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What I think of Imam Khomeini

by Tina Conlon,
Christian Lay-Minister

Taken from a speech by Tina Conlon, a Christian Lay-Minister from Canada, given during the 9th anniversary commemoration of the passing of Imam Khomeini.
[Courtesy al-Haqq Newsletter, Vol5 Issue7]

I greet you all, brothers and sisters in Islam, as a Christian and a follower of Jesus' example and teachings, and as a reader of Scriptures. According to Imam Khomeini, Jesus was appointed by God to support the oppressed and establish justice and mercy. The Imam further said that Jesus' divinely inspired words and angelic deeds condemned oppressors and tyrants and support the oppressed, deprived and abased people.

Sixteen years ago, when the man who I eventually married asked me what I thought about the Ayatollah Khomeini, my response was based on ignorance. I was informed only by what I read in the papers. I told him that any man who could strike fear in the heart of the president of the most powerful country in the world is someone we should pay attention to. I told him that I admire the leader of the Islamic Revolution and wanted to know more about him. Six months later, we were married. It is good to marry the person you have agreements with on these matters.

I was asked to speak on the Imam's message about the struggle of Muslims and Christians against oppression. In Christmas in 1978, I was still a student at a seminary in training to be a minister in a Christian church. I read the Bible and discuss matters of theology with my classmates. We learned, or tried to learn, about what its like to be a clergy to a world which is increasingly turning back on God. At that time, Iranian youths held hostage a group of people who were caught in espionage, an act which in the western world could get automatic execution. These youth demanded that in exchange for the spies Carter hand over the deposed Shah of Iran. My classmates and I waited with bated breath to see what conditions these captives were in. We knew about other incidents in El Salvador, in Guatemala, in the Philippines and even in the USA where captives were often tortured, have lost limbs, and were unable to carry on a normal life if they survived their capture. Instead, we saw these captives released healthy, if not healthier than they were before they were taken hostage. Imam Khomeini said that the youths treated the spies fairly because Islam commands one to have mercy upon captives, even if they are oppressors or spies.

As one who reads the Bible, I was very impressed by that remark. The Bible speaks of justice to the oppressed, comfort to the sick and commands us to show kindness to those who are imprisoned. The Imam showed more charity, more concern for others than those who were supposed to be but just apparently-Christian.

President Carter prayed for the success of his mission. He demanded that church bells ring throughout America. The leader of the Islamic Revolution prayed to Allah, for the deprived nations whose existence has fallen under the boots of the powerful oppressors. The irony was that the president of the USA and the leader of the Islamic Republic were not praying to two different Gods. This was not a contest of whose God was better. Each recognized that their God is One God. There is only one God and God is not on the side of the oppressors.

The brother asked me to speak about the unity of Muslims and Christians and establishing a God-fearing government on the Earth. Imam Khomeini, may peace be upon his name, not only cried for justice for the massacres in Iran but also for the massacres in Vietnam, in Palestine, in Lebanon and in many other places. I have been to many demonstrations. In them, we speak out against the injustices of the oppressors. We denounced their acts and demand some action. In the Zionist bombing of Sabra and Shatilla, I joined Muslim brothers and sisters in demonstrating in front of the US Embassy. As we marched in front of the US Embassy, I was the happiest, the proudest Christian, to march alongside a group of people whose battle cry was simply, "Allahu Akbar GOD IS GREAT." Some people who recognized me at the seminary where I was a student admonished me from joining the march. One of my classmates said that I was joining the fight of non-Christians . "No", I said, I am marching with those who say that "GOD IS GREAT!" and you know what, I agree. Some of the sisters who heard the exchange laughed with me and they took a piece of cloth to cover my head. "See," she said, "you are one of us now." I pulled the cloth over my head, smiled at her and agreed. I looked back at the line, I noticed that the classmate who admonished me pick up a placard and he began chanting as well, "GOD IS GREAT".

The Imam's cause was not only to support the cause of Iranians, nor only of Islam. His cause was to bring God's justice among those who are oppressed. The Palestinians were not all Muslims. Yet the Imam embraced their cause for justice against their oppressors as though it was his own cause. And it was.

The Imam also championed the cause of the Black people of South Africa in their struggle against Apartheid. Yes, there are Muslims in South Africa. But there are also Jews, Christians and people of many different faiths. Nelson Mandela is not a Muslim and yet when the Imam embraced him like a brother and made his struggle his own. He did not falter, hesitate or hold back. He gave his support in fighting the racist regime, because God is on the side of the oppressed.

The Imain wrote in one of his testaments, My advice to all Muslims and oppressed people of the world is this: you should not sit and wait till your own authorities or rulers, or some foreign power act to make a gift of freedom and independence to you. During the past one hundred years we have observed the infiltration of the world's major powers into all Islamic countries and into smaller lands. ...None of the rulers of any of these countries has been concerned with freedom, independence and the welfare of his nation, and none is even today. Rather the majority of such rulers have been themselves cruel oppressors who tried to strangulate their own people. Whatever good they did was to benefit themselves or was in the interest of some special group or, such rulers, promoted by the welfare of the upper already well-to-do classes but never did a thing to benefit the deprived groups and slum-dwellers.... [They] turned their countries into markets for the consumption of the manufactured products of their overlords, kept their own lands in an undeveloped conditions, and are doing so even now."

"O Mustazafeen (deprived, oppressed) of the world! O Muslims and Muslim countries of the world! Arise and wrest your rights by your teeth and fingernails! ... Drive out from your lands your wicked rulers who hand over your wages to your enemies and the enemies of Islam. Yourselves and the dedicated public servants should take charge of the affairs of your country. Gather all of you under the proud banner of Islam and fight the enemies of Islam and the deprived people of the world. Advance toward an Islamic sovereign government with so many free and independent republics. If you realize this, the arrogant powers shall retreat to their rightful positions and all the Mustazafeen will come to inherit the earth and attain to guardianship over it. Look forward to the day when God's promise shall be fulfilled."

Almost fifty years ago, world leaders signed a global charter declaring people's basic human rights, in Oxfam Canada, the organization I am currently working for, is collecting signatures to remind the global leaders of the commitments they signed to:

That people are able to enjoy the following universal human rights: enough to eat, clean water, a home, health care, education, a livelihood, protection from violence, equality of opportunity and a say in the future. While these rights have been declared universal, we stand in recognition of their vulnerability to those who hold power in the world. We observe how a powerful country's resolve to draw sanctions against can endanger that country's ability to provide its citizens with their basic human rights. At times, that resolve meant the abdication of responsibility even to their own citizens.

I still do not know much about the Imam Khomeini, but I have learned much from sixteen years ago. I consider him one of my spiritual leaders. He championed the cause of God against oppression. He fought the oppression for the people of Iran who suffered hardship under the tyranny of the Shah. He fought the oppression of the Black people of South Africa against the oppressive Apartheid. He fought the oppression of the Palestinians who until now are not protected from violence, after simply trying to regain their right to a home.

Salaam, May peace be unto you.