Ali Hosseini Khamenei (Persian: سید علی حسینی خامنه ای,Azerbaijani: سید علی حسینی خامنهای – Seyyid Əli Xameneyi,pronounced [ʔæˈliː hoseiˈniː xɒːmeneˈʔiː] ( listen); born 17 July 1939) is the Supreme Leader of Iran, and a Shia Marja’. He had also served as the President of Iran from 1981 to 1989. In 2010, Forbes selected him 26th in the list of ‘World’s Most Powerful People’.
Holding absolute power in his country, he has been described as one of only three people having “important influence” during the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Khamenei was the victim of an attempted assassination in June 1981 that paralyzed his right arm, although so far the biggest challenge to his leadership has been the 2009 Iranian election protests following the 2009 presidential elections during which he strongly supported president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Khamenei holds the title of Sayyid, which means that he claims direct patrilineal descent from Ali. Some[which?] of Khamenei’s ancestors are from Tafresh in today’s Markazi Province, and had migrated from their original home in Tafresh to Tabriz. Born in Mashhad, he is second eldest of eight children, and two of his brothers are also clerics. His younger brother, Hadi Khamenei, is a renowned newspaper editor and cleric. Khamenei is of ethnic Iranian Azerbaijani origin while one source asserts that his mother was a Yazd-native Iranian.
He attended religious studies classes at the rudimentary and advanced levels in the hawza of Mashhad, under his mentors such as Sheikh Hashem Qazvini, and Ayatollah Milani, and then went to Najaf in 1957. After a short stay he left Najaf to Mashhad, and in 1958 he settled in Qom. Khamenei attended the classes of Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi and Ruhollah Khomeini. Later, he was involved in the Islamic activities of 1963 which led to his arrest in the city of Birjand, in Southern Khorasan Province. Shortly thereafter, he was released and resumed teaching in Mashhad’s religious schools and mosques, teaching the Nahj al-Balagheh. Some reports have suggested that Ali Khamenei studied at Patrice Lumumba university in the Soviet Union when he was young, but his official website makes no mention of this.
According to his official biography, Khamenei spent a “clandestine life” in Tehran in the year 1966–1967 after which he was arrested by the police and imprisoned.
Khamenei is fluent in both Persian and Arabic. He has translated several books into Persian from Arabic, including the works of the famous Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb. He is a less fluent speaker of the Azerbaijani language, his father’s native language and has some understanding of English.
In his analysis of the Persian poetry of Muhammad Iqbal, he states that “We have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal’s Persian poetry. Iqbal was not acquainted with Persian idiom, as he spoke Urdu at home and talked to his friends in Urdu or English. He did not know the rules of Persian prose writing.” Nevertheless, he admires Iqbal.
Like many other politically active clerics at the time, Khamenei was far more involved with politics than religious scholarshipSupreme Leader
Seyyed Ali Khamenei succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, after Khomeini’s death, being elected as the new Supreme Leader by the Assembly of Experts on 4 June 1989. Initially, a council of three members, Ali Meshkini, Mousavi Ardebili and Khamenei, was proposed for Leadership. After the assembly rejected the idea of a Leadership Council, and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Golpaygani failed to get enough votes, Khamenei was elected the Leader by two thirds of the votes.
The concept that the ruler of the land should be an Islamic jurist serving as “guardian” (Vali faqih ولی فقیه in Persian), was developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a lecture series made book. In this kind of theocratic “guardianship” leadership (Velayat-e Faqih, ولایت فقیه ), no political decision is lawful until it is approved by the guardian jurist who is called Leader (رهبر Rahbar in Persian) by the Iranian constitution. Even the taking of office by the democratically elected president is subject to the approval of the Leader.
Khamenei’s approach to leadership
Khamenei’s era as leader has differed from that of his predecessor Khomeini. He has continued Khomeini’s policy of “balancing one group against another, making sure that no single side gains too much power.” But lacking Khomeini’s charisma and clerical standing, he has developed networks, first inside the armed forces, and then among the clerics administering the major religious foundations (or bonyads), and seminaries of Qom and Mashhad. According to Vali Nasr, he has brought many of the powers of the presidency with him into the office, turning it into an “omnipotent overseer of Iran’s political scene”. Officials under Khamenei influence the country’s various powerful, and sometimes bickering, institutions, including “the parliament, the presidency, the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guards, the military, the intelligence services, the police agencies, the clerical elite, the Friday prayer leaders and much of the media”, as well as various “nongovernmental foundations, organizations, councils, seminaries and business groups”. Under him, the government is said to resemble “a clerical oligarchy more than an autocracy.”
To maintain “the image of the Leader as ‘guide’, rather than executive”, Khamenei stays aloof from day-to-day politics. He gives no press conferences or interviews, and, as noted in Hooman Majd’s book:
[He] speaks only at special gatherings, such as an occasional Friday prayer or commemoration ceremonies of one sort or another. The Leader meets with foreign dignitaries (almost exclusively Muslim) but limits any televised and public words to generalities, such as Iran’s support for the country (or entity like Hamas or Hezbollah) whose emissary he is meeting, Iran’s peaceful and Islamic nature, and Iran’s eagerness to expand trade and contacts with the friendly country in question. He pointedly does not meet with representatives of Western powers. The Leader does not travel overseas; if anyone wishes to see him, that person must travel to Iran.
Apart from his time in Najaf as a student, Khamenei travelled to Libya during his time as President.
Despite this policy, as leader, Khamenei reserves the right to “inject himself into the process and ‘correct’ a flawed policy or decision.”
In his speeches Khamenei regularly mentions many familiar themes of the 1979 revolution: justice, independence, self-sufficiency, fundamentalist Islamic government and resolute opposition to Israel and United States, while rarely mentioning other revolutionary ideals such as democracy and greater government transparency. Dealing with the presidents who have served during his reign, Khamenei has successfully sculpted President Rafsanjani‘s attempts to find a modus vivendi with the United States, President Khatami‘s aspirations for a more democratic Islamic state, and President Ahmadinejad‘s desire for confrontation.
Election as leader and title of “Grand Ayatollah”
At the time of Khomeini’s death Khamenei was not a marja or an ayatollah, and the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran required the Leader to be a marja. However, Ayatollah Khomeini had not been satisfied with the field of candidates to replace him and in April 1989, three months before his death, assigned a team to revise the constitution so that the Leader of Iran need only be an expert on Islamic jurisprudence and possess the “appropriate political and managerial skills”. This new amendment to the constitution had not been put to a referendum yet, so after voting for Khamenei, the Assembly of Experts internally titled him a temporary office holder until the new constitution became effective. The choice of Khamenei is said to be a political one, but the “political elite” of the Islamic Republic “rallied behind Khamenei” and his status was “elevated overnight” from Hojjat ol-Islam to Ayatollah.
His status as marja is controversial. In 1994, after the death of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Araki, the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom declared Khamenei a new marja. However, four of Iran’s dissident grand ayatollahs declined to recognize Khamenei as a marja. Nevertheless, according to narjes.org a cleric only needs acceptance of a few grand ayatollahs to be recognized as marja. Khamenei refused the offer of marja’iyat for Iran, as he explained, due to other heavy responsibilities, but agreed to be the marja for the Shi’as outside of Iran. His acceptance of marja’iyat for Shi’as outside Iran does not have traditional precedence in Shi’ism. Marja’iyat can be, and in modern times it increasingly is, transitional. This title has been widely criticised by Muslim scholars who do not recognise Khamenei as an Ayatollah-Ozma or Marja-e-Taqlid.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, who was under house-arrest at the time for his opposition to Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, did not accept Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a marja. According to “Human Rights in Iran” (2001) by Pace University‘s Reza Afshari, Shirazi was “indignant” over recognition of Khamenei as the Leader and a marja. Shirazi (who died in late 2001) apparently favored a committee of Grand Ayatollahs to lead the country. Other marjas who questioned the legitimacy of Khamenei’s marja’yat were dissident clerics: Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Grand Ayatollah Hassan Tabatabai-Qomi and Grand Ayatollah Yasubedin Rastegar Jooybari. In 1997 the more senior Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, “questioned the powers of the Leader” and was punished with the closure of his religious school, an attack on his office in Qom” and a period of house arrest.
As a Grand Ayatollah (disputed or not), Khamenei has issued thousands of fatwas in answer to questions from Shi’a petitioners, “on everything from Islamic law to betting on basketball, student loans to children in day care with non-Muslims, women on motorcycles to staying in hotels used by Buddhists“. He has ruled against the wearing of neckties and the listening to music and news from foreign sources, but not nose piercing (as long as adornments are covered).
Fatwa regarding companions of Muhammad
In 2010, Imam Khamenei issued a fatwa which bans any insult to the Sahabah (companions of Muhammad) as well as Muhammad’s wives. It has been argued by some that the fatwa was issued in an effort to reconcile legal, social, and political disagreements between the two largest sects in Islam: Sunni and Shia.
Khamenei is one of the Ulama signatories of the Amman Message, which gives a broad foundation for defining Muslim orthodoxy..