Muharram in Qom

Interviewer and compiler: Hussein Rouhani Sadr [*1]
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: Hajj Hossein Soleimani, one of the businessmen and fighters before the revolution, exiled with the supreme leader in Jiroft[1] and one of the current servants of Astan Quds Razavi[2], narrates the days of Muharram[3] mourning in Qom in the 1970s as follows:

In the first decade of Muharram, led by Hajj Yadollah Alishahi, we worked with schoolchildren and their families to set up tents for the mourning of Yazd’s people in a place that had been a mourning endowment for many years during the Muharram and Safar[4] decades. Mr. Hajj Abdul Hussein Khazaeli was one of the leaders of the Saudi’s mourning (standing left side of Hosseinabad Bazaar) and one of the famous elders and clerics in front of the Imam Hassan Asgari (AS) Mosque. He had a bakery with Mirza Ali Soleimani, my father's cousin, and was part of the Bakers' Community. Ase these people were trustworthy, people gave them money to welcome people in the first decade of Muharram.

On the day of Ashura[5], a mourning crowd was prepared. We would take horses and camels to the courtyard of the shrine to hold Ta'zieh[6]. I used to attend in one of the active mourning of the city located in New Alley. The leader of this mourning, Seyyed Abbas Nazemzadeh, one of the city's elders and trustees and a well-known cereal merchant, provided them with other items needed for cooking at a reasonable price.

All neighborhoods of Qom had mourning. Asghar Kamkar, head of the city's intelligence department, had complete information on all pillars and neighborhoods. A major stood at the crossroads of the bazaar, managing the movement of the crowds so that there would be no struggle. On the way to the shrine, in his absence, the crowds fought to pass each other; they tore down the flagpoles and hit each other. After Muharram, some people would come for making peace with the mourning crowds; therefore, they take a mourning crowd and to another neighborhood to make peace with them. On the fifth of Muharram, some communities the mourning of Yazd’s people and Saudi Arabia's people merged to compensate for their small population against the mourning population of Agha Seyyed Hassan. Gradually, they raised donations to support the mourning of Yazd's people and built a roof over their mourning place not to look like a ruinous place. In the month of Muharram, the mourning crowd went to the shrine and then to the house of Mr. Seyyed Abolfazl Tolit Mesbah. His house had two doors; they entered through one door and exited through the other. He sat on a chair and watched the organization. He pointed to his assistant Khalil Khan, who was standing next to him, to give 100 tomans to the crowd which was greater than others. Khalil Khan also gave them an envelope of money. Then he went to dinner.

During the Ashura decade, every night next to his house, which was a large place (current Rezaei Mall), he invited a group of heads of mourning crowd, businessmen, scholars, clerics, teachers, and farmers, and welcomed them with saffron chicken and rice. One night I was under pressure from people when I was going to sit down at the table. I said the people:" The table is big, so what is the reason for all this pressure! By the time I sat down, I noticed that they were sitting sooner to pick up the best chickens and put them on their plates. The mourning night continued until the end of month Safar.

Remembering Reza Shah Pahlavi's harsh treatment against the clergy and preventing them from holding Muharram and Safar mourning ceremonies, Hajj Ali Eslami said: "The pressure to prevent mourning ceremonies was so high that I sent a message to the businessmen and residents to take a bag in hand and leave the house in the morning under the pretext of taking a bath. If an officer asked you where you would go, you could say to him that you were going to bath. I also taught them a special way of knocking door so that we could open the door secretly. After sunrise, they scattered."

Gradually, my mother and I decided to buy a house. Fortunately, we bought the 230-meter house of Ayatollah Alavi, Mr. Golpayegani's son-in-law, and Mr. Safi's brother-in-law in the Alley of Yazd's people behind the bazaar at the price 9,000 Tomans. Most of the money to buy a house had been gained by my mother's weaving carpet.

The ceremony of the Karbala Mourning Crowd living in Qom at their father's house

In that house, I mostly held religious meetings. The government had banned cutting head on Ashura day. Many Najaf,s Arabs, who lived in Qom, asked us to perform this ceremony in our house; they came to our house and started to mourn about the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. When they prayed the Morning Prayer, they started shouting the words" Hussein" and walking around the yard to give themselves a special mood and they had unusual and very large swords for cutting head; blood splashes on the walls of the house. Then, after a few cuttings, two or three people who were in normal state and stood in the middle of them, put long sticks in their hands, under the swords, and took the swords and bandaged their heads there. This ceremony was held in our house for two years.

In Qom, holding Ta'zieh on the day of Ashura was especially popular. The role of character "Shemr"[7] in these ceremonies was played by Asghar Shemer, the servant of the new mosque in front of Sheikhan, who had a humble home in the "Saudi" region and always joked:" People who have the positive role of captives or Imams (PBUM) in luxurious clothes on this occasion, their financial situation is good, but this accursed Shemr (Asghar Shemr) could not manage even one of his disciples."

On the occasion of Muharram and Safar decades from March 1972 to April 24, 1973, at the suggestion of a group of religious people in Qom, Mr. Seyyed Ebrahim Hosseini invited Seyyed Abdolkarim Hasheminejad, one of the clerics and teachers of Mashhad to lecture for a few nights in front of New Municipality Square. Mr. Seyed Hasheminejad arrived at one of the meetings at 11 o'clock. First, the speaker announced through a loudspeaker that no one has the right to chant slogans, and then Mr. Hasheminejad went to the pulpit. After reading the holy Quran, he added: ‌"Today I will talk to you about the political system of Islam." The Holy Prophet (PBUH)[8] was both the leader of the religion and the leader of the government; But let me tell you, I think that it is my last lecture in Qom. I will talk to you again if there is no problem, God willing. He added: Every living thing must have complete freedom. If you plant a vegetable in the right place, you will see it grow well; But if it is not in the right place or something obstruct it, it won't grow. Or for example, how much difference does a baby sheep has the freedom and does not have one? Human life and growth are limited. From a scientific point of view, if freedom in an authoritarian government is possible, the freedom of the pen, the freedom of the religion of Islam should be encouraged. People are encouraged by the religion of Islam. They encourage. You heard that the Prophet used to sat and got up with the people of Medina and was along with them. One day, at the end of his life, the Holy Prophet said at the top of the pulpit: O people, I was with you at all times, is there anyone among you who is dissatisfied with me? In the meantime, the Arab man stood up, said: once, you, prophet, ride a camel and you wanted to hit camel with a cane but you hit me wrongly, I am dissatisfied with you." The Prophet said: What do you want me to do? The Arab man said: "I just hit you with a cane. The Prophet said: "The same cane is in the house. He sent Bilal[9] to bring the cane from home. The Holy Prophet handed it to the Arab man and said:" Hit me." Instead of hitting, the Arab man kissed the shoulder of the Holy Prophet. Yes, freedom is what Islam has had and still has. Do you, people, say this is the same in all countries of the world or not? Is there anyone like the Prophet or to rule like the Prophet, and you, the people of Islam, must always get your rights? In the system of Islamic government, people are always free and have freedom of speech, and the language of flattery is strictly forbidden; On the contrary, in an authoritarian government, whatever flattery a person has, the position with be high.

About the death of the son of the Prophet, he said: when Ibrahim the son of the Prophet died, the eclipse of the sun was taken place. People thought it was for the sake of the Prophet; But the Prophet did not accept this wrong idea and said: "it is not true in the divine system. This idea is wrong in Islam; this is the thinking of the Ottomans[10] and the followers of Muawiyah[11]; But the system of Islamic government is on the opposite side.

During the few days I lectured here, I received many notes; One of was to introduce Seyyed Jamal's[12] book to the people so that they can read more and see that the colonialists wanted to oppress Seyyed Jamal. Tell me, why do you mourn on the day of Ashura? To be aware that the day of Ashura not to have occurred again and someone like Seyyed Jamal or others not to be longer oppressed.

During the days of Ashura and Tasua[13], a group of our market comrades and I planned to go to Najaf and meet with Ayatollah Khomeini. Also, we followed the lectures of the Muharram and Safar decades with the teachers of the seminary in the important mosques of the bazaar. The most important mosque for us was the Imam Mosque, under the tutelage of Hajj Sheikh Morteza Haeri Yazdi. Until this year, Mr. Altaha, one of the most memorable pulpits, translated the famous sermon of Imam Sajjad (AS)[14] from Arabic to Persian for the audience. During the sermon, he said on Yazid's[15] behavior that he ordered the muezzin to say the call to prayer so that the Imam Hussein's words would be lost and the fighters would not revolt against Yazid. Mr. Altaha also demanded that Mr. Seyyed Ibrahim Hosseini [*2] perform the call to prayer as Yazid had asked for it from his muezzin in war, and he did so and raised a certain excitement in the fighters.

Every year, from the first day of Muharram to the first day of Rabi[16] month, a tent was set up outside the house of Mr. Boroujerdi and everyone around was covered in black. After Muharram, the tent was collected and kept in storage for another year. One day he gives money to the gentleman who works there. The man finds no place to hide the money and hastily puts it next to the tent to seize the opportunity. Tent collectors unknowingly collect the tent and take the rope to the storage. After a while, he came to take the money but he saw that there was not the tent and did not know where the tent has been taken and left. Fearing that someone had received money and delivered it to Mr. Boroujerdi, he could not tell anyone about it. Next year, when the tent was opened, the money came it out.


[1]. Master of History of Iran in the Islamic Period, Expert in the Study of Cultural Documents of the National Archives and Library

[2]. He passed away on Sunday, October 6, 2018.


[1] Jiroft is a city and capital of Jiroft County, Kerman Province, Iran.

[2] It is a bonyad based at Mashhad, Iran. It is the administrative organization that manages the Imam Reza shrine and various institutions which belong to the organization.

[3] Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. The general meaning of the adjective 'haiiharram means "banned, forbidden, illega, impermissible, prohibited, unlawful, unauthorized, unpermitted". It is one of the four sacred months of the year when warfare is forbidden.

[4] is the second month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar.

[5] It is  the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar.

[6] It means comfort, condolence, or expression of grief. It comes from roots aza which means mourning.

[7] He, commonly known as Shimr or Shemr, was an Arab military commander from Kufa, who is often referred to as the person who killed Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in 680

[8]It means Muhammad who was an Arab religious, social, and political leader and the founder of Islam.

[9] He was one of the most trusted and loyal Sahabah of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was a former slave. Bilal ibn Rabah was known for his beautiful voice with which he called people to their prayers. 

[10]The Ottoman Empire was a state that controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. 

[11] He was the founder and first caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate, serving from 661 until his death. He became caliph less than 30 years following the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and very shortly after the reign of the four "rightly guided" caliphs.

[12] He is known as Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn Asadābādī was a political activist and Islamic ideologist who traveled throughout the Muslim world during the late 19th century.  

[13]Tasu'a is the ninth day of Muharram and the day before Ashura. Several events occurred on this day.

[14] He was a Shiʻi Imam after his father Husayn ibn Ali, his uncle Hasan ibn Ali, and his grandfather, Ali. 

[15] He was the second caliph of the Umayyad caliphate. He ruled for three years from 680 until he died in 683. His appointment was the first hereditary succession in Islamic history.

[16] It is the third month in the Islamic calendar and the first [month] or beginning of spring, referring to its position in the pre-Islamic Arabian calendar. During this month, many Muslims celebrate Mawlid - the birthday of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

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