In the path of the Imam (80)
It was said in the previous episodes that Imam Khomeini considered acquisition of knowledge as a great divine obligation. He used to strive to learn knowledge and also encouraged others to acquire it. Imam Khomeini’s method of education, both in learning and teaching, was very conspicuous among ulema and students of seminaries. Imam Khomeini used to criticize the sayings and ideas of others; while he himself would accept the criticism of others.
Ancient philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle believed that an acquirer of knowledge should have the spirit of accepting criticism. Criticism does not mean to find fault with others. It means to be able to think independently and it turns the individual from a passive recipient into an active learner. Some of the adherents of this thought maintain that critical thought is a conscious phase of processing information in a way that the individual is able to understand subjects better and make better decisions with higher self-reliance. Raising fundamental questions on a particular issue, asking about the existing results and hypotheses, abandoning bias and fanaticism, studying new sources and consorting with creative people are among the methods of attaining the skill of criticism. The individual should be able to get rid of the chains of confirmation of others. Human beings usually like to be approved by others. That’s why they think that if they show innovation, they will lose the approval of others. Imam Khomeini was one of the rare ulema who used to encourage students of seminaries to criticize the ideas of others even his own. He would even encourage them to criticize the ideas of great scholars and ulema of the past and present which had been accepted and approved as dogmas. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad Reza Nasseri says in this regard, “Imam Khomeini used to examine the statements of Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Gharavi a lot, because his statements were mixed with philosophy and jurisprudential issues. Then the Imam would explicate those issues completely and raise his own theory. He used to say, ‘The greatness of great people shouldn’t prevent us from understanding. No matter how great the words are, you should employ your understanding.’”
Imam Khomeini used to challenge the ideas of great ulema, although he would respect them very much. Late Ayatollah Abul-Qassem Khaz’ali said, “Imam Khomeini, in his class, used to grapple with the great scholars who had caused knowledge to reach climax; and he would succeed. His pupils and friends and our colleagues, too, would benefit from and be strengthened with his courses. Along his scientific struggle with great scholars, he would say to his pupils, ‘When you are hearing my words, do not accept them submissively. Think and argue. Keep your thought free for argument and do not say that the teacher has said such. OK the teacher has said but you should employ your thought.’”
Dear listeners, Imam Khomeini would tell the students, who were silent with no disputes, “Here is not the place of preaching and eulogy to keep silent.”
Late Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mostafa Zamani said, “As a custom when a preacher ascends the pulpit, people keep silent and listen. But the course of Ijtehad is not like that. The student should be free to question. Several times, the students of Imam Khomeini didn’t ask anything from him in the middle of the class. The Imam would tell them, ‘This is not the session of eulogy. Why don’t you protest or object me?’”
This characteristic of Imam Khomeini had made his classes very effective and fruitful.
Hojjat-ol-Eslam Seyyed Mehdi Yasrebi narrates a memory of the classes of Imam Khomeini when there were heated disputes, “I remember well that people like Martyr Motahhari, Martyr Beheshti and others would participate at his classes in the first years. When we passed by, there were heated disputes with loud voices and the students had the same spirit of objection and the Imam would answer as a great teacher.”
One of the things that Imam Khomeini innovated was to break the taboo of criticizing great figures. Late Ayatollah Abbas Ali Amid Zanjani said, “One of the things that the Imam raised in Najaf as a novel issue was criticism in jurisprudence. Personalities were usually esteemed highly in Najaf. I mean the personality was first and then it would be the turn for arguments. But Imam Khomeini broke this dam. Many students would be amazed that the Imam listened to them carefully and answered them. This was while, in some of the courses that we attended, nobody had the right to ask a question with the pretext that the time of class is for all. Thus, free thinking was choked.”
Dear listeners, although Imam Khomeini would welcome critical thinking, but he never allowed the time of the class to be wasted on useless and lengthy arguments. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Hassan Langaroudi says in this regard, “Imam Khomeini believed that a student should argue at class. Yet if a question and answer was repeated several times, he would prevent it, saying that it is not a dialogue.”