Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has been dead for more than two decades and the true nature of his beliefs are hotly disputed. But standing in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini shrine, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had no doubts about his predecessor’s revolutionary vision.
“The foremost major point in his thoughts and ideas was pure Mohammadian Islam,” Khamenei told a vast crowd gathered to mark the 21st anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death on June 4. “The fulfillment of pure Islam would not be possible except through the sovereignty of Islam and the establishment of an Islamic system. The Imam [Khomeini] considered the Islamic republic to be the embodiment of Islamic governance.”
It was Khamenei’s clearest statement yet on a question that has roiled Iranian politics since President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took office with the backing of religious hard-liners five years ago: is Iran an Islamic republic — subject to the popular will — or merely an Islamic state ruled by Shari’a law as defined by a tiny circle of hard-line clerics?