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Persian Studies

Dr. Asghar Seyed Gohrab

Khomeini as mystic

According to Seyed-Gohrab, "Khomeini represents a good example of exploiting mystic images for political purposes." Seyed-Gohrab: "The Islamic revolution was actually not at all Islamic; it only became that later.  In the first instance many different parties, including left-wing groups, took part in the revolution.  It was only during the hostage crisis in the American Embassy that Khomeini came from Qom to Teheran and started to establish a position of power. On the television, he explained suras from the Koran, addressing the mystic significance of the verses.  He did this not only to communicate his political ideas, but also to convince Iranians that he was a good leader.  He presented himself as a mystic, as a person with spiritual aspirations, not interested in worldly power. When Khomeini was in exile, first in Iraq and then in France, he presented himself as an austere ascetic, who spent his time sitting on a mat under an apple tree and living on dry bread and milk." Seyed-Gohrab: "Later he perpetuated this image by such means as writing poetry. To lead the life of a mystic, you also have to be a poet, since poetry is a vehicle for communicating the body of mystic thoughts. Khomeini wrote poems throughout his life, but only published them in the eighties. There was some doubt about whether or not they were authentic."

Iran-Iraq war

During the Iran-Iraq war, according to Seyed-Gohrab,  Khomeini made use of mystic symbolism. Khomeini said for instance at the start of the war 'mobilisation is the school of love.' The 'school of love' in the middle Ages stood for the academy where the lover had to undergo training to be able to sacrifice himself to the object of his love, in other words God.  But Khomeini used this concept to incite people to violence.