Islamic Studies Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini
Nader Entessar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 November 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0126


The Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini (b. 1902–d. 1989) was a senior Shiʿa theologian and the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was a controversial figure credited with reviving the modern wave of Islamism in the world and founding the first modern Shiʿa theocracy. Khomeini combined political activism with religious scholarship. All in all, Khomeini wrote more than sixty books covering wide-ranging issues, such as religion, ethics, Gnosticism, poetry and prose, and government and politics. Khomeini was an uncompromising opponent of Western liberalism and secularism throughout his active life, and he viewed secular nationalists in Iran as corrupt or corruptible and incapable of defending both Islam and Iranian interests against Western encroachments. He was a charismatic figure able to hold together contending forces in the aftermath of the overthrow of the monarchical system in Iran. He sought, for the most part, to remain above the factional infighting that has characterized the Islamic Republic from its inception.

General Overviews

Although Khomeini served as the spiritual and de facto political leader of Iran for only a decade (1979–1989), his legacy continues to divide Iranians in and outside the country. To his detractors, Khomeini and his system of government symbolized religious tyranny, antifeminism, and antimodernism. His supporters have viewed him as a man who rescued Iran from a decadent monarchy and formed a system based on Islamic justice and support of the downtrodden, or mostazafin. Abrahamian 1993, Dabashi 1993, and Rahnema 2006 focus on Khomeini’s skills in combining religious populism with political activism. Algar 1981, Khalili and Manafi Anari 2001, and Moin 1999 rely on Khomeini’s varied original writings and speeches to trace the development of Khomeini’s views on subjects ranging from religion to politics and literature. Whereas Imam Khomeini’s Last Will and Testament (Khomeini 1989) provides an overview of Khomeini’s hopes for the future of the Islamic Republic, Rajaee 2007 places Khomeini’s religious and political thought in the context of the development of Islamic political thought in Iran in the 20th century. In short, Khomeini continues to remain both a polarizing and inspirational figure in Iran and the larger Muslim world, as demonstrated in essays in Adid-Moghaddam 2014.

  • Abrahamian, Ervand. Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

    Good overview of populist themes in Khomeini’s thinking; a critical analysis of Khomeini’s perceptions of society, state, and personal property.

  • Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin. A Crititical Introduction to Khomeini. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    A series of essays by both established and young scholars that critically examines Khomeini’s life as a political leader, Islamic philosopher, and theologian and spiritual figure.

  • Algar, Hamid. Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Berkeley, CA: Mizan, 1981.

    An excellent translation, with commentaries, of Khomeini’s lectures, speeches, and ideas.

  • Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

    An excellent overview of the role of theological dissent, including Khomeini’s views, on the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

  • Khalili, M. J., and Salar Manafi Anari. The Life of Imam Khomeini. Tehran: Institute for Compilation of and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, 2001.

    A detailed and sympathetic review of Khomeini’s religious and intellectual development and life.

  • Khomeini, Ruhollah. Imam Khomeini’s Last Will and Testament. Washington, DC: Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1989.

    English translation of Khomeini’s will that contains, among other things, advice on governance and upholding the principles of the Islamic Republic.

  • Moin, Baqer. Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah. London: I. B. Tauris, 1999.

    A highly readable and balanced biography of Khomeini. The author relies heavily on Khomeini’s original writings and speeches, and on secondary sources, to develop a nuanced portrait of Khomeini.

  • Rahnema, Ali, ed. Pioneers of Islamic Revival. 2d ed. London: Zed, 2006.

    A superb collection of articles on important thinkers in modern Islamic revivalism. A solid work of comparative analysis of Khomeini’s ideas with other major Islamic thinkers.

  • Rajaee, Farhang. Islamism and Modernism: The Changing Discourse in Iran. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

    A sophisticated and nuanced analysis of the evolution of Islamism and Islamic politics in Iran from the 1920s through the early 21st century.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.