women and individuals of every political inclination. There are elections at every level of society. And there is robust debate across the cross section of the society.

Also post revolution Iran has registered significant growth in the economy, of course notwithstanding so many challenges currently besetting the country. Iran has also developed in the field of education. For example, Iran has some of the best universities. In that direction, Iran offers scholarships and fellowships for both academic and students from developing countries such as Zimbabwe to study in Iran. Iran post revolution has raised the living standards of the its peoples significantly. In Iran today everybody has a chance to pursue a career path of his or her choice. Women in Iran I gathered are respected. They can become whatever they dream of. Some are politicians, some agriculturalists and scientists. Women are given the respect and honour that was not possible before the revolution. Women study at universities and they work in various fields of their choice.

  1. Back in 1979, how the Islamic Revolution of Iran was reflected in Zimbabwean or African Press?

I was born in 1976, only 3 years before the Islamic Revolution of Iran I therefore would not have witnessed directly how the African or Zimbabwean press covered the Islamic Revolution of Iran. However, upon reflection and independent research I could say for Zimbabwe, there were two divergent ways. The white colonial powers that were still rulers of Zimbabwe negatively portrayed the Islamic Revolution of Iran. On the other hand the fighters for the liberation got inspired by the Islamic Revolution. As such, their magazines, pamphlets and newsletters positively covered the Revolution. I guess the situation was the same across Africa. Majority of the people that were still colonised by Western powers or those newly independent from colonial oppression praised the bravery of the Iranian peoples.

  1. What was the attitude of Zimbabwean people and authorities regarding the Islamic Revolution of Iran?

Remember the Iranian independence is only a year older than the Zimbabwean independence. From 1980 when the country gained its independence from Britain; following a long struggle in which thousands of people died, the attitude of the government of Zimbabwe has been positive. Unfortunately, it inherited colonial vestiges that it did not destroy immediately at independence. As such, not much was seen or known at least by ordinary people especially in the villages that Zimbabwe cherished the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Textbooks in schools did not cover such topics, and no functions were held at least for ordinary people to appreciate that there was a country somewhere with almost a similar history as ours. I grew up in the village without TV, without radio and without newspapers but I suspect these did not cover much the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

I think Christianity has a role to play in this sort of media silence about the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Since the Revolution was inspired by Islam, a religion that is practiced by minority in Zimbabwe, I think the majority who are Christians did not see its importance as news. But of course this is just speculation.

  1. Do you think the Islamic Revolution of Iran has played a role in awakening people in different countries all over the world? If yes, how?

I strongly believe that the Islamic Revolution did in a great way influence many parts of the world. If we look for example at what happened in North Africa and the Middle East, from about 2009, the youth and societies are shaping their destiny. The demand for their dignity and respect, the way they seek to destroy monarchies (that are often proxies of western powers) there is a sense in which these people seek to be like Iranians in 1979.

  1. How do you relate Islamic Revolution of Iran to the Revolution in Zimbabwe?

The goals of the revolution in Zimbabwe were to create a society where the indigenous people of Zimbabwe had dignity, self respect and would self determine their future. In Zimbabwe, unlike in Iran the problem had to do with colonialism. Colonisation had deprived Zimbabweans of humanity. Everything was based on colour of skin. Schools, hospitals, jobs, residential places were all separated on the basis of skin colour. White colonialists had all the best standards and facilities while blacks were relegated to occupy the lowest ranks.  It was an unfair world. So the revolution sought to correct this by equalising both whites and blacks.

While the Islamic Revolution in Iran like the Zimbabwe was about justice, dignity and self-rule and self-determination, in Iran the problem was not colonisation, but largely class manifesting in the monarchy. All the same in Iran the monarchy was like colonialism in Zimbabwe as best opportunities were enjoyed by the ruling elite (and their foreign handlers) while the rest scavenged for survival.

That being said, both revolutions in nature sought to dig up Western roots of injustice and give more power to the people to determine their future with pride and respect. In fact, the similarities of the goals of the revolutions are manifested in the way the West treats the two countries particularly leadership. Any leader who does not tow the Western line is branded everything evil. And western media stands ready to tarnish the image of such a leader. Western political establishments too will be close by to urge certain sections of the population to rise and undo the gains of the revolutions.

  1. What are the main reasons for super-powers’ opposition towards the Islamic Revolution of Iran?

The Islamic Revolution of Iran frustrated the political, social and economic interests of the super powers in the region and globally. The Revolution inspired as already indicated many to follow the example thereby shaking the grip of super-powers in the region and beyond. The super-powers wish to reverse the gains of the Islamic Revolution in Iran so that they maintain a foothold in the region and set the example for the rest of the world that were inspired by the Iranian Revolution. Hence, a slight slip of Iran back into the hands of the super-powers has dire consequences not only to Iranians but to the rest of the globe.

  1. Do you think the Islamic Revolution of Iran has been introduced properly to the people of Zimbabwe?

No. I do not think so. I think more should have been done and more can still be done. For example, books need to be written comparing the two. School textbooks must have a section or two focusing on such an important subject in history. And such lessons ought to start at primary level. Media houses must be proactive too in educating society about this important chapter of global history. More activities could be arranged by both governments to educate people about the commonness of our histories.

  1. How do you predict the future of the Islamic Revolution of Iran?

It will definitely defiantly march on!! But, it is under serious threat. Any slight mistake is a grave disaster! I wish Iranians will remain united and continue on the path of the Revolution.

A luta Continua!! /The Struggle Continues!!!

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