Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The wife of Khomeini

Khomeini’s faithful ally

Khadijeh Batool Saqaffi

The late Ayatollah Khomeini after his return from exile in 1979. His widow died last Saturday, aged 93. AP Photo

The widow of Ayatollah Khomeini, Khadijeh Batool Saqaffi, or the Mother of the Islamic Revolution as she was known, died last Saturday aged 93 after a long period of illness.

Thousands of people, including Iran’s president and supreme leader, attended her funeral at Tehran University to mourn the consort of a man who had reshaped their political landscape.

Batool, often called Batool Khanoum (Lady) was born in Tehran in 1916.

The daughter of Ayatollah Mirza Mohammad Saqaffi, a wealthy, aristocratic cleric, and sister to a high-ranking general in the Shah’s regime, Batool was educated, unlike many of her generation and social status.

Allegedly, she had no wish to marry a mullah. Equally, the young Khomeini had no intention of taking a wife until a fellow student at a madrasa in Qom suggested marriage into a prominent family as a means of rising through the clerical ranks more swiftly than traditional practices allowed.

With family money and a growing academic reputation, Khomeini was quite the eligible bachelor, but the young schoolgirl declined his proposal.

However, as she recalled in an interview with the Iranian press after the 1979 revolution: “The night after I refused Ruhollah’s hand I saw the Prophet Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima, in my dream. She told me to marry him, and so the next day I told my parents that I had changed my mind.”

Batool brought a substantial dowry to her marriage in 1931 and the relatively prosperous newlyweds settled in Qom. Reportedly, the marriage was a happy one.

It produced five children, including two sons who worked alongside their father.

Of her husband, Batool said: “When we married he told me that he was not an obscurantist who expected me to undertake extra duties. His only request was that I should observe the rules of Islam.”

The imam’s wife was said to lead a modest life, although rumours circulated that beneath the chador she was dressed à la mode from tip to toe.

During Khomeini’s exile in Turkey and Iraq (1964-1978), following his criticism of the terms of the Shah’s White Revolution, Batool remained in Iran, permitted only occasionally by the Shah’s prime minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, to visit her husband.

After the revolution, she barely left Khomeini’s side.

Unusually for the time, Khomeini took only one wife and did not treat her as his personal servant. He “never even asked our mother to bring him a glass of water”, said one daughter in an interview with Zan-e-Ruz magazine in 1982.

Despite the solidity of their union – expressed romantically in a recently published letter Khomeini wrote to his wife from Beirut – Batool was always careful to divert potential rivals.

When Guitty Pourfazel, an attractive Iranian female judge, petitioned Khomeini to be allowed to continue practising law in his Islamic republic, the imam, finding her pretty, asked her to come closer so that he could hear her.

Some photographers attempted to capture the intimacy of the scene, only for Batool to jump out of hiding and order Pourfazel and all other women from the room into another where she told them: “If anyone of you has something to tell his Eminence, say it to me and I will pass it on to him.”

Batool Khanoum stayed out of the public eye during much of her life and after Khomeini’s death in 1989 all but faded from view.

She is buried next to her husband, who called his wife Fakhr Iran (the Pride of Iran), in his gold-domed mausoleum south of Tehran.

Khadijeh Batool Saqaffi is survived by three daughters; one son was killed in 1977, the other died in 1995.