This short piece was written for Master B's We Didn't Start the Fire project, and is not intended as a comprehensive Entry on the subject... just a bit of fun.
'Ayatollahs in Iran' are men of enormous power and prestige. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the leaders of Iran have been Ayatollahs. As there is no clergy in Islam comparable to the hierarchy of Christianity, 'Ayatollah' is a title descriptive of great wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Qu'ran (Koran), which Muslims believe to be the word of God. Ayatollah is an Arabic term meaning 'sign of God'.
Perhaps rather confusingly, Ayatollahs are also often referred to as 'Imams'. To the Shi'ite Muslims of Iran, an Imam is a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and, therefore, a person of vast importance.
The most famous Ayatollah, of course, is Ayatollah Khomeini who replaced the deposed Shah of Iran as head of state. His stern paternal image, with furrowed brow, black turban (signifying his decendency from the Prophet), and immaculate white beard, is still perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable faces in the world.
Ayatollah Khomeini was demonized in the West, particularly in America - which, for his part, he famously described as 'The Great Satan'. When Americans were held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and in 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on author Salman Rushdie in reaction to the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses, his image assumed a sort of anti-Santa notoriety in the Western news media.
Judged by any standard, Ayatollah Khomeini was a powerful figure who returned from 14 years in exile with enormous religious authority and a moral authority made greater by comparison to the puppet regime of the corrupt and despotic Shah.