Ali Baba

Ali Baba

[ah-lee bah-bah, al-ee bab-uh]

Ali Baba (Arabic, Persian: علي بابا) is a fictional character based in Ancient Arabia. He is described in the adventure tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, part of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights, Persian: هزار و یک شب). Some critics believe that this story was added to The Book of One Thousand and One Nights by one of its European transcribers, Antoine Galland, an 18th-century French orientalist who may have heard it in oral form from an Arab story-teller from Aleppo. However, Richard F. Burton claimed it to be part of the original Book of One Thousand and One Nights. This story has also been used as a popular pantomime plot—perhaps most famously in the pantomime/musical Chu Chin Chow (1916).


Ali Baba, a poor Arab woodcutter, happens to overhear a group of thieves—forty in all—visiting their treasure store in the forest where he is cutting wood. The thieves' treasure is in a cave, the mouth of which is sealed by magic—it opens on the words "Open, O' Simsim" (commonly written as "Open Sesame" in English), and seals itself on the words "Close, Simsim" ("Close Sesame"). When the thieves are gone, Ali Baba enters the cave himself, and takes some of the treasure home.

The wife of Ali Baba borrows her sister-in-law's scales to weigh this new wealth of gold coins. Unbeknownst to Ali, his brother's wife has put a blob of wax in the scales to find out what Ali is using them for. To her shock, she finds a gold coin sticking to the scales and tells her husband, Ali Baba's rich and greedy brother, Cassim. Ali Baba tells Cassim about the cave. Cassim goes to the cave to take more of the treasure, but in his greed and excitement over the treasures forgets the magic words to get back out of the cave. The thieves find him there, and kill him. When his brother does not come back, Ali Baba goes to the cave to look for him, and finds the body, cut into many pieces and displayed just inside the entrance of the cave to discourage any similar attempts in the future. Ali Baba brings the body home and, with the help of Morgiana, a clever slave-girl in Cassim's household, Ali finds an old tailor whom he pays, blindfolds, and leads to Cassim's house. There, overnight, the tailor stitches Cassim back together, so that no one will be suspicious. Ali and his family are able to give Cassim a proper burial without anyone asking awkward questions.

The thieves, finding the body gone, realize that yet another person must know their secret, and set out to track him down. One of the thieves goes down to the town and asks around. He discovers that a tailor was seen leaving a house in the early morning, and guesses that the house must belong to the thieves' victim. The thief finds the tailor and asks him to lead the way to the house. The tailor is blindfolded again, and in this state he is able to find the house. The thief marks the door with a white cross. The plan is for the other thieves to come back that night and kill everyone in the house. However, the thief has been seen by Morgiana and she, loyal to her master, foils his plan by marking all the houses in the neighbourhood with a similar cross. When the 40 thieves return that night, they cannot identify the correct house and the head thief kills the unfortunate man. The next day, the thieves try again, only this time, a chunk is chipped out of the stone step at Ali Baba's front door. Again Morgiana foils the plan by making similar chips in all the other doorsteps. The second thief is killed for his stupidity as well but eventually they are able to ascertain the location of Ali Baba's house.

The chief of the thieves pretends to be an oil merchant in need of Ali Baba's hospitality, bringing with him mules loaded with thirty-eight oil jars, one filled with oil, the other thirty-seven with the other thieves (the two missing members were the scouts previously sent to find the house, who were killed for their failure). Once Ali Baba is asleep, the thieves plan to kill him. Again, Morgiana discovers and foils the plan, killing the thirty-seven thieves in their oil jars by pouring boiling oil on them. When their leader comes to rouse his men, he discovers that they are dead, and escapes.

To exact revenge, after some time the thief establishes himself as a merchant, befriends Ali Baba's son (who is now in charge of the late Cassim's business), and is invited to dinner at Ali Baba's house. The thief is recognised by Morgiana, who performs a dance with a dagger for the diners and plunges it into the heart of the thief when he is off his guard. Ali Baba is at first angry with Morgiana, but when he finds out the thief tried to kill him, he gives Morgiana her freedom and marries her to his son. Thus, the story ends happily for everyone except the forty thieves and Cassim.


  • A French telefilm starring Gérard Jugnot and Michèle Bernier (2007).
  • Bollywood film Ali Baba aur 40 Chor, starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman, was largely based on this adventure tale.
  • The story was made into a Tamil movie in 1955 as "Alibabhavum Narpathu Thirudargalum" (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) with M.G.Ramachandran playing the lead as Ali Baba and Bhanumathi Ramakrishna as Morgiana.
  • A Malaysian comedy film, Ali Baba Bujang Lapok (1960) was loosely based on the story, which a number of anachronisms used for humor, for example the usage of a truck by Kassim Baba to steal the robbers' loots.
  • The story was adapted in the 1971 anime , storyboarded by Hayao Miyazaki.
  • The concept of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was used for the last installment of Disney's Aladdin series, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, released in 1996, introducing Casim the King of Thieves as Aladdin's father.
  • In the television mini-series Arabian Nights, the story is told faithfully with two major changes. The first is that when Morgiana discovers the thieves in the oil jars, she alerts Ali Baba and together with a friend, they release the jars on a street with a steep incline and allow them roll down to break open. Furthermore, the city guard is alerted and arrest the disoriented thieves as they emerge from their containers. Later when Morgiana defeats the thief leader, Ali Baba, who is young and has no children, marries the heroine himself.
  • A film adaption Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was made in 1944. The film was remade in 1965 as The Sword of Ali Baba. Frank Puglia portrayed the character named Cassim in both versions.
  • A popular ride that goes up in the air and is commonly found in amusement parks etc. is also called Ali Baba.
  • At the United States Air Force Academy, Cadet Squadron 40 was originally nicknamed "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" before eventually changing its name to the "P-40 Warhawks"
  • A mythopoeic novel by Tom Holt, 'Open Sesame', is based on characters from the story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"

In other media

  • A Tamil movie featuring Krishna Kulasekaran
  • In the video game Sonic and the Secret Rings, Miles "Tails" Prower is Ali Baba. Despite the fact that the forty thieves appear in the game as spirits and reanimated skeletons, he has no involvement with them at all.
  • A Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon, Ali Baba Bunny, has a similar premise to the concept of the treasure-filled magical cave, in which Daffy Duck is consumed by the same greed as Cassim.
  • In a song "Ali Baba's Camel" by Noel Gay Ali Baba is specifically identified ("Forty thieves had he"). This song is now best known in the cover version by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Joint credit to Hulton (who?) is sometimes given; e.g. with the blessing of Neil Innes at
  • In the Beastie Boys song "Rhymin & Stealin" they make reference to Ali Baba and the forty thieves.
  • In the video game Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly the level Thieves' Den is a parody of the tale.
  • In the episode The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie finds an Ali Baba sword at the dump.
  • Akon makes reference to Ali Baba in the song Never Gonna Get It.
  • Dark Lotus of Psychopathic records has a song named Ali Baba.
  • A Popeye Cartoon, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, features Popeye meeting, and defeating the titular group.
  • In the video game Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, it is said that one of Sly Cooper's ancestors, Salim al Kupar of Arabia, had the stealth of forty-thieves. It is not said if this ancestor was part of the forty-thieves however.
  • A Los Garcias' song, Ali Baba
  • In the video game Diablo II, "The Blade of Ali Baba" is the name of a unique sword that can be found, it increases the amount of gold and magical items dropped by monsters when it is used to slay them.
  • In the Sean Biggs (ft. Akon) song, "Never Gonna Get It" there is a reference to "chains hangin' like Ali Baba".

Iraq War

  • The name Ali Baba was often used as derogatory slang by American and Iraqi soldiers and their allies in the War in Iraq to describe individuals suspected of a variety of offenses related to theft and looting. In the subsequent occupation it is used as a general term for the insurgents, similar to Charlie for the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War.

  • Due to interaction of the two peoples, the term Ali Baba was adopted by the Iraqis to describe foreign troops suspected of looting, and the English-speaking mainstream press mistakenly reported the slang to be native to the locals.

  • Iraqi citizens often use the term Ali Baba to describe looting bandits, whether they be American troops or insurgents of any nationality. For protection against, "Ali Baba," Iraqi homes are allowed to have one gun per fighting age male.

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