Religious Figure, Iranian Political Leader. A Shiite religious Leader and leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he was born Ruhollah ibn Mustafa Musawi Khomeini in the town of Khomein in Iran, from a family with a long line of religious scholarship. His father was Seyed Moustafa Hindi, who died when Ruhollah was just five months old. Khomeini began his formal religious education by memorizing the Koran at a local maktab (religious school). In 1918, his mother, Hajar, and his aunt, Sahiba, who had helped raise him, died, leaving the responsibility for the family on his oldest brother, Sayed Mourteza. In 1920, his brother sent him to the city of Arak to continue his religious studies. During the 1920s and 1930s, Khomeini did not participate in any political activities, as he believed that political leadership should be left to more educated religious scholars. In 1955, Khomeini concentrated on giving instruction in fiqh (a form of Islamic science) and gathering around him the students who would later become his associates in the movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran. In 1961, upon the death of the Ayatollah Mohammed Boroujerdi, he emerged as the successor to Boroujerdi's leadership. In January 1963, the Shah of Iran announced a new, six-point program of reform called the White Revolution and based upon American-inspired reforms to Iranian law, all designed to give his regime a liberal façade. Shortly after, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a strongly worded declaration denouncing the Shah for his plans, in which he accused the Shah of violating the Iranian Constitution, encouraging the spread of moral corruption in the country, and of submitting to the demands of America and Israel. On June 3, 1963, he delivered a speech strongly condemning the reforms and suggesting that the Shah would soon be overthrown by the popular demand of the people. For this he was arrested and would spend 8 months in jail. Released from jail, he would soon make another speech in which he called the Shah a traitor to Iran and to Islam, and shortly afterwards, the Shah had him exiled, first to Turkey, then to Iraq, where he continued his opposition to the Shah, and quickly became the major leader of the opposition. In 1978, the Shah attempted to have him deported back to Iran, and he moved to Paris, France, where he continued his efforts to have the Shah overthrown. On January 16, 1979, the Shah left Iran to seek treatment for cancer in the United States, although this was a closely guarded secret at the time. Sensing that the time was ripe for the overthrow, Khomeini returned to Tehran, Iran on February 1, 1979, where he formed a new government for Iran. For a short while two governments appeared to rule Iran, but on March 30, a nationwide referendum voted for the establishment of an Islamic Republic, and the next day, Khomeini was declared the Supreme Leader. Shortly afterwards, he was accorded the title of "Iman," the highest religious rank in Shia. Khomeini settled in the city of Qom, where he ruled Iran through his ministers, mostly other Islamic spiritual leaders. Proving himself as ruthless as the Shah he deposed, he quickly launched the Cultural Revolution to bring Islamic teachings into all aspects of Iranian life, to eliminate Western influences, and to return Iran to its Islamic roots. As a result, thousands of people were laid off, and hundreds of books were burnt that did not meet the new Islamic values. A newly established Islamic Judiciary system sentenced hundreds of Iranians to death or to long-term imprisonment if they were found in opposition to the radical change. On January 23, 1980, he was brought to Tehran for heart treatments, where he was treated and lived for the next nine years. In 1980, he launched a campaign to export the Islamic Revolution to other Muslim countries, which resulted in an eight-year war with neighboring Iraq. On June 3, 1989, after eleven days in the hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, he lapsed into a coma and died.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson