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Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini’s Conservative Ideology Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2019


Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini is a famous Iranian Muslim cleric credited with marshaling the revolution against the Iranian leader of the time known as the Shah. After the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was named the supreme religious leader of Iran, which later was transformed and renamed the Islamic republic of Iran in 1979.

When he was appointed, Ayatollah Khomeini ensured that the Shah did not serve as the Iranian ruler. The Shah was toppled due to his ties with the west. After the success of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was subsequently named as the religious and political leader of the Islamic republic of Iran for life (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 1; Reich, p. 310).

Early life

Khomeini is believed to have been born on the 24th day of September, 1902. This is also believed, which is also the anniversary of the birth of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter Hazrat Fatima. He was named Rouhollah Mousavi, which when translated, means “inspired by God”.

He was born in a small known as Khomeini, which is about 160 km southwest of Qom. His family was well known for their quest in religious scholarship. His surname was derived from the town in which he was born. Thus, he was known as Rouhollah Khomeini (Iran Chamber Society, para. 1). During the early 20th century, his father was murdered. Khomeini’s mother and aunt took care of him from a tender age.

However, they later on succumbed to cholera leaving him orphaned. Khomeini’s elder brother was left with the obligation of taking care of the family. There are assertions that Khomeini’s family was related to Prophet Mohammed. The family boasts of a legacy of avid religious scholars all the way from their ancestors. Khomeini and his sibling Mourteza were great Islamic intellectuals (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 2; Moin, pp. 2-4).

In his youthful years, Khomeini enjoyed sporting activities and was a jovial person. He was also very strong and a great scholar. He was also successful in his studies at the local maktab. Maktabs are local schools that are primarily dedicated to teaching the Qur’an. His older sibling who was responsible for taking care of the family asked him to go to the Arak City in the second decade of the 20th century. This was due to his scholarly prowess.

In Arak, Khomeini was in the same class as other Islamic scholars such as Yazdi Ha’iri. After three years of staying in Arak, Khomeini and Ha’iri went to Qom. Under the apprenticeship of Ha’iri, Khomeini dedicated and committed most of his efforts to the development and furthering of his own personal religious studies. He also taught other younger students at the Ha’iri’s school (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 3).

Political and religious leader

The two great Islamic scholars worked together in Qom. However, in the 1930s, Ha’iri passed on and his religious position was taken over by Ayatollah Boroujerdi. As a result, he gained favor and had a strong following of all Muslims, Khomeini being one amongst them. It can also be noted that both Boroujerdi and Ha’iri shared a common belief that religion should be separated from the state. In this case, religion or the state should not involve themselves in matters of the other (Iran Chamber Society, para. 7).

Consequently, the Iranian leader, Reza Shah looked for ways in which he could tame the influence of the religious leaders. Most of the powerful religious leaders and clerics remained mute on the issue and encouraged their followers to follow suite. Furthermore, the same difference was advocated for when Reza Shah’s successor. His son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi sought support of the western governments, particularly the United States.

This was meant to control and contain protests for democratic reforms in Tehran during the year 1950. Khomeini among those clerics muted. Khomeini was not able to challenge what he saw. He thought that his country was moving away from the teachings of the Islamic traditions. He was angered by this and decided to focus on teaching the Islamic science known as Fiqh (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 4).

After the demise of Ayatollah Boroujerdi, Khomeini emerged as one of the possible successors. This was brought about by his publications on the writings of Fiqh. The basic handbook of Islamic practice titled Tozih al-Masael was the most notable. Later on, Khomeini became a Marja-e Taqlid. In essence, he gained general acceptance among the Iranian Shi’as. In the early 1960s, the Iranian administration introduced new legislations on elections.

These laws did away with the previous prerequisite requiring the elected officials to take their oaths using the Quran. Imam Khomeini telegraphed both the prime minister and Mohammed Reza warning that they should stop violating the Iranian constitution of 1907 and Islamic law. If they failed to comply, the Ulama or religious scholars would lead the public in sustained protests to campaign against this provision (Iran Chamber Society, paras. 8-9; “Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 6; Harmon, pp. 16-20).

On the 3rd of June, 1963, Imam Khomeini made a speech at Feyziyeh madreseh. He warned the Shah that, if he did not change his ways, one day the Iranian public will welcome his departure from the country.

He was arrested two days later by military commandos. When news of his arrest broke at dawn, there were widespread demonstrations that took almost six days before calm was restored. Demonstrators were ruthlessly confronted by heavy military tanks. This marked the turning point of Iran. Imam Khomeini was later released on the 7th of April, 1964 (Iran Chamber Society, para. 11; Khater, p. 229).

The Shah’s government continued to strengthen its ties with the west. He signed an agreement with America that offered immunity from prosecution to all United States people and their dependents in Iran. This triggered Khomeini to issue a statement against the leadership. He denounced the agreement and termed it as a relinquishment of the sovereignty and independence of Iran. Armed commandos from the military stormed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s residence in Qom and arrested him a few hours to dawn during the 4th of November 1964.

This time, he was not sent to jail but was taken to the Mehrabad airport where he was flown to Turkey for exile. While in Turkey, the Shah hoped that Ayatollah Khomeini would fade from the memory of the populace. Turkey had a law that prohibited the wearing of the turban and cloak. These aspects are critical to the Muslim scholars. However, on the 5th of November, Khomeini left Turkey for Najaf in Iraq where he spent the next 13 years (Iran Chamber Society, paras. 12-13).

During his stay in Najaf, Khomeini continued teaching Fiqh at Sheikh Mourteza Ansari madreseh. From his lectures on Velayat-e faqeeh, he published a text that bordered on issues of administration and religion. This was later smuggled into Iran by sympathizers who came to visit him in Iraq. He also started making video tapes of his lectures and sermons while in exile.

Through these strategies, Khomeini was accepted as the supreme leader of the Iranian opposition against the rule of the Shah’s government. The opposition’s struggle was starting to gain momentum. In 1975, a crowd of demonstrators camped for three days at a famous religious school in Qom where Ayatollah Khomeini used to teach while he was in Iran.

The crowd was adamant and was only dispersed by brutal military force under the orders of the Shah. As a response to this, Ayatollah Khomeini then released a public statement from exile in support of the demonstrators, which declared that the liberation and freedom from the shackles of imperialism for the Iranian people was indeed imminent (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 9).

More protests and demonstrations continued to be witnessed all around Iran during 1978 defending the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. On each occasion, the rioters and demonstrators were heavily and violently confronted by the military and other government institutions.

The Shah was concerned about the frequency and the magnitude of the demonstrations. He felt that the proximity of Khomeini’s exile to Iraq was relatively too close for any comfort. Within a short period, Khomeini’s residence in Iraq was again surrounded by military personnel who gave him two alternatives: he was asked to either leave the country or stay in Iraq but stop making any political statements.

Ayatollah Khomeini chose to leave the country (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 10). The Iranian authorities then colluded with the Iraqi government to force Khomeini out of Iraq. He moved to Kuwait where he was denied entry at the border, but finally made his way to France. It is from France that the teachings of Khomeini dominated world news and media (Iran Chamber Society, para. 15-16; “Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 4).

Khomeini went to Paris, which inevitably was to become his last residence outside Iran before he made his jubilant return to his motherland, Iran. During his stay in France, he vehemently defended himself against skeptics and criticisms regarding the accusations of being power hungry by making various public statements.

He argued that it was the sole responsibility and the desertion of the people of Iran to elect, select, or choose individuals that they thought were trustworthy and capable to lead them. He categorically stated that he was not personally interested in any special role or responsibility. He asserted that he was comfortable with his status as the Ayatollah (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 11).

Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979. This was just a few months after he had moved to Paris. The middle class, students, self employed businessmen, and the Iranian military took to the streets protesting against the Shah’s administration. At this point, the Shah was forced to turn to his close allies from the west such as the United States for assistance to control the demonstrations. However, the Shah had to leave the country when the revolution found its way to his doorstep.

Regardless of the statements that he issued in Paris, Ayatollah Khomeini was widely regarded and accepted as the new ruler of Iran. When Khomeini finally returned home, he returned to cheering crowds and immediately embarked on laying the foundations of setting up an Islamic republic that he had envisioned for his country. During this period, he entrusted his fellow clerics with the task of formulating and writing the new constitution for the new republic. He also began making authoritarian statements and remarks than before.

This includes when he called for the people of Iran not to listen to those who advocate for democracy. He insisted that the proponents of democracy were against Islam, and their intentions were to derail the nation from its ultimate mission. Khomeini swore not to entertain those advocating for aspects related to the west. Specifically, he singled out those advocating for democracy and nationalism (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 12).

After the Shah left Iran, he needed a country where he could spend his exile. It was later discovered that the Shah suffered from cancer. With this in mind, the United States under the administration of President Carter reluctantly allowed the Shah to serve out his exile in America.

Back in Iran, a group of Iranian was outraged by the American decision to accommodate the Shah. They stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took about 60 American hostages on the 4th day of November 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the new Islamic republic of Iran in defiance of the western powers.

As a result, the new Iranian government and the American government were engaged in a standoff that ended after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in January 1981. This was due to the pressure of economic sanctions and oil embargos that the American administration imposed on Tehran. This is what came to be known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 13).

Shapour Bakhtiar was appointed Prime Minister by Shah before he left Iran. Imam Khomeini came back to Iran on 5th of February, 1979. He was appointed a Prime Minister disregarding the one appointed by Shah on his departure from Iran. He then ordered the citizens to defy the curfew imposed, and on February 15th, the regime collapsed. A referendum was conducted in which the Islamic Republic of Iran was created, and Ayatollah Khomeini became the supreme leader (Iran Chamber Society, para. 18).

During his 10 year rule, Khomeini established a theocratic administration over Iran. He failed to fulfill his pre-revolutionary promises made to the people. Instead, he went on to marginalize and suppress the opposition groups. He amalgamated authority and protected the cleric governance. Most of the books were edited to reflect Islamic values or destroyed. Many who were against these changes were either sentence to life imprisonment or death (Iran Chamber Society, para. 21).

Once in authority, Ayatollah Khomeini was far less sympathetic to the plight of the secular left than the Shah was to Khomeini’s call for reforms. Anybody who protested against his administration was killed.

Khomeini made sure that his doctrines and beliefs were inculcated into the education curriculum in all schools and education centers. He also made sure that all the top positions in his administration were occupied by clerics who were sympathetic and loyal to his doctrines and beliefs. They ranged from the small town officials to the top officials in the government.

Furthermore, Ayatollah Khomeini believed that the new values and doctrines established in the new Islamic Republic of Iran were meant to be exported all over the Muslim Middle East. As a result of achieving this end, Ayatollah Khomeini declared war on Iraq and the two nations went to war for about eight years before a truce was called. The number of those who died in the war cannot be accounted for, but is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The war only came to an end after the American military forces intervened on behalf of Iraq, a key ally at the time. The American forces forced Iran and Khomeini into a ceasefire agreement. In his response, Ayatollah Khomeini termed the compromise made in reaching a ceasefire to be more deadly and venomous than swallowing poison (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 14).

Ayatollah Khomeini was also well known for the publication of various Fatwa. This is a legal publication published by a Muslim cleric. Khomeini released a Fatwa that called for the death of a controversial Indian-British author by the name Salman Rushdie for his remarks made in the book “The Satanic Verses” published in 1989.

This is a fictional book that was interpreted as depicting the Holy Prophet Mohammed as being a false prophet. The book also went on to cast significant doubts about numerous Islamic doctrines and beliefs. After the Rushdie Fatwa was published and declared, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini succumbed to his illness and died on the 3rd day of June, 1989 (“Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 14).

His foreign policy was centered on reverting the notion where the Shah had established a strong relation with the west. Khomeini also advocated for the adoption of stance of unwavering hostility towards the super powers of the west. Under the rule of Khomeini, the Iranian economy foundered a lot. His quest for victory against Iraq in the Iranian-Iraqi war subsequently proved futile. However, Ayatollah Khomeini continued to endear himself among the people of Iran’s Shi’a community.

Thus, he ruled over Iran till his demise. Khomeini’s grave is situated in Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. This has become a shrine for his loyalist supporters and sympathizers who pay a visit to the tomb. In terms of ideology, he can best be remembered for establishing the ideology of velayat-e faqih (meaning ‘guardianship of the jurist’). This was published in a variety of lectures and sermons that he delivered and taught during the period when he was exiled.

These lectures and sermons were later published and smuggled into Iran by Khomeini’s loyalists who visited him in exile. They were later reprinted and circulated among his followers in Iran. In these publications, Khomeini emphasized on the establishment of a theocratic administration led by Islamic jurists instead of the corrupt secularist led regimes. Iran came up with a constitution in the year 1969. This constitution has articles that supports the authority of the jury (“Ruhollah Khomeini”, para. 6-7).


Khomeini’s conservative ideology strongly opposed any pro-western affiliations. His rule was marked in history by the Iraq-Iran war and the Iran hostage crisis. Iran is still a religious-based society. The work and rule of Khomeini will unquestionably continue to influence the political and religious views in Iran presently and into the future.

Works Cited

.” The Biography Channel website. 2013. Web.

Harmon, Daniel E. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. New York: Infobase Pub, 2004. Internet resource. Print.

Iran Chamber Society. . Web.

Khater, Akram F. Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Moin, Baqer. Khomeini: Sign of God. London: Tauris, 1989. Print.

Reich, Bernard. Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. Print.

“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2013. Web.

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