For almost two decades, the demise of Ayatollah Roohulla Mousavi Khomeini – the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic Revolution – has been marked by conferences and discussions, in which many international speakers have addressed different aspects of his personality and his views.
This year the 19th International conference on Imam Khomeini was held at the Islamic Centre of England. Hujjat ul-Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, the head of the ICEL, emphasised the lofty status of women in Islam and in the speeches and declaration of Imam Khomeini. Dr Shomali began by comparing the status of women before the advent of Islam and afterwards. ‘A girl having no love even in the heart of her own father in the Jahiliyya period reached a point where the Messenger of God used to stand up [out of respect and love] before Hazrat Fatima (sa) his daughter and out of respect, he would call her the Mother of Her Father (Umm Abiha)’.
He added that Imam Khomeini would ignore the edicts of the conservative clerics in favour of bringing about more participation of women. ‘I remember there was a much respected scholar who had mystical leanings. He wrote an essay in which he said women should not serve in the parliament. But this was not the idea of Imam Khomeini. Women were allowed to serve in the Parliament, judiciary, army and police force,’ Dr Shomali added.
He said; Imam Khomeini would almost equate women with the Holy Qur’an in some of his writings. ‘Imam Khomeini said that the Holy Qur’an builds the character of the human beings and women build the character of human beings, in effect equating women with the Holy Qur’an.’
He concluded by stating that a number of factors influenced Imam Khomeini’s position on women. ‘I think his understanding of Islamic philosophy, mysticism, and shari’a in its enlightened form played a significant role in his approach. Finally being looked after as a child by his great aunt following the martyrdom of his father really influenced his views on women,’ he said.
Hujjat ul Islam Abbas de Palma from Italy stated that the Islamic Revolution in Iran introduced the Italian people to a new type of revolution. ‘Many people in Italy saw a revolution in which demonstrators were chanting “God is Great!” and they were not protesting for bread or other material things,’ he said. De Palma added: ‘We needed a revolution in which people would return to the purpose of the creation. God says: “I did not create the human beings and the jinns except for worshipping me.” ’
He added that Imam Khomeini led this revolution so that human beings would return to the purpose of their creation and would fashion their lives on the basis of spirituality.
Umm Farwa, from Labaik Ya Zahra Foundation, said in her address that ‘Imam Khomeini was the greatest personality of the 20th century. He spoke like a prophet with the people. He should never be compared with the average person. He was a far-sighted, progressive, multi-faceted leader.’
Dr Mahnaz Haidarpour, a university lecturer, said Imam Khomeini fully appreciated the role that women play in infusing the fabric of family with love and kindness. She quoted Imam Khomeini saying: ‘The kindness seen in women is specific to them and men do not have such sentiments.’ She also quoted him saying: ‘God Almighty has permeated His Mercy in the heart of women in such a way that it cannot be described and none except mothers can understand this.’
Rodney Shakespeare, a barrister and social activist, stated in his lecture that he visited Iran recently and was full of admiration for the massive social participation of Iranian women, especially in the academic world. He said: ‘In one word, the message of Imam Khomeini was political independence. One of the ways that Iran can achieve this independence would be through utilising the existing resources and women, as half of the society constitutes half of Iran’s resources.’
The talks were followed by showing a documentary which celebrated the achievements of Iranian women in the past three decades. The documentary stated that in 2014 women constituted 59.04 percent of those who took part in university entrance examinations across the nation.
Mr Jalal Fairouz, former MP from Bahrain, recounted anecdotes from the life of Imam Khomeini, showing how he interacted with members of his family based on love and kindness. The Imam would never issue orders to his wife.
Dr Amina Inloes, the executive editor of the Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies, praised Imam Khomeini as a man of action and resolve. ‘Faced with challenges, Imam Khomeini rose up to deal with them. He rose up in the same manner that the Messenger of God rose up,’ she told the audience. She added that one of the achievements of Imam Khomeini was to bring about massive participation of women despite reluctance in certain quarters.
Ms Nicole Correri, from the United States, said that Imam Khomeini was keen on seeing more women’s participation. ‘As a leader, Imam Khomeini addressed the women of his society and even later stated that women were more active in defending the revolution than men,’ she said. She reminded the audience that from the advent of Islam women were active both in politics and business. ‘Hazrat Khadija showed that women can be both good merchants and good mothers and wives,’ she said.
Zahra al-Alawi, a presenter with Ahlulbayt TV, criticised the Western media for their wrong portrayal of Muslim women and suggested that the new generation of Muslim women living in the West has been able to debunk such stereotypes. ‘Some of the people who were calling our live show were non-Muslims and were surprised to find that there are articulate Muslim women fully capable of defending their own views on a live programme,’ she added. She also added the best way to know Imam Khomeini is to read his writings which contain his views.
The conference concluded by showing a documentary about an affectionate letter Imam Khomeini wrote to his wife.