Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
During Sayed Ali Khamenei's time in high school he studied the book Jam e'al-Muqaddamaat, where upon he began his studies in Arabic grammar. Later, after high school, he transferred to seminary studies and was taught Arabic grammar and other primary seminary studies by his father and other religious scholars of the time. Reflecting upon his reason for taking this path, the path of a religious scholar, Ayatullah Khamenei said:
"The factor which inspired me to choose the enlightened path of a religious scholar was my father; my mother also encouraged me [to choose this path], as she was very fond of the idea."
Ayatullah Khamenei studied books such as Jame'al-Muqaddamaat, Suyuti, and Mughni in the Sulayman Khan Madrasah [religious school] and the Nawwab Madrasah in addition to his father's supervision. He also studied the book Mu'alim while attending those schools. Later he studied Sharai' al-Islam and Sharh Lum'ah with his father, and a part of the second book with the late Aqah Mirza Mudarris Yazdi. He studied Rasa'el and Makasib with the late hajj Sheikh Hashim Qazwini and the remaining intermediate level studies jurisprudence and its principles (fiqh and usul) with his father. In this manner he finished the intermediate level of studies in an unprecedented and zealous fashion within five and a half years. Moreover, his father the late Sayyid Jawad played an important role in the progress of his son.
In the fields of Logic and philosophy Ayatullah Khamenei began his studies of the Manzumah of Sabziwari under the late Ayatullah Mirza Jawad Aqah Tehrani and later he completed that book under the late Sheikh Ridha Aysi.
At the age of eighteen, Ayatullah Khamenei began studying the highest level, Darsi Kharij, of jurisprudence and its principles under the late Grand Marja` Ayatullah al-Uzma Milani in Mashhad. In 1957 with the intention of visiting the majestic holy places he left for Najaf. Upon observing the situation in Najaf and attending the lessons Darsi kharij of the late Sayyid Muhsin Hakim, Sayyid Mahmud Shahrudi, Mirza Baqir Zanjani, Sayyid Yahya Yazdi, and Mirza Hasan Bujnurdi he decided to remain in the Islamic seminary of Najaf. However, his father did not accept this decision and thus after a short period he returned to Iran.
From 1958 until 1964 Ayatullah Khamenei continued his higher level studies in jurisprudence, and philosophy in the Islamic seminary of Qom. There he sat at the feet of grand teachers such as the late Ayatullah al-Uzma Burujerdi, Imam Khomeini, Sheikh Murtadha Hae'ri Yazdi, and 'Allama Tabataba'i. In AH 1343, through a series of letters from his father, the future Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution became aware that his father had become blind in one eye because of a cataract. His official biography states that this gave him a dilemma as to whether to stay on in Qom and continue his studies or to return to Mashhad and take care of his father. He came to the decision to leave Qom and return to Mashhad to care for his father, in remembrance of this event he said:
"When I returned to Mashhad Allah blessed me as I took care of my affairs. If I have been successful in life, I believe that it all stems from this good deed that I did for my father; indeed, for both my father and mother."
While in Mashhad he did not leave his studies all together. Rather, he continued his lessons in jurisprudence and its principles under grand teachers such as Ayatullah Milani until 1968, only interrupting his lessons on holidays, to do political activity, while in jail or to travel. From the time he had returned to Mashhad in 1964, while caring for his parents he would also teach jurisprudence and its principles and other religious subjects to young seminary and university students.
Ayatullah Khamenei, in his own words, was one of the students of Imam Khomeini in the areas of jurisprudence and its principles, and in revolutionary and political ideas. However, the first spark of his political activism was inspired by the Martyr Sayyid Mujtaba Nawwab Safawi. It was in the year 1952 that Nawwab Safawi and some of his supporters went to Mashhad to the Sulayman Khan Madrasah. There he delivered a lecture on reviving Islam and its Divine Rule and he warned the Iranian people of the deceitful lies of the Shah and the English government. At the time, Ayatullah Khamenei was one of the young students of the Sulayman Khan Madrasah who attended the fiery speech of Nawwab Safawi and he was very much influenced by the great revolutionist. Ayatullah Khamenei remembered that moment, saying:
"It was at that very moment, because of Nawwab Safawi that the consciousness of Islamic Revolutionary activism sparked inside me. I have no doubt that it Nawwab Safawi who first kindled the fire (of revolutionary Islam) in my heart."
In 1962 while Ayatullah Khamenei was still in Qom he joined the revolutionary Movement of Imam Khomeini, which opposed what they saw as the pro-American, anti-Islamic politics of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Despite all the ups and downs, persecutions, exiles, and imprisonment Ayatullah Khamenei continued on this path for sixteen years.
In Moharram 1383 Hijri Qamari in the Islamic calander (May 1963), for the first time, Ayatullah Khamenei was sent on a mission by Imam Khomeini. This mission was to communicate the Imam's message to Ayatullah Milani and other clergymen in Khorasan. This message was to set the tone for the propagation and exposure of the pro-American policies of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in the month of Moharram.
Ayatullah Khamenei fulfilled this mission and also acted upon its demands, as he was sent to Birjand for propagation in Muharram. As a result of his propagation on the ninth of Moharram (2 June 1963) he was arrested. He spent one night in jail and freed only under the condition that he would never return to the pulpit (minbar) to speak again. From that moment on he knew that he would be under police surveillance. Upon the development of the bloody incident of "The Fifteenth of Khordad," Ayatullah Khamenei was taken into custody in Birjand, and then transferred to a prison in Mashhad where he spent ten days under torture before being released.
In January 1964, Ramadan 1383 in the Islamic calender, Ayatullah Khamenei and some of his friends left for Kerman. After two or three days of preaching and visiting religious scholars and students in Kerman they departed for Zahedan. Their preaching and their emphatic way of exposing what they termed the Shah's hypocritical referendum was well accepted among the masses, especially on the 6 January 1964 when it was election time. On the fifteenth of Ramadan, the birthday of Imam al-Hasan, his diligent preaching and public disclosure of the "satanic, American politics of the Pahlavi Dynasty" reached its peak. As a result of this, SAVAK (The Shah's intelligence Agency) came and arrested him in the night, and took him by airplane to Tehran. Khamenei spent about two months in solitary confinement bearing various types of tortures.
The lessons he held on exegesis of the Qur'an, prophetic, and Islamic ideology in Mashhad and Tehran were "warmly welcomed by revolutionary-minded youth". As a result the SAVAK began to keep a close surveillance on Ayatullah Khamenei. In 1967 Ayatullah Khamenei was forced to live underground, but exactly one year later he was captured by SAVAK and imprisoned. In the year 1371 in the Islamic calender he was again arrested by SAVAK for the very same activities, for holding classes and conducting enlightening, intellectual discussions.
Ayatullah Khamenei wrote about his fifth apprehension by SAVAK, saying:
"From the year 1348 [in the Islamic calender or 1970] the situation was ripening for an armed revolution in Iran. The sensitivity and severity of the former regime against me had increased. Because of the circumstances they were no longer able to ignore people such as myself. In 1350 [or 1972] I was again taken to prison, for the fifth time. The harsh attitude of SAVAK indicated that the System [regime] was very afraid of an armed revolution being accompanied with a sound Islamic ideology. They could no longer believe that my intellectual activism and propagation in Mashhad and Tehran had nothing to do with the developing situation. After being released, the attendance at my open classes on the exegesis of the Qur'an and private classes on ideology and other subjects increased."
Between the years 1972 and 1975 Ayatullah Khamenei's lessons on the exegesis of the Qur'an and Islamic ideology were now being held in three Masajids: Karaamat, Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Mirza Ja'far, in the holy city of Mashhad. Thousands of people attended these lessons, especially conscious minded youth and politically active students.
His lectures on the Nahjul Balaqa offered another type of experience in a different way. These lectures were transcribed and published in a circular named "Poly copy" under the title "The Glorious Nahjul al-Balaqah." SAVAK broke into his home in Mashhad in the winter of 1975, arresting him and confiscating many of his notes and other writings. This was the sixth and most difficult imprisonment in Ayatullah Khamenei's life. He was detained in the central prison of Iran until the fall of 1976 under the most stringent conditions. Ayatullah Khamenei described the severity of the condition of that prison saying "such conditions only made sense to those people."
After being released from prison Ayatullah Khamenei returned to Mashhad where he continued his political and revolutionary activities although he was not able to reestablish his classes as they were before.
The Pahlavi state in the latter part of the 1976 apprehended Ayatullah Khamenei and sentenced him to exile in Iranshahr for a period of three years. By mid-1979, during the climax of civil unrest in Iran, he returned to Mashhad where he confronted the Pahlavi state. 15 years later after bearing all the harsh and bitter moments of the Islamic revolution, Ayatullah Khamenei witnessed the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
On the brink of victory for the Islamic revolution, before the advent of Imam Khomeini's return to Iran from Paris, an Islamic Revolutionary Council was formed by the Imam. This council consisted of important personalities such as Shaheed Muttahari, Shaheed Beheshti, and Hashemi Rafsanjani. Ayatullah Khamenei's upon Imam Khomeini' decree became a member of this council. Thereupon, after receiving this message through Shaheed Muttahari, Ayatullah Khamenei left Mashhad and went to Tehran.
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution Ayatullah Khamenei continued to be very active in fulfilling the goals of the Islamic revolution. In 1990 after the death of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Khamenei was named his successor and appointed Supreme Leader of Iran.
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