Trained as a Muslim theologian, Ayatollah Khomeini became the arch-prophet of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. Bitterly opposed to the Westernised regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, he inspired the revolution that toppled the shah and established strict religious law as the basis of the new Islamic republic.
During his long exile in Turkey, Iraq and France, ‘The Ayatollah’ inspired fanatical devotion among his followers in Iran, and he returned on 1 February 1979 to a rapturous reception after the flight of the shah.
He met with little opposition as his followers – known as mullahs – had forced the despised Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi into exile on 16 January, claiming that the Shah was ruining Iran economically, creating a poorer class of starving masses, terrorising people with his secret police, and importing the worst of Western values.
Following his victorious return, the aged religious leader presided over a fundamentalist Islamic state, introducing a new constitution based on Islamic law and proceeding to destroy all Western influence.
Within months, Khomeini confronted the West by refusing to release hostages taken from the US embassy in Tehran.
Alarmed by Khomeini’s intention to spread the revolution beyond Iran, Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein attempted a military attack.
Although the resulting war drained Iran’s resources, manpower and pride, Khomeini remained a revered figure within Iran until his death in 1989.