In the path of the Imam (86)
We are with you with another episode of this series. This time we are going to discuss Imam Khomeini’s outstanding characteristic, namely, his refraining from being introduced as Marja’ (Source of Emulation) by ulema and his students.
Imam Khomeini (God’s mercy upon him), in spite of having high qualities of a great clergyman and his scientific and ethical characteristics, would seriously refrain from fame and being introduced as Source of Emulation. There are two ayahs in the Qur’an which point to the status of ulema in Islam. Ayah 7 of surah Anbiya’ says that if people do not know their duties in various religious matters, they should ask the People of the Reminder. Here the Reminder means the noble Qur’an. In other words, when we face problems and we do not know what our duty is, we have to ask those who are experts in religion. These experts are first of all, the Prophet of Islam and his infallible successors and then those who have been taught in their school, the ulema. Also in ayah 122 of surah Tawbah, God says that a group from each of the sections among people should go and study religion and warn other people when they come back to their cities and regions. Even, during the time of the Prophet, some of his companions would be sent by the Prophet to other regions to propagate Islam and invite people to Islam. Referring to the learned ulema became much more important after the occultation of Imam Mahdi (May God hasten his reappearance). This is because people have no access to the Infallible Imam to ask their questions from him. As a matter of fact, the 12th Infallible Imam himself has said in a famous hadith that, during the period of occultation, the faithful should refer to the pious jurisprudents as the representatives of him.
During the period of occultation, the pious and qualified jurisprudents have taken over the duty of answering the religious questions of the faithful. Here is should be said that there are obligatory and forbidden deeds in Islam which have been ordained by God to guide mankind to salvation. They are simply called the Islamic rules. However, not every Muslim is able to deduce them from the Qur’an and the hadiths. Therefore, it requires years of diligent study to learn different branches of Islamic sciences to reach the degree of Ejtehad and become a Mujtahed. A Mujtahed is a jurisprudent who is able to deduce Islamic rules from the principles of Islam in accordance with the requirements of time. Nevertheless, among those who have become Mujtehd there are few who can be considered as Sources of Emulation due to the very strict features that a Source of Emulation should have and he heavy responsibility that he has to shoulder. Referring to and obeying a Source of Emulation is like going to a physician for one’s disease. A Source of Emulation is a person who specializes in Islam; hence, ordinary people should refer to him. Throughout the history of Islam, the great ulema have often refused to accept the grave responsibility of becoming a Source of Emulation. Imam Khomeini was among such ulema despite being completely qualified for the position.
After the passing away of the world-known Source of Emulation, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Borujerdi, according to the custom among some seminaries, some of the high-ranking great ulema published their Risalah (manual for guidance of the emulators). But Imam Khomeini refused to do this. Late Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ali Dawāni said, “After the demise of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi in 1961, and even before that, a number of the Sources of Emulation immediately had their Risalahs to be published. As usual, people started going to their houses. But, it was only Imam Khomeini who neither published his Risalah nor made any change in his life. Sometimes, he was told to do the same, but he paid no attention and continued his ordinary life.”
Imam Khomeini would be very upset if any of his students or friends made any measure to introduce him as a Source of Emulation. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ali Ansari says in this regard, “Imam Khomeini would say, ‘I am not satisfied with taking the smallest step in my house for making me a Marja’ (Source of Emulation).’ Some of the friends said that in the years 1962 and 1963 in many cities and countries, especially Pakistan, they had been asked for the Imam’s Risalah. No matter how much we tried to draw the Imam’s satisfaction for the purpose, but he didn’t let, saying, ‘God knows that I have not taken a single step for reaching the position to become a Source of Emulation.’”
Imam Khomeini used to say to those who insisted on introducing as a Source of Emulation that there are others who take over the responsibility and would just continue to handle his classes. Ayatollah Seyed Hassan Taheri Khorramabadi recounts on this, “After the demise of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi, the Imam would often be told to take a step on introducing himself through publishing his Risalah. But he would say, ‘Let me handle my courses. If some day Muslims needed me I am ready. But, at the moment there are others. So leave me.’”
During the struggles against the Pahlavi regime, Imam Khomeini, in response to one of the ulema of Tehran who had asked him not to issue political statements if he wanted to become a Source of Emulation, the Imam had said that he was not willing to become a Source of Emulation. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Morteza Tehrani says, “In the advent of the struggles that numerous statements would be issued by Imam Khomeini, one of the ulema of Tehran gave me a message to give it to Imam asking him not to issue so many statements as he was considered as one of Sources of Emulation. When I gave the message to the Imam, he said, ‘Give my regards to him and tell him that I don’t want to become a Source of Emulation. I want to fulfill my duty.’”