Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Hojatoleslam Seyed Ali Khamenei Khamenei was one of the founders of the Islamic Republican Party, which dominated the Majlis (the national legislature) after the 1979 revolution. He was appointed to the Council of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and between 1979 and 1981 he was a member of the Majlis, serving as Deputy Minister of Defense, Deputy for Revolutionary Affairs, Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, and representative on the Supreme Council of Defense. He also served several times as general secretary of the Islamic Republic Party.
A mid-ranking cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was unexpectedly chosen as supreme leader during an emergency closed-door session of the Assembly of Experts in 1989, just days after the death of the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After Imam Khomeini's death, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei was elected the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Assembly of Experts.
A video leaked on 08 January 2018 of that secret session has emerged, revealing that Khamenei was only given a caretaker role as supreme leader for a one-year period. He is also shown saying he was not qualified for the position and that his selection was unconstitutional. Khamenei commented in the video to the assembly before his appointment that "we should shed tears of blood wailing for the Islamic society that has been forced to even propose me [as supreme leader]."
According to the constitution, the supreme leader had to be a "marja," or a grand ayatollah. But Khamenei was only a mid-ranking cleric. Khamenei admitted as much in the leaked footage. Addressing the assembly, he said, "based on the constitution, I am not qualified for the job and from a religious point of view, many of you will not accept my words as those of a leader."
Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first president from 1980-81 before fleeing to exile in France, said in January 2018 that Khamenei's selection was "engineered." He says former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who chaired the meeting, pushed for Khamenei to be picked because he considered Khamenei "weak" and easy to control. "The leadership process was fictitious," Banisadr says. "It was not spontaneous but engineered."
Imam Khomeini appointed him in 1980 to be the leader of the Friday congregational prayers in Tehran. He was also elected as a deputy of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) in the same year. In the summer of 1981, after delivering an important speech in the Majlis that led to the dismissal of then President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an attempt was made on his life by the Munafeqin (Mujahedin Khalq Organization). The attack came while making a speech in a mosque in a poor district of Tehran, and his chest and hand were badly injured.
On 30 August 1981, President Rajai and his prime minister were killed in a bombing. Following Mohammad Rajai's martyrdom in 1981, in October 1981 Ayatollah Khamenei was elected president of the Islamic Republic with 95 percent of the votes cast in his favor.
He was president for another four years. During this time, he was chairman of the Supreme Defense Council and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. He toured and inspected the war fronts in the course of the Iran-Iraq War. On June 1989, on the morrow of Imam Khomeini's demise, he was elected leader of the Islamic Revolution by the majority of votes of the Assembly of Experts.
On the death of Imam Khomeini, more than 70 leading ulema in Iran declared Ayatollah Khamenei as being qualified for issuing fatwa on 'ifta' on controversial or complex points of points of religion. When Ayatollah Araki died, he was introduced as Marja-e Taqlid (religious authority followed as source of imitation) by the Qom Theological School.
In late 1994 there was a global campaign to encourage the faithful to emulate Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the top Shia authority worldwide, marja-e-taqlid, the highest source of emulation. Following the demise of Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Ali Araki, the initiative from the Society of Teachers of Qom Theological Seminary provided the names of senior ulema competent and qualified for marja'iat. These nominees were Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, Ayatollah Behjat, Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani, Ayatollah Mirza Javad Aqa Tabrizi, Ayatollah Musa Shubayri Zanjani, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. The society concluded that, compared with other countries, the marja' taqlid in Iran was least likely to be subjected to government pressure. Many Shias preferred a marja' who was not only a jurisprudent, but also well-versed in global politics, economics, and social issues. The final choice of the marja'iat is up to the people, and the world Shias made the ultimate decision. Many individuals and groups expressed support for Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, and so he had the highest number of muqallidin (followers).
By December 1994 the move by the scholars of the Qom seminary and members of the Association of Combatant Ulema introduced Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the marja' taqlid of the world's Shia community. In choosing Ayatollah Khamenei as the grand marja', the union of spiritual authority and political leadership could be effected. Once chosen as the grand marja', his supporters urged upon the Shia community to obey his commands and abide by his edicts in all temporal and ecclesiastical affairs.
Theoretically, the Islamic republic system (vilayat-i faqih, leadership of the supreme jurisprudent) is legitimate when a Grand Ayatollah who is recognized as a source of emulation (marja-yi taqlid) serves as the Faqih (jurisprudent). Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, like many others, did not accept Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a source of emulation. According to "Human Rights in Iran" (2001) by Pace University's Reza Afshari, Shirazi was "indignant" over Khamenei's efforts to be recognized as the supreme leader and as a source of emulation. Shirazi, who died in late 2001, apparently favored a committee of Grand Ayatollahs to lead the country. Shirazi was not the only senior cleric to suffer for questioning the legitimacy of Iran's political setup and its leading figure. One of the best-known dissident clerics was Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi. Others were Grand Ayatollah Hassan Tabatabai-Qomi and Grand Ayatollah Yasubedin Rastegari.
Ayatollah Khamenei is married and has six children. He is conversant with Arabic and Turkish, and knows English to some extent. He is a writer, is well-versed with poetry and literature, and has written 37 books to date.
Ayatullah Haajj Sayyid Ali Khamenei is the son of the late Ayatullah Sayyid Jawad Husaini Khamenei. He was born in Mashhad on the 17 July 1939, which coincides with the 28th of Safar 1358 Hijri Qamari (lunar year). He was the second son of his parents, born into the house of Sayyid Jawad who lived a very simple life, like many of the scholars of his time, and it was from him that the family learned to live in a humble manner.
Remembering his life in his father's home Ayatullah Khamenei said:
"My father was a well known religious scholar who was very pious and a bit of a recluse. We had a difficult life. I remember that sometimes at night we didn't have anything in the house for dinner. Nevertheless my mother would try to scrape something up and that dinner would be bread-and-raisins."
"My father's house, the one that I was born in and lived until about the age of four or five, was about a sixty to seventy square meter home located in the poor area of Mashhad. The house only had one room and a gloomy basement. Whenever a guest came to see my father, his idea was that a religious scholar's home is a place where people come to seek help, we had to go to the basement until they left. Some years later a group of people who were very inclined to and friendly with my father bought a small empty lot beside our house so that he could build onto the house, and so we ended up with a three room house."
According to his official biography, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution grew up poor, but religious, and as his father was a pious and sincere religious scholar he was trained accordingly. At the age of four, along with his older brother Sayyid Muhammad, he was sent to an old fashioned school (Maktab) to learn the alphabets and Qur'an. Hence the two brothers were enrolled into a newly established Islamic school named Dar al-Ta`leem Diyanat, where the completed their primary studies. Khamenei has also openly acknowledged being part Azeri, promoting assimilation as a method for advancement of ethnic minorities in Iran, which has historically been overwhelmingly dominated by ethnic Persians.
Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei reportedly suffered from stage 4 prostate cancer. Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in September 2014 and spent about a week in the hospital. His hospitalization in March 2015 spurred on the race for a successor.
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