AT THE CENTER of the swirl of upheaval in Iran is a man who hasn't even been in the country for more than a decade, a 78-year-old Moslem religious leader whose pronouncements can bring throngs into the streets of Iranian cities and cause lights to burn late in government offices around the world. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's unrelenting pressure for the establishment of an Islamic republic is the focus of the country's turmoil after the departure of the shah. What does he mean by the term? In terms often vague and confusing, often leading to yet further questions, Khomeini outlined some of his views in an interview in December with Pouchka Grenier, a French freelance journalist. The following excerpts are from that interview, which is described by Khomeini's aides as his most definitive recent statement:

On the nature of an Islamic state :

Our religion does not have strict rules regulating relations between man and God. Just like a state does, our religion associates politics with social problems and prayers... From the beginning, [Islam] represented a political power, not limiting itself to problems of religious practice. In fact, if one refers to the books of Samnat [the practices of Mohammed], which are the main Moslem texts, one sees that they deal as much with politics, government, the struggle against tyrants, as with prayers.

On western influences :

We want to found a purely Islamic state. Islam has enough laws of its own so that it can do without those of other countries. The Iranian constitution of the beginning of the century is largely inspired by Belgian laws. It is also incomplete, and certain of its laws are backward. Islam does not need to refer to the laws of others. Islamic law is fundamentally progressive. We desire a government basded on that law.

On democracy and dictatorship :

There is historical testimony and the history is written in books. For example, there is the case of the caliph who governed a vast region. One of his subjects brought suit against him before a judge appointed by the caliph. The latter went to the tribunal with the plaintiff, who was Jewish. The verdict handed down went against the caliph, and he respected the decision.

We are for an Islamic system, that is to say a democratic regime founded on popular consensus and Islamic law.

Western democracy is incomplete. Our democracy will resemble it but be perfected. The living witness that I referred to earlier proved that all citizens of such an Islamic democracy, from the leaders to those at the bottom of the social ladder, are equals before the law. They are equals. There are no legal differences among them.Thus it is a democracy based on divine law which should be applied to humanity. It is really perfect. It is not a sham democracy or a dictatorship in practice, as are some other governments.

On the role of non-Moslems :

To be Iranian has nothing to do with being Moslem. There are Iranians of different beliefs in Iran. They have Iranian nationality, but their religion is not that of the majority of Iranians. In governmental affairs, on the civic level, there will be no discrimination beteeen citizens. As for private matters, it will be for everyone to decide for himself.

On the spread of Islam :

Islam is an ideology which does not limit itself to a region. Islamic law does not involve a specific group. If we could, we would extend the Islamic system to the whole world. In any case, we will do it where it is possible. Islamic law is not specifically reserved for a given people. It concerns humanity.

On the economic future :

We want to exploit the country's riches -- mines, farming, petroleum -- and to devote the revenues to the general interest. Our plan is not to protect the rich. We will work to help the poor and to oversee the fortunes of the rich class in order to balance socil differences.

On the role of women :

All rights given to men are given to women. They shall have the right to vote. They shall be allowed to run for office. They shall be able to own their own goods. All those rights will be the same for men as for women. If there are things forbidden for men, they will also be forbidden for women. For example, the law on corruption will be the same for all.

As for woman, anything that damages her decency and her honor is forbidden. Islam has insisted on protecting woman so that she would not become an object in the hands of men. The propaganda that Islam is hard on women, that they are mistreated in comparison to men, is false propaganda. Such lies are not accidental. They are deliberately spread by persons who find advantage in doing so.

On education and the arts :

People will have the right to study freely and all types of education will exist. No subject will be censored. We had scholars, philosophers, astronomers, and their work still exists. They were Islamic ulemas [scholars] and they taught astronomy. The great ulemas knew these sciences perfectly.

None of that will be banned. But we might prohibit certain things that would lead to the corruption and demoralization of man.

It is the same for art. There are no limits on legitimate art. As for artistic expression that would be harmful to human dignity, it will be prohibited.