The Ayatollah urges faithful to fight the world's injustice. AUDIENCE WITH THE IMAM
The atmosphere is charged with anticipation. Four hundred men, many of them in the distinctive green military jackets of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, press closer and closer toward a small balcony where a chair and microphone are set up. Many have been waiting months for this moment to see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and hear his message.
On the second story level of a simple, unadorned hussainiya, or Shiite meeting house, in this northern suburb of Tehran, veiled women, some with small children, strain to get a better view of the spot where the Iranian leader will make his first public statement in a month and a half.
When the blue metal door to the balcony slides open, everyone suddenly rises to their feet as if they have become a single body. The chanting begins in perfect coordination. The room seems to vibrate: ``You are my soul, Khomeini. You are the breaker of the idols. You are my soul, Khomeini. You are the breaker of the idols.''
There is a sudden surge forward, as the men, their fists in the air, struggle to get a few feet closer to the 86-year-old man they call imam, or leader.
The Iranian leader's hand is raised in greeting. His face is expressionless, his clothing simple. He radiates charisma.
He sits on an old chair with a sheet draped over it. The microphone is adjusted by a helper.
Many of the men are already weeping.
``When we think we are getting weak spiritually, we go to see him to get spiritual power,'' says a government official.
Though Iran is living under a threat of chemical-weapon and missile attacks from Iraq, and the Iranian economy is struggling to overcome the burden of more than seven years of war, Khomeini's message, as always, centers on the fundamentals of Shiite Islam.
The Iranian leader's special appearance this morning is in celebration of the birthday of the 12th Imam more than a thousand years ago. The 12th Imam, the son of Imam Hasan Askari (an early Shiite leader), is particularly sacred in Shiite Islam because he is believed to be the promised mahdi, or savior, who will return some day to earth to fill the world with equality and justice and end oppression and tyranny.
This year the 12th Imam's birthday falls on the same day Christians are celebrating Easter and the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Imam Khomeini's message today is similar to an earlier sermon delivered by Iran's President, Hojatolislam Ali Khamenei, during the Friday prayer sermon at Tehran University.
During his 15 minute talk, Khomeini stresses that it is necessary that Muslims not sit back and simply wait for the savior to arrive to solve all the world's problems. He adds that Muslims must work to improve the world by fighting injustice.
He warns against believing that it might make the savior appear sooner if Muslims simply let the world degenerate to a level where the savior must appear.
``This is stupid,'' Khomeini says. ``This suggests that if the United States and the Soviet Union and Saddam [Hussein, the Iraqi President] cause a lot of suffering in the world, then we should thank them for bringing the day the mahdi will come even closer.''
``We must fulfill our responsibility to make a better life and fight injustice,'' the Ayatollah says. He adds that it is the job of all Muslims to prepare the world for the saviour. ``Then he will come and complete our work.''
Other than the remark mentioning the US, Soviet Union, and President Hussein, his talk was devoid of political content.
Security is tight in and around Jamaran. Visitors to the hussainiya - which ajoins the Iranian leader's house - must be searched at least four times and are required to leave wallets, pencils, watches, even wedding rings at a check point before being permitted to enter the area.
Such personal appearances by Ayatollah Khomeini are rarely open to Western reporters, in part because of the large number of Iranians who wish to attend.
The interior of the hussainiya where Khomeini speaks is roughly the size of a basketball court. It is sparsely decorated in keeping with the Iranian leader's desire to live a life as simple as the poorest Iranian.
It is in stark contrast to the lavish palaces of the deposed Shah of Iran.
``This is his palace, it isn't even painted,'' says an official gesturing with pride at the ordinary two-story building.
Ayatollah Khomeini is said to live on government food coupons. It is also said that sometimes in winter he goes without heating oil, remembering that there are some Iranians who cannot afford to buy oil.