The Iranian weekly Hareem-e Imam, which is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation and Publication of Ayatollah Khomeini's Works, has published a special issue marking the anniversary of the death of Mostafa Khomeini. In it, the wife and son of Ruhollah Khomeini’s eldest child, who died before the Islamic Revolution in October 1977, spoke of his differences with his father.
Unlike the wife and children of Ahmad Khomeini, who remain very much in the public eye, the movements and opinions of Masoumeh Haeri and her son, Hossein Khomeini, are not widely reported on in the Iranian media.
Hossein hasn’t been active in the political arena since the immediate post-revolution years, after which he was pushed out due to disagreements with Ayatollah Khomeini and other relatives. Now a critic of the regime, he made headlines in 2003 after his trip to the United States, where he also met with Reza Pahlavi, son of the last Shah of Iran. "If there’s no way for Iran to achieve freedom other than the intervention of the United States, I think the Iranian people will accept it, and I will accept it," he said at the time.
Speaking to Hareem-e Imam in its latest issue, Hossein Khomeini said his father had been "different from the rest of the mullahs". He went on: “Perhaps part of the high status that Ayatollah Khomeini attained was because of my father. They both had an impact on each other."
He also recalled an incident described by one of Ayatollah Khomeini's sons-in-law, Shahaboddin Eshraghi, which apparently took place at Qom’s famous Feyziyeh School while Mostafa was still alive: “Imam Khomeini was at the pulpit and speaking very rapidly. People were pale and getting scared. Then Mr. Mostafa told him: ‘Enough is enough!’ – and Ayatollah Khomeini closed his speech by saying, 'Peace be upon you and God's mercy.' It showed that they were so close."
Widow: Mostafa Khomeini “Didn’t Look Like the Other Clerics”
Masoumeh Haeri, Mostafa Khomeini’s widow, is the granddaughter of the founder of Qom seminary, Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi. She, too, told Hareem-e Imam that her husband had been “different” to the other clerics. For one thing, she said, he did not tell her to cover her face with a niqab in public. “I remember one day,” she said, “when I hadn’t put my niqab on, a cleric followed me and told me to put it on. I paid no attention and continued on my way, but he wouldn’t give up and chased me to my door. When he identified the house and later told Haj Agha Mostafa [Khomeini], Haj Agha Mostafa, who didn’t believe in these things at all, instead of agreeing with him went and swore at him.” She added that her husband had then told her: “When we go out, take off the veil and put on a headscarf. Tie it tightly and wear appropriate clothes, so that you are comfortable and can move around easily."
Mostafa Khomeini's widow also said that her husband "did not look like other mullahs” and did not wear the traditional leather nalin shoes preferred by mullahs; instead, his shoes came from abroad. Living in the sacred city of Najaf in the late 1960s while his father was exiled from Iran, Haeri said, had been “very difficult for him”.
All stories published in Iran about the lives of Ayatollah Khomeini and his children are heavily censored. But periodically, fresh information about their day-to-day lives comes to light. In this case, Haeri said that in her view, some of the interactions between her husband and his father, Ayatollah Khomeini, had been "strange." For instance, she said, the Ayatollah "was very orderly and precise and always ate on time". While both were in Najaf, Mostafa Khomeini would eat with his father. “One day when Mostafa was a little late,” Haeri said, “his father did not wait for him, but ate his food at the usual time.” From that day on, she said, Mostafa Khomeini would no longer touch his food but merely sit next to his father at the dining table. Ayatollah Khomeini "continued to eat" and did not invite his son to join him. “Father and son knew what they were doing,” Haeri said.
Haeri’s family also had serious disagreements with Ayatollah Khomeini. Her father, Morteza Haeri Yazdi, was opposed to Khomeini’s leadership from the very beginning, after Iranian citizens were killed in anti-Shah protests. The former Shia cleric and chef justice Sadegh Khalkhali has claimed that on one occasion, Ayatollah Khomeini showed Mostafa a letter he had received from his father-in-law, which baldly stated: “None of your actions are compatible with Islam."
Both former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hossein Khomeini have also said that at Mostafa’s funeral, his youngest son, Najmeh Haeri, had taken his uncle Ahmad Khomeini aside to complain about the revolutionary leadership’s actions.
Jokes, Terse Exchanges – and a Death Shrouded in Mystery
Other anecdotes from well-known Iranian figures down the years have given an insight into Mostafa Khomeini’s life and attitudes. In his own memoirs, former Tehran Friday prayers leader Hassan Taheri Khorramabadi wrote that Mostafa had repeatedly clashed with agents from SAVAK – the Shah’s secret police – around the time of Ayatollah Khomeini’s exile. One day, he wrote, an officer had approached the father and son on the porch of their house in Turkey; Mostafa reportedly slapped the man and said, “You have no right to sit in on our meeting”, but Ayatollah Khomeini told him to stand aside.
Shia cleric and former interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour has also said that some of Mostafa’s views differed from those of his father: namely, "encouraging everyone to learn military training and armed operations against the regime" and believing in armed struggle to overthrow the Shah.
Hojjatoeslam Hadi Ghaffari, a key revolutionary figure and member of the central council of Imam assembly forces, has also recalled a moment of tension between the two during a class led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Mostafa reportedly asked his father a question, then said he’d hear the answer at home. Khomeini Senior rebuked him: “You should just say you don’t know. Why do you say I’ll answer at home?”
Some of Mostafa Khomeini's jokes among clerics also gained notoriety. Once, he was informed by a person in Najaf told Mostafa Khomeini that a Qur’an could be found in India whose total weight was no more than that of a single page. Mostafa replied, “We have a person in Iran whose height is the same standing or sitting," in a reference to the short stature of Sadegh Khalkhali.
Mostafa Khomeini’s death was recorded on October 23, 1977, officially of a heart attack, while he was in police custody in Najaf. His death was regarded as suspicious by supporters of the Islamic Revolution and ordinary Iranians, many of whom attributed it to SAVAK. But Ayatollah Khomeini objected to an autopsy, and later called his son's death a "divine secret" and a blessing, because the death fuelled growing anti-Shah resentment inside Iran.
In the interview with Hareem-e Imam, Hossein Khomeini echoed these sentiments, saying the death of his father was "the trigger for the explosion of the revolution" as it prompted more intellectuals to join Ayatollah Khomeini’s cause.
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