Ayatollah Sayyid Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi is a Shiite religious authority and an Iraqi-Iranian politician. He was born in 1948 in Karbala in a religious family of Saadat descendants of Hussein Ibn Ali. His father, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Shahroudi, was one of the masters and great figures of Najaf seminary. His mother was the daughter of Ali Madadi Mousavi Gaeni, one of the religious scholars from the village Sayedan in South Khorasan province.
He finished elementary education in Najaf Alawiya School, and began to pursue seminary education. Due to his family’s scientific status, he managed to finish the basic courses in a short time. Afterwards, he attended Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr’s classes, and was also present in Imam Khomeini and Ayatollah Khoei’s classes too.
In an interview with the Islamic Revolution Document Center, he brought back his memories of Imam Khomeini in Najaf. According to him, Imam’s immigration from Najaf to Paris helped more than anything to globalize the Islamic Revolution.
One of the most important events in the movement of the Islamic Revolution was Imam Khomeini's exile in Najaf. What is your analysis of this issue?
Regarding Imam Khomeini's exile in Najaf, the story goes that Shah (Muhammad Reza Pahlavi) thought that he could make a distance between Imam Khomeini and his followers by exiling him, and also that Najaf atmosphere might make Imam estranged from the political arena of the country then his political glow might fade away, and he could not challenge the authorities. The reason behind this was that at that time, there were religious authorities (Marja’s) like Agha Abu al-Hasan Isfahani in Najaf who were not very much involved in Iran’s political issues due to the long distance; yet, since God is always right, ironically, Imam’s presence in Najaf was accompanied by many blessings. Imam’s arrival in Najaf was magnificently welcomed. The religious authorities, one by one, went to meet him and broached their affairs. Imam also took the opportunity to pursue his political programs under the guise of cultural programs. This opportunity allowed Imam to make a change in the cause against the government, and made the clergies aware of the political issues.
Did Imam Khomeini, according to you, prioritize cultural affairs over political movement?
I remember that at the beginning of the revolution, when I went to visit him, he asked if I taught at the seminary and I said “Yes, I am teaching a course there”. He said: “Never give up teaching at any price and give it precedence over anything else”. In fact, I found that he attached so much importance to students’ depth of knowledge and understanding. Therefore, the cultural issues and education were always a priority to him. In Imam’s view, religious jurists should be at a high level of knowledge, and be accountable to people’s political and governmental affairs. That is, he considered governing the country to be subject to legal literacy of the religious jurists, which is itself an initiation of the Supreme Leader’s custody of the Islamic community.
What made Imam leave Najaf?
The fact is that Imam had launched an intellectual movement in Najaf, which had made the situation problematic for the Iraqi ruler Saddam. Imam’s school of thought in Najaf was a resistance movement which encouraged other clergies to resist oppression. Therefore, the rulers of Iraq at the time did not tolerate such a situation. Accordingly, the Baath Party at that time made a lot of efforts to deport Imam elsewhere, far from Iraq. At that time, there was much debate about the Shiite religious authority in Najaf. The speculation was that Imam Khomeini would have a great influence on the choice of authorities. All these issues brought to the fore Imam’s deport from Najaf. But by the grace of God, the enemy's plots against him resulted in Imam’s glory. As I remember, in those days, Imam’s house in Najaf was surrounded by security forces, and it was no easy task to meet Imam. The only person who was able to meet with Imam was Imam Musa Sadr who enquired Imam as to what he would want to do and, I imagine, Imam’s move to Kuwait was first proposed.
What happened in Kuwait border?
The sinister Pahlavi government thought that Imam should not go where there were Shiites because they were sure Imam's presence would spread his thinking and reinforce the movement. Therefore, they tried to hinder him by closing the Kuwaiti border. Ironically, the best opportunities were seized by Imam in that he was sent to Paris. Perhaps if Imam had stayed in Najaf or Kuwait, the movement would have been limited to that area, but Imam’s presence in Paris made it possible for him to make the movement global and move it to the focus of the world media.