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MUSTAI`AFUN. Revolutions tend to popularize egalitarian, romantic, and utopian ideas that often mesmerize the masses. In revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini (d. 1989) popularized the concept of the mustad `afun, which literally refers to the lower classes, the downtrodden, the meek, and to all those who are deprived of the opportunity to develop their full potential.

Khomeini’s sympathy with the plight of the mustad’afun was rooted in both political and religious grounds. Politically, it enlarged significantly his popular base of support. Although in his writings prior to the Islamic Revolution he had championed the cause of the poor, it was only after the collapse of the ancien regime in 1979 that he explicitly spoke of the two diametrically opposed versions of Islam; the Islam of the mustakbarun (the rich and the arrogant) and the Islam of the mustad’afun. His mission was to institutionalize the latter, which he labeled as the authentic Islam. He consistently maintained that the Islamic Revolution was made by the mustad’a-fun and must serve their interests.

Immediately after the collapse of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, a fierce competition began among many rivals for the control of the state. Khomeini’s historic victory in that struggle became possible partly because he won the allegiance of the lower classes, or what he called the “barefooted,” which constituted the largest block of the urban population. He declared that the most important characteristic of the Islamic Revolution was “that it is Islamic and its slogans and goals are compatible with the [needs] of the mustad `afun.” In the early days of the revolution in 1979, he publicly pressured Mehdi Bazargan’s Provisional Revolutionary Government to provide free electricity, water, and housing for the poor. The goal should be, he emphatically declared, “to create a system in which there are no hungry people.” In that spirit and in a symbolic gesture, Khomeini renamed the Pahlavi Foundation, a conglomeration of dozens of industrial and commercial enterprises, the Mustad’afun Foundation. Sayyid Had! Khusrawshahi, appointed by Khomeini to direct the foundation, was quick to promise that in “three years all the poor will be provided with free housing, or you can kill us.” Of course, not all the poor were given free housing.

Khomeini effectively used the Qur’an, Islamic history, and the chiliastic and apocalyptic overtones of Shiism to justify his sympathy for the mustad `afun. He often cited the Qur’anic verse, “And we wish to show favor to those who have been oppressed upon earth [mustad’afun], and to make of them leaders and inheritors” (surah 28.5), which is also used in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran to justify the state’s commitment to support “all oppressed and deprived people throughout the world” (Article 3, Section P).

In his writings and sermons, Khomeini pointed out that the poor were the prophet Muhammad’s most dedicated supporters. The Prophet was forced out of Mecca, he said, by the rich and returned there with the backing of the poor. Imam `AI! ibn Ab! Talib (r. 656-661) followed the Prophet’s tradition of befriending the poor. Khomeini often cited Imam `Al! as saying that, as a caliph, he could not sleep comfortably if he knew there was someone poor or deprived under his rule.

Khomeini’s support for the mustad `afun paid off, because they were his largest and most loyal followers. In the age of mass politics, this critical support helped Ayatollah Khomeini consolidate his rule and leave a legacy as the champion of the mustad `afun.

[See also Bunyad.]


Khomeini, Ruhollah al-Musavi. Kalam-i Imam: Mustaz afun va Mustakbarun. Tehran, 1984. Kalam-i Imam: Ingilab-i Islami. Tehran, 1984. These two volumes contain Ayatollah Khomeini’s declarations on the Islamic revolution and the mustad `afun.

Milani, Mohsen M. The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. 2d ed. Boulder, 1994. Discusses the context in which Khomeini popularized the notion of mustad afun.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mustaiafun/

  • writerPosted On: October 1, 2014
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