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Last Updated: 2011/02/05
Summary of question
What is the opinion of Imam Khomeini on the issue of nationalism?
I have been informed that the following statement was issued by Imam Khomeini: ‘We do not worship Iran, we worship God. This is because worshipping one’s country is another name for atheism. I say let this land (Iran) burn and let this land be destroyed on the condition that Islam victoriously manifests itself in the rest of the world.’ (American Newspaper, Section on the events of Iran, 1989, Through Amir Tahiri, Page 269, Narrated by the ‘Nest of Spies’, Qum, 1980).
1- Are these words attributed to Imam Khomeini, during the course of a sermon in the year 1980, accurate?
2- What is the opinion of Imam Khomeini in regards to Nationalism?
Concise answer

By researching reliable sources such as the ‘Sahifeye Noor’ and ‘Sahifeye Imam’, which contain the entirety of the Imam’s words, sermons, and letters, we find that such a statement cannot be found; therefore the above mentioned statement is unauthentic and cannot be correctly attributed to Imam Khomeini.

Nationalism is the concept of attributing nobility and belonging to one nation or race (over others). Nationalism can be based on geographic borders with certain factors of race, language, history, and various other factors in the human society. Nationalism takes these concepts and divides them in such a manner that all those who are outside of that specific construct are considered as strangers; furthermore it can even take this concept further and promote a sort of animosity and hatred to those outside of its specific construct. Imam Khomeini was against the construct of nationalism which caused ideas such as racial, national, or language based superiority complexes to arise; these sorts of ideas are in conflict with the teachings of the religion (of Islam). Imam Khomeini only gave the concepts of nation and the love of that nation any value when they did not pose any contradictions with Islam. Imam Khomeini only accepted the concept of nationality when it was under the wings of Islamic teachings; from this angle he considered the defense of one’s nation as one of the religious obligations, and would always emphasize its defense and unity.

Detailed Answer

By researching reliable sources such as the ‘Sahifeye Noor’, which contain the whole collection of Imam Khomieni’s words, sermons, letters, and interviews, we have not found any trace of such words; therefore, the afore mentioned excerpt cannot be considered reliable or authentic.

In order to explain Imam Khomeini’s views on nationalism, we must first define the concept of nationalism itself: Nationalism comes from the word Nation, which means country, and is derived from the French language.[1] Nationalism is a form of group awareness or group identification; this means an awareness or identification as a nation.[2] This feeling of national identification typically brings about feelings of loyalty, attachment, and enthusiasm for a group of individuals who have one or more of the following in common: race, language, customs, traditions, values, and culture. Sometimes this concept gives rise to beliefs and feelings of group superiority over that of other groups. In additions, feelings of loyalty to the ground that the country lays on, self sacrifice towards guarding that ground, and honoring the country can be considered as the foundations of this concept. Nationalism is an ideology that considers the national government as being the most superior in political form and rank, and also considers nationalistic striving against any encroachment by foreign powers to be its mark. The growth of nationalism is a particularity that came about during the era when nation states began to first form as individual and independent political units; during this time, the concept of national rule was first officially recognized. This formation first took place in Europe during the 17th century until the end of the 19th century. This took place in Asia and Africa in the second half of the 20 century. The period of nations and nationalism has been called the period of national awareness, and in Asia and Africa it was mixed with anti imperialistic sentiments and movements.[3]

Islam and Nationalism

The foundation of nationalism is based upon giving authenticity or sanction to the existence of national and racial groups and categories. Nationalism is based upon a set of national boundaries in addition to various factors such as race, language, history, as well as others in the human society. It divides these factors into individual and independent units and encourages the individuals who are situated in those given boundaries to consider the people outside of those boundaries as being foreign. In some cases it even promotes animosity and friction towards all those who are considered as ‘others’. Therefore, the focus of nationalism isn’t the whole of the human race, but individual and national units within that whole, and its final goal isn’t the strengthening of the human society as a whole, rather, its focus lays entirely on the national level.

Contrary to this position, Islam, through its ideal logic, focuses on the whole of mankind, and considers mankind as being one unit. What Islam recommends is not only focused towards one nation, race, or geographical location; on the contrary, Islam focuses its recommendations on mankind as one unit and as one whole. Those who have accepted this system (religion) are considered equals and brothers, and they benefit from equal rights and responsibilities in regards to worship, politics, economics, and social life. The end goal of Islam is the strengthening of the ‘Society of the Oneness of God (Tawheed)’; this is a society that lays aside all boundaries and limitations regarding to geographical borders, race, language, and culture, and with all these individual factors creates a multi faceted quilt.

Islam condemns the division of human beings into units on the basis of race and borders, and it has made the criterion of people to be only on the basis of piety, belief, faith, and pure actions.[4] One cannot find any trace of nationalism in any of the teachings of Islam; all of its teachings are in fact universal in their scope. Islam, contrary to nationalism, promotes a universal brand of ideology and considers its message as being universal in scope. The goal of Islam is the betterment and empowerment of all human beings and not only a select group within the whole of human society. Islam encourages people towards the truth and the reality, and since the truth has never been limited to one nation or racial group, and is in fact a definitive matter, it cannot be limited to any one group or category of human beings; it is equally accessible to all people. In the same way that it can be said that logic, mathematics, biology, or any of the sciences are not exclusively the domain of one nation or group, the same can be said for the truth and the reality; it exists for the benefit and use of the whole of mankind.

Nationalism From the Perspective of Imam Khomeini

The perspective of Imam Khomeini from the very beginning of his Islamic movement was based on the concept of Islamic unity and a unified Islamic community (Ummah). He always placed the interests of Islam and the Muslims alongside the interests and benefits of the nation; he considered the removal of the difficulties which plagued the Muslim society as being a definite reality. The Imam’s perspective on racial groups, nations, and the concept of nationalism was a very unique perspective; he only promoted the love of nation and people when it took the form of an ideology within Islam.[5] Imam Khomeini believed that Islam had come for the effacement of prejudice and discrimination, and that it had not created any extra special distinctions for any single individual nation or group. In addition, he believed that piety and faith in Islam were the only possible human distinctions. In addition, he believed that the Islamic government belonged to all people in society, from the lowest classes to the very highest.[6]

In another one of his sermons, Imam Khomeini considered Islamic precepts to be against racial superiority complexes and he said: ‘Islam has come in order to say that all races are equal to one another and no one race has superiority over the other. The Arab is not superior over the non Arab and the non Arab is not superior over the Arab; nor is the Turk superior over these two, nor are these superior over the Turk. In essence, no one race is superior over any other race. In addition, the white man is not superior to the black man, and the black man is not superior to the white man; no one has any intrinsic virtue over the other. Virtue and rank only lie in piety and in loyalty…’[7]

Therefore, issues of tribal or racial superiority, which are one of the main causes behind the eruption of discord and various bloody conflicts, is rejected by Imam Khomeini. This issue is opposed to peace, and was one of the causes whereby the people rejected the invitations of the Prophets (a). The thing that they (imperialists) insist on is that we do not join together, and that we do not be brothers. Wherever the Muslims are to be found, with all the various problems that they face, they still are found saying: we are Arabs, or we are Iranians, or we are Turks. If this nationalism is in the form where each country and each ethnicity wishes to stand opposed to the other (simply due to the matter of nation or language), then this is the very thing which disrupts the invitation of the Prophets (a).[8]

In Imam Khomeini’s opinion, the source of nationalism goes back to colonialism and its plunder of the natural resources of Muslim nations. He says: The propaganda that such and such is an Arab, and such and such is an Iranian, Turk, or Kurd is propaganda spread by foreigners, in order to plunder the natural resources which are found in this nation; they wish to take these resources by creating divisions amongst the Muslims.[9]

Therefore, Imam Khomeini does not accept the negative sense of nationalism based on the superiority of ethnicity, language, or race. This type of thinking has caused divisions to form between nations and is against the religious teachings (of Islam). In another speech, Imam Khomeini has called the unity of the Muslims as the guarantor of their progress, and he has considered nationalism as the foundation of their wretchedness; in addition, he has considered nationalism as a tool of control for the colonialists and imperialists. Nationalism is the reason for the misery of the Muslims, it for this reason that nationalism is spread in Iran, so that Iran stands against other nations…These are plots which have been drawn up by the imperialists, in order that the Muslims do not join together.[10]

Imam Khomeini only accepts nationalism if it is under the auspices of religious teachings; it is on this basis that he considers the defense of one’s homeland to be amongst the obligatory actions, and has emphasized the protection and unity of one’s homeland. He has said: We accept the (concept) of the nation and self sacrifice in the way of one’s homeland under the guidelines of Islam. We accept the concept of a nation within the teachings of Islam, and that nation, is the nation of Iran; for this nation, we are willing to engage in acts of self sacrifice, but this must be under the auspices of Islamic teachings, in order that it is not all about the nation itself or about pride. The limits of nationalism are found in the limits of Islam, and Islam itself emphasizes nationalism. Islamic nations must be protected and preserved, and the defense of the Islamic nation is amongst the obligations of the religion of Islam. This is clearly not to say that we would leave aside religion and simply raise the slogan of nationalism (the concept of Pan Iranism).[11]

Similarly, if we look at the concept of nationalism in the light of loving ones nation, and if we consider a nationalist as an individual who loves his nation and at the same time considers the people of other countries as equal human beings like himself and not as non human entities, then in this case, this concept has been emphasized by Imam Khomeini. He has said: One cannot say anything against the love of one’s nation, the people of that nation, and the preservation and protection of that nation.[12]

In addition, Imam Khomeini has no opposition to the concept of nationalism when explained as the independence seeking of the people from foreign imperialists and colonialists; sometimes oppositional movements form to stand against these foreign powers under the banner of nationalism. The nationalism which has been condemned by Imam Khomeini is the western style of nationalism which has its roots in racial discrimination and has played a primary role in dividing the people and creating conflicts; this form of nationalism has been severely condemned by Imam Khomeini. One of the plans drawn up by the imperialists in order to create divisions and differences amongst the Muslims is this very issue of nationalism. The nationalism which creates hatred and animosity between the Muslims, and weakens and divides them is against the principles of Islam and the interests of the Muslims, and is one of the tricks of the foreigners who are tormented by Islam and its immense rate of growth all around the world.[13]

Related topics: The Islamic viewpoint on the world being one’s homeland, 6801 (Site : 6883)

[1] Tulu’i, Mahmoud, Farhange Jame’e Siyasi, pg. 872, Tehran, without date, 1372.

[2] Agha Bakhshi, Ali, Farhange Ulume Siyasi, pg. 219, Tehran, The Information and Scientific Documents Center of Iran, 1374.

[3] Ashuri, Daryush, Daneshnameye Siyasi, pg. 329, Tehran, Morvarid, 1373.

[4] Darvishpour, Hujjatullah, Barresiye Padideye Nasionalism dar Jahane Arab, pg. 42, Tehran, The Center for Print and Publication of the Islamic Propagation Organization, 1374.

[5] Tebyan, Qowmiyat, Meliyat va Andishe Faramelli az Didgahe Imam Khomeini, The Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, 1385.

[6] Sahifeye Imam, vol. 11, pg. 56 his message to the Kurdish brothers and sisters 8/26/1359.

[7] Ibid, vol. 13, pg. 88, his speech to the members of the Quds Freedom Assembly 5/18/1359.

[8] Ibid, vol. 15, pg. 471, his speech to the people on the occasion of the week of unity 10/20/1360.

[9] Ibid, vol. 5, pg. 187, Interview, 9/16/1357.

[10] Ibid, vol. 13, pg. 88, his speech to the members of the Quds Freedom Assembly 5/18/1359.

[11] Ibid, vol. 10, pp. 123-124, his speech to the Fatemiyyun Hey’at 7/4/1358.

[12] Ibid, vol. 13, pg. 209.

[13] Ibid, vol. 13, pg. 209.

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