Iranian Revolution – an Untouched Aspect

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Abdul Hadi Mayar

The leadership of Islamic Jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan fell into the hands of the seminary clerics with rural backgrounds

As Iranians celebrated the 43rd anniversary of their Islamic Revolution this past Friday, one important aspect of this revolution still remains shrouded under the dust of political prejudices and sectarian parochialism.
That critics among the Shiites called Imam Khomeini a ‘Wahabi Shiite’ was not just a sarcastic remark. The leader of the Islamic Revolution had a history working for recalibration and enforcement of Islam’s political system beyond the sectarian divide.
Sunni or Shiite, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini initially belonged to the same Ikhwan al Muslimoon or Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna had founded in Egypt in the early 20th century and spread across the Muslim world in Asia and Africa.
Imam Khomeini, Syed Qutb, Maulana Maududi and many other scholars across the Muslim world were all inspired by the ideology of Hassan al-Banna and all of them struggled for a holistic Islamic political order, responsive to all modern-day needs of the state and society.
In fact, this very ideological turn in the historical growth of Islamic knowledge and philosophy and its gradual deterioration into antagonistic religiopolitical orders – such as Wahabism or Salfiism, Shiitism, and Talibanization – in the recent decades, constitute the very story of rise and fall of political Islam.
The invention of the printing press in Europe in the early second millennium had, by making available diverse sources of knowledge and empowering human beings with mental liberty, propagated knowledge and spurred a critical review of the Dark Age superstitious religious dogmas.
The abundance of learning material hastened a critical review of the Church tyranny. The outcome was the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It unleashed a storm of knowledge and created great scholars like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau.
The development and diversification of natural and biological sciences and the evolution of epoch-making theories, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, prompted an urge to revolt against the ruthless divine powers of priests and kings.
Emerging from the womb of this phenomenal upheaval were the socio-economic and political systems of democracy, socialism and capitalism, besides many other theories. It resulted in the creation of secular and atheistic concepts, which threatened the very existence of religion.
While the socially advanced Europe did not hesitate to grab the new reality, the slow mental growth of Asia and Africa did not accept the change so quickly, though the fresh winds from Europe did create minds that questioned superstitions.
Compelled by default to respond to the changing world around them, the exponents of the dominant faith of Islam in the two continents had to develop their own weltanschauung.
Questions about the medieval Islamic interpretations of religious principles had already cropped up in the Islamic world with scholars, like Jamaduddin Afghani and Mohammad Abduh, creating a basis for the modernization of Islamic thoughts.
When Hassan al-Banna emerged from Egypt’s conventional Islamic background into the modernity of thought system redefined by the former two scholars, he was naturally well prepared to launch his Islamic revivalist movement in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This reformist politico-religious movement was in fact an answer to Europe’s materialist and secular interpretation of history and religion. Al-Banna and his Muslim Brotherhood movement developed an inclusive divine system of life with the claim to present Islam as a complete code of life, responsive to both the needs of this world and the hereafter.
Soon, this movement created inroads into the entire Muslim world giving birth to many groups and parties, like Jama’at-e-Islami in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hizb-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Islami in Afghanistan, and many other Islamist parties in Muslim countries from Tunisia in the west to Indonesia in the east.
The central theme of all these movements was Ikhwaniyyat. They built up a revolt against the traditional Mullaism or theocracy and struggled for developing an enlightened and comprehensive thought system, gradually preparing Muslims for a socio-political revolution and keeping their cadres away from violent revolutionary measures, or the Jihad of latter periods.
The exponents and workers of this movement predominantly included college and university professors, lawyers and doctors while their main target audience was the students of modern education institutions. Iran, a majority Shiite state, was not an exception.
In his political struggle, Imam Khomeini was also accompanied by a host of modern educated scholars, like Dr Ali Shariati. Even during his active struggle for revolution, Imam Khomeini was supported by Socialist, democratic and leftist political groups and leaders.
Even in his letter to the last ruler of the Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev, inviting him to consider Islam as a substitute for Communism, Imam Khomeini presented evidence from across the sectarian divide, quoting mainly Al Farabi and Avicenna.
The sectarian element infiltrated into the Iranian revolution at a later stage and there were vibrant dynamics for that.
In fact, when the Iranian revolution took place, a Socialist revolution had already occurred in Afghanistan a year back, which had rung alarm bells across the Capitalist world as the erstwhile Soviet Union had now remained just a country away from the warm water.
On the other hand, the Iranian revolution also stirred the Arab world with which Iran had entrenched rivalry for many centuries, apart from the bitter sectarian divide.
Under their double containment policy, the US-led capitalist powers not only tried to boost a Sunni, rather Wahabi, jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the dent of petrodollars but also used Saddam Hussein-led Iraq to put a check on Iran.
On the other hand, the Ikhwani movement had by then descended into a violent jihadist movement resorting to bomb blasts and terrorist attacks in Egypt, Palestine and other Islamic countries.
The killing of Dr. Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar and the resultant shifting of the reins of the Ikhwani movement to Osama Bin Laden did whatever harm political Islamists had so far escaped.
As a result, the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan fell into the hands of the seminary clerics with rural backgrounds and lacking modern education.
The emergence of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Daesh and violent Shiite groups, all owe their existence to this multi-faceted political war.