There’s a growing understanding in the world including Kashmir right now that a pro-Reza Shah lobby is also rabble-rousing behind the scenes for the escalating Persian Gulf tensions. But back in the day, 40 years ago, when Shah’s loyalists fled Iran, the exiled Ayatollah had arrived in his homeland to inspire events in Kashmir.
When Ayatollah Khomeini finally arrived in Iran’s Mehrabad airport on February 1, 1979, the nation—whose supreme leader he was about to become—erupted in colossal cheer.
On the same day, 1,324 miles away in a small village of Kashmir, a girl was born in the house of late Aga Syed Hussain, the nephew of Aga Syed Baqir. She was named ‘Mubarika’, an “indication of a ceremonious day of visionary change” that would mark the Imam’s victory over oppression.
The leader’s much anticipated arrival from his 14-year long exile was a swift catalyst for a dramatic turn of events to unfold on a larger scale and with an intensity greater than before. So much so that Iranians gave that specific period a term: ‘Fijaar-e-Noor’, which meant ‘The Explosion of Light’.
This source of light exploded in Iran, but its rays illuminated the major parts of the world. The Iranian revolution gave birth to a new movement and jolted the previous lifeless resistance movements in Islamic lands awake, of which Kashmir was obviously included.
During the 14-year of exile, while the Ayatollah was living his days in Iraq, Aga Yusuf Kashmiri was informed of the personality of the Imam through his relatives living there, says a revered religious scholar, Aga Syed Abid of Hassanabad.
After the death of Aga Mohsin Hakim, who was considered to be the Islamic authority (Mujtahid) people conformed to (Taqlid), Aga Syed Baqir who was then in Najaf, penned a letter to Aga Yusuf, advising that it would be better for the Kashmiri people to adopt the Taqlid of Ayatollah Khomeini. Aga Yusuf agreed and spread the message to the masses.
At that time, Ayatollah Khomeini was in the process of developing the theory of Wilayat-e-Faqih or Guardianship of the Jurist. The theory itself was not a novel phenomenon to many. Some attributed it to have originated during the Safavid Empire while others traced it to the time of the infallible Imams of the Household of the Prophet (Ahlulbayt).
However, its reinterpretation and reapplication in the specific context of the political climate in the 20th century was long overdue. The Ayatollah’s ability to bring a refreshing perspective to the theory that was only alive in books, by combining the mystical and exoteric aspects of the religion to formulate a political model of governance which gave full-fledged authority in the hands of the jurisconsult amassed a huge following and popularity among the students in Najaf.
To provide a greater understanding of the concept of Wilayat-e-Faqih explained in the Imam’s words, a few books in the Arabic language which contained lectures of the Imam during his stay in Najaf reached the clerics in Kashmir through Aga Syed Hussain, providing a better understanding of his theory, and thus facilitating genuine support from the Imam’s contemporaries.
Despite not having met Ayatollah Khomeini in person, Aga Yusuf perceived the great stature of the Imam and penned a letter to him earlier while he was in Turkey, requesting him to grace his presence in the Valley. In reply, Imam Khomeini expressed gratitude and appreciation for the offer, but politely declined, explaining that recurring events demanded his active and necessary presence.
“In my opinion, if the Imam would have, in that turbulent and significant time, come to Kashmir rather than stay in Europe, the impact of the revolution wouldn’t have been as monumental,” Aga Syed Abid says.
Back in France, while the Imam was lying patiently in wait and monitoring the political events that were beginning to take place, Aga Yusuf, along with a few other eminent religious clerics in Kashmir, were beginning to gradually introduce the name of Khomeini in their speeches to the people.
Praying for his well-being and imparting knowledge about the Ayatollah’s actions and past, keen ears listening to the lectures were made conscious and mindful of the existence of such a personality that was fighting for the realization of an Islamic government.
Following the success of the Iranian revolution, Imam Khomeini ordered the commencement of Friday congregational (Jum’ah) prayers in Iran. Rejuvenated with religious fervor in the mosques over the overwhelming support toward the uprising, the practice was wholeheartedly adopted by the clerics in Kashmir.
After the materialization of the revolution, eventually leading to the formation of an Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabian-Iranian relations dipped to an all-time low in 1987. Clashes had erupted between Iranians and Saudis, leading to the death of 402 pilgrims and heightened tensions between the two nations.
The massacre led to an initial freezing of relations between the two, later resulting in a complete break in 1988, which lasted for three years. During that turbulent and trying time where Iranians were barred from performing their annual pilgrimage (Hajj), Kashmiri Shias, in a gesture of solidarity and togetherness, boycotted the pilgrimage.
“While comparing the revolution of the Imam to Shah Hamadan’s movement, it’s important to emphasize a few things,” Aga Syed Abid notes. “First of all, although Shah Hamadan’s movement was no less revolutionary than the Imam’s, he had limited ways at his disposal to spread the message. During his time, the state was run and administered by a monarchial King and one had to adjust oneself according to the ways of the King.
“If the King was pleased with your message and your guidance, it automatically meant that the people would accept your actions. There was little to no effect on the people per se, in that context.”
Secondly, he stated, the work of saints like Shah Hamadan touched more on a person’s individual development rather than the collective social upheaval of a society. Since the infrastructure and workings of the state, again, came under the direct control of the King, there wasn’t a lot that could be changed or led to evolve, without a direct confrontation.
Naturally, a comparison would arise over the Imam’s behavior and actions toward Reza Shah and his son. It was a monarchial regime that was being directly confronted by a religious cleric who was steadily assembling a loyal following. In this context, Aga Syed Abid notes, did a fundamental and distinct trait in the Imam’s character begin to unearth itself.
‘Islamic Republic’- a phrase that was and is tirelessly contested over by different beliefs, views and angles. According to Aga Abid, this phrase was enough to provide a window into the workings of the Imam’s mind.
But the possibility of a formation of another Islamic Republic in another country through exclusive reliance on popular support toward the Imam was itself paradoxical.
Consequently, it meant cultivating the belief that the success of such a revolution did not bank on popularity itself, but on the enjoinment of the ideals that the Qur’an called for through its verses.
“The revolution in Iran held the light of knowledge. The Imam knew that and furthermore, understood that once the people would begin to realize this very fact, they would, themselves, rise to the position of realizing the ideals of Islam within their own nation,” Aga Abid states.
Differentiating it with the previous Islamic movements in Kashmir which were solely focused on the establishment of the obligatory rituals of the religion, Aga Abid noted the extension of Ayatollah Khomeini’s voice of resistance to often forgotten places, like Lebanon, Palestine and Kashmir.
Notably, among his unique and distinctive commands that he imparted during the realization of the revolution, the designation of the last Friday of the holy month of Ramzan as Al-Quds, or a ‘Day of Resistance’ for Palestinians, in the face of Zionist and Imperial oppression and control, acquires a significant spot in history.
“For many years I have been warning Muslims of the menace posed by the usurper Israel which has recently intensified her savage raids on our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” Khomeini wrote in a message addressing Muslims throughout the world, marking the Day of Quds (the Day of Holy Jerusalem). “I call on the Muslims of the world as well as on all Islamic governments to join forces to cut down this usurper and its supporters.”
In his message, he stated that the day was not only for Palestine or other suppressed Muslim nations, but a day for the realization for the ideals of an Islamic government.
Another stark contrast between the Iranian movement and the rest of the Islamic movements in Kashmir occurs on the labeling of the movement itself. While movements of Islam that focus on both the esoteric and exoteric sides are labelled as ‘Sufi’ movements, the same cannot be said for the ‘Khomeinist movement’. Why is that the case?
For Aga Syed Abid, it rests on the choice of the people and the interpretation of Islam according to the leader. Usually, when the leader of any revolution out-rightly defends the ideals and methods of the movement, he/she slowly starts to gain a following that agrees with those ideals. However, in the case of the Ayatollah, it was the opposite.
“The people around him who knew his character and his stature urged him to become the leader,” Aga Abid notes. “From the start of the movement, he gave speeches on the theory of Wilayat-e-Faqih and on Irfan Islamiyya (Gnostic Islam/ Islamic Mysticism).”
Having completed his MPhil thesis in Iran on the ‘Comparative comparison between Hinduism and Tasawwuf (Sufism)’, Aga Syed Abid explains the scholarly difference between Sufism and Irfan, in his opinion, to be present on the level of esotericism they contain.
To put it simply and in a nutshell, he believes Irfan to be the ‘PhD of Sufism’.
“There is a need to upgrade to the level that the Imam was in, to witness the realization of the ideals we hold dear to our heart. Putting Islam in an isolated place with little to no interaction in societal factions will kill the revolutionary concern toward our surroundings.”
On the death anniversary of Imam Khomeini, in collaboration with an organization in Iran, two scholars from London and Pakistan, respectively, were invited to give a lecture in Kashmir. In his speech on the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Sunni scholar from Pakistan, Tajjamul Islam, had said:
“I was a mere student when the revolution had gained victory. We had decided to hold a conference for students in this regard, but weren’t allowed to actualize it by the then present regime. I went to the press to inform them of the happenings. They asked me what the purpose of my conference had been. Without thinking or having previously crafted a befitting and careful reply, my mouth uttered: ‘We wanted to do what Imam Khomeini had done’.”
To be continued…