The first decade of the Islamic Republic was also the last decade of Imam Khomeini’s life. He moved his office from Qom to Tehran, from where he supervised over affairs of the state, answered religious questions, and met with visitors and admirers. During the first few years, opposition groups carried out several brutal techniques to derail the new Islamic government. Imam Khomeini’s close student and associate Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari was assassinated. A bomb explosion killed more than 70 top leaders of the Revolution, including Sayyid Muhammad Hussaini Beheshti. In addition, the Islamic Republic faced an eight-year-long war with Iraq, not to mention the economic sanctions placed against it by Western powers.
Any other country would have disintegrated if faced with such severe circumstances. But the Islamic Republic was under the leadership of Imam Khomeini and, many believe, is still under the guardianship of the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Indeed, Imam Khomeini is said to have a very close and special relationship with Imam al-Mahdi. The late Ayatollah Fadhil Lankarani narrates that when someone continuously argued with Imam Khomeini about the feasibility of the Revolution, the Imam eventually snapped back, “Would Hazrat Baqiyatullah Imam Mahdi tell me something wrong? The Shah must go!” During the Revolution, when the Imam was faced with a dilemma or problem, he would often go into his private chambers, where many believe he was in direct communication with Imam al-Mahdi.
As a follower of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon him), Imam Khomeini truly exemplified their teachings in his lifestyle. He lived a very simple life, and despite his academic and political engagements, he always upheld the rights of his family members. His wife narrates that she had only one wish her whole life that the Imam never fulfilled: she had wished for him to ask her for a glass of water at least once, but he never did! Many visitors to his house would be amazed to find the Imam washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and participating in other household chores.
Despite all this, the Imam led a life of utmost piety and spirituality. In the severe winters of Qom, the Imam would wake up every night, perform ablution with the freezing cold water, and offer his night prayers. His Mafatih (prayer almanac) had to be rebound every few weeks because of how much he used it. Before he began lecturing his students on political activism, he emphasized to them the importance of spirituality and attaining the nearness of Allah. Many of his teachings on spirituality and self-refinement can be found in Light Within Me, The Disciplines of Prayer, and Forty Hadith.
Unlike other Gnostics and mystics, Imam Khomeini’s spirituality in fact translated into a lifestyle of utmost discipline and regularity. The French soldiers posted outside his residence in Neauphle-le-Chateau used to calibrate their watches based on the time Imam Khomeini came out for his daily walk. On the legendary flight from Paris to Tehran, the Imam got up, performed ablution, offered his prayers, and then went right back to sleep. Those present on the plane remarked that it was due to the Imam’s strong spirituality and discipline that he was able to peacefully sleep on such an uncomfortable flight, especially on the eve of the Revolution! During the middle of a press conference with international media outlets after the Revolution, Imam Khomeini got up and left the room. When the astonished reporters inquired about his sudden departure, they found out that it was time for the afternoon prayers, and the Imam could not delay his prayers for even a few minutes!
The Imam also had a great amount of regard and respect for women and their honor. His daughter narrates that at the dinner table, whenever any of the girls’ sleeves would slip back, the Imam would remind her to make sure her entire arm was properly covered. He once said, “The enemies are not so much afraid of the blood of our martyrs as they are of the Hijab of our women!” He used to say, “It is correct that they said that the face and palms (can) be visible; however, it is better for the youth to cover up a little bit more.” He encouraged women to cover themselves with black Chadors, which he considered to be the symbols of the Revolution.
In 1409 AH, the Imam’s health began to deteriorate. He was taken to the hospital, where he spent 11 days for an operation to stop internal bleeding. His wife narrates that a few weeks before being brought to the hospital, the Imam had a dream where he witnessed Imam Ali ibn Abli Talib (peace be upon him) washing and shrouding his body and praying for him. In his last days, he fervently engaged in constant prayer and supplication, asking Allah to accept him. Doctors narrate that when he passed away from this world on 28th Shawwal, 1409 AH, he did so in the state of reciting Allahu Akbar (“God is Great”).
Amid an outpour of grief, the Imam’s body was taken for burial to the south of Iran. Nearly ten million people came out to pay their respects, making it the largest funeral in history. His body eventually had to be transported by helicopter to his final resting site, upon which a shrine was built in memory of this shining beacon of knowledge, piety, and spirituality. After him, his close student and associate Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei was chosen as the new leader of the Islamic Republic.