IRAN: The Unknown Ayatullah Khomeini

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His son, Seyyed Mostafa al Moussavi, had six children, the youngest of whom was Ruhollah, which in Farsi means Sign of God. A few months after Ruhollah's birth—for which one plausible date is May 17, 1900—his father was murdered on the road between Khomein and Arak as he set out on a pilgrimage to the Shi'a holy city of Najaf in Iraq. In later years there have been stories circulated that Mostafa's death was somehow caused by Reza Shah, father of the recently exiled Emperor. In fact, Reza was only about 22 years old at the time and did not seize the throne in a coup that ousted the Qajar dynasty until 25 years later. There is a more likely explanation: Mostafa was killed in a fight with another landlord over irrigation water. In a remarkably daring act for a Persian woman of that period, Ruhollah's mother, Hajar Saghafi, journeyed to Arak and testified at the trial of her husband's murderer, who was found guilty and executed.

Ruhollah was by all accounts a bright child. He loved to play soccer and has retained an interest in the sport; he occasionally watched soccer matches on TV during his four-month exile in Neauphlele-Château, outside Paris, in 1978-79. He attended Koranic school in Khomein, and was later sent to Arak to study under a well-known Islamic scholar, Abdul Karim Haeri. In 1920, when Haeri moved to Qum and established the famed Madresseh Faizieh, a center of Islamic learning, Ruhollah went with him. Except for his years in exile, Khomeini has lived and taught there ever since.

It was during these years that Ruhollah embraced mysticism, studying Man, which is the conceptual foundation of mysticism, and a kind of Islamic existentialism taught by the scholar Mohsin Faiz. He also became fascinated with Aristotle and Plato, whose Republic provided the model for Khomeini's concept of the Islamic republic, with the philosopher-king replaced by the Islamic theologian. He wrote lyric poetry under the pseudonym "Hindi"—a fact that SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, later used to insist that he was Indian rather than Iranian by birth.

Some time in the late 1920s, Ruhollah added "Khomeini" to his name. The reasons are unknown, although the word clearly refers to his birthplace. He also took a bride, whose name is usually given as Quesiran, or Khadijeh. It is typical of the confusion concerning Khomeini's life that he is sometimes said to have two wives, but family friends insist he has been married only once. Khomeini has said "One wife is enough," though he did not say whether he meant simply one at a time. In any case, Khomeini is known to have had six children. His wife is younger than the Ayatullah by several years. "I run the inside and he runs the outside, but we always consult," she has said.

About the time of his marriage, Khomeini made the devout Muslim's obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca. On his way back from Islam's holiest city, he got into a squabble with a group of Sunni Muslims in a Damascus mosque. In keeping with his own Shi'a tradition, Khomeini had placed a handful of earth on his prayer rug, and was preparing to put his forehead upon it. The Sunnis angrily objected to this practice, Khomeini deftly answered that it was wrong to place one's forehead directly on a rug, that one should be more humble than that. He was let go.

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