Ibn Muljam Kushan – A Cultural Festival of Iranian Shi’i Laity

An interesting excerpt I read today from a recently published book: Jashn-haye Islami-Shi’i Dar Iran (Shi’i-Islamic Commemorations in Iran) Mohsen Hesam Mazaheri. In this passage he speaks about a celebration some Shi’i laymen in certain regions of Iran commemorate on the 27th of Ramadan. During my time in Iran, I had not heard of or seen this custom, but upon reading this excerpt and searching up more details about it, it seems this practice is primarily held in villages and rural areas, and is not a common custom in major cities. 

Here is a short video clip of residents of a village near Kashan commemorating this festival: https://www.aparat.com/v/D1rs9 (note how the lady says the festival is old “over 100 years old“, similar to what the excerpt below suggests too.)

One category of exclusively Shi’i celebrations are those that are held on the anniversary of the death of enemies and infamous figures in history. These celebrations are an example of the concept of tabarri in Shi’i communities, as an identity of a religious minority. Unlike conventional joyful ceremonies that mark the beginning of life or the birth of a significant figure, these celebrations are held in honor of death and the end of life. From this perspective, they can be called “religious black celebrations.” The most important examples of this category are the celebrations held on the anniversary of the death or assassination of ‘Umar ibn Khattab, Uthman ibn ‘Affan, Ibn Muljam al-Muradi, and Yazid ibn Muawiyah.

After the ninth of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, the second important black celebration amongst Shi’i simpletons is the day of the assassination of Abdul Rahman ibn Muljam al-Muradi, from the Khawarij of Nahrwan and the assailant of Imam Ali, whom Shi’a remember with attributes such as “the wretched of the wretched.” According to the popular narrative, he struck Imam Ali in the early morning of the nineteenth of Ramadan in the mosque of Kufa. Two days later, on the twenty-first of Ramadan, after that noble Imam was martyred, Ibn Muljam was punished and killed according to his will. However, amongst the beliefs of some Iranians, it is famously held that Ibn Muljam’s punishment took place on the twenty-fourth of Ramadan and his death occurred on the twenty-seventh of Ramadan, but this belief is not backed by any historical evidence.

An interesting point to note is that this occasion is not mentioned or at least not listed among the established and common events in major Shiite sources of calendars such as “Masar al-Shi’a”, “Misbah”, “Iqbal al-A’mal”, “Taqwim al-Muhsinin”, and likewise in the calendars that date back to the Safavid and Qajar era. In the travelogues of European explorers, the only reported mention of this celebration is by Wilson, who spoke about its observance on the 27th of Ramadan during the final period of the Qajar dynasty. He also referred to the custom of serving the traditional dish of kaleh pacheh1 in the city of Arak during this event.

Various rituals are held in different regions of Iran to commemorate the night and day of the death of Ibn Muljam. There is no precise information available about the origin of these rituals. Given the lack of reference to such a ceremony by travel writers in periods prior to the Qajar era, it is likely that the commencement of this celebration dates back to the Qajar period.

Amongst the beliefs of the simpletons in Shiite regions of Iran, the night and day of the 27th of Ramadan are considered blessed and sacred in commemoration of the aforementioned event, and are regarded as times of prayer and the fulfillment of wishes. Similar to other festive days, bathing and grooming rituals (such as henna, kohl and perfume application) are customary on this day. Cooking special dishes and sweets, especially kaleh pacheh and specific types of bread (known as “the 27th bread” and “kakoli bread”), is also popular in different regions. Additionally, various ceremonies and rituals are held on this day, some of which are humorous and comical, such as the “Kouleh Marjan”2 in Arak, Borujerd, and Khomein, which has a structure similar to that of the ninth of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, and in which a cloth effigy of Ibn Muljam is made, paraded through the streets, ridiculed, and eventually burned. Others include “Dorost raftan” in Yazd, “Komchali zadan3 in Ardakan, “Kliid zani4 and “Checheh” in Rafsanjan, and “Malagheh duz” in Dargaz, Khorasan, which are similar to the Gargee’an5 and Qashok zani6 rituals, and involve visiting homes dressed in traditional clothing (usually a woman’s chador) and asking for food and sweets. Sewing the “Pirahan-e Murad” or “27th outfit” is another custom that is practiced in areas such as Tehran, Yazd, Qamsar, and Aran va Bidgol. Similar to this custom is the sewing of the “Morad Bag” which has been prevalent in regions such as Karaj, Bijar, Shahroud, Bojnourd, and Kilan (Damavand).7 Cursing Ibn Muljam and congratulating one another is also a common tradition on this day. The performance of the ta’ziyeh (passion plays) for Ibn Muljam is another ritual of this day.

In a passage, Enayatollah Shahidi introduces this commemoration where the passion plays fall under the categories of both comical and degrading: The elegy depicts Ibn Muljam, the killer of Imam Ali, as being in love with a woman named Qatam or Qatama. Qatam urges him to assassinate Imam Ali so that they can be reunited. After carrying out the murder, Ibn Muljam is punished for his actions and subsequently killed. Most scripts for the passion play for this elegy are comical and satirical, as they present Ibn Muljam in a demeaning and ridiculing manner.


  1. A traditional Iranian dish of boiled sheep’s head and trotters, commonly eaten for breakfast.
  2. In this activity, children and the youth create an effigy of Ibn Muljam, recite and chant poetry against him, and finally burn the effigy.
  3. Literally meaning “hitting a small object”, which was a traditional practice that used to be popular in the past in some villages. In this practice, on the night of the 27th of the holy month of Ramadan, individuals who wanted to participate would hide under cloth or chador and hold a large stone or a small copper dice. They would then approach the door of the house of seven people who had performed the Hajj in the darkness of the night and hit the stone or dice against the door. The homeowner would then give them something, and sometimes they would pour water on their heads from the rooftop, believing that this would grant their wishes. The purpose of those who participated in this practice was not to collect items, but to fulfill their wishes and solve their problems. They made vows to participate in komchali in order to overcome their difficulties, believing that Imam Ali (a) would solve their problems. Some believed that this act was instead very sinful and forbidden, and that the intensity of the sin was what ultimately led to the fulfillment of their wishes.
  4. An article from Mehr News explains this practice in detail.
  5. See: https://ifpnews.com/the-traditional-ritual-of-gargeean-in-the-month-of-ramadan/
  6. See: https://gate-of-nations.org/qashoq-zani/
  7. This article on ISNA explains this 500 year old practice in some detail.