The Subtleties of Mullah Nasruddin

A neighbor went to Nasruddin to ask him to borrow his donkey. “It is out on loan,” said the Mullah.

At that moment a loud braying was heard from the stables.

“But I can hear it bray, over there.”

“Whom do you believe,” said Nasruddin; “Me or a donkey?”

Mullah Nasruddin is plainly one of the greatest figures of Muslim folklore. Spiritual fool, wise clown, mirror of humanity or deep pool of knowledge – the Mullah features in jokes that transcend all barriers and reappear in different versions in places as diverse as Mongolian drinking tales and the Simpsons.

“Mullah! Why in God’s name are you throwing white stones in our garden?”

“To keep the tigers away,” answered Nasrudding unperturbed.

“But there are no tigers!”


An everyman and a fool, but if you are patient and perceptive enough you can see the subtle layer of philosophy underneath the joke and the surreality. Sometimes he is awfully sly, though.

Nasruddin was walking with a friend along the dusty road, when they realized that a terrible thirst had taken hold of them. They stopped at a teahouse and found that between the two of them they had only enough money for a single glass of milk. The friend said: “Drink your half first. I have a twist of sugar here which I will add to my half to sweeten it.”

“Add it now, brother, and we shall both partake,” said the Mullah.

“No, there is not enough to sweeten a whole glass.”

Nasruddin went into the kitchen and came back with a palmful of salt. “Good news my friend – I am having my half with salt – and there is enough for the whole glass!”

In some stories (when they reappear in a different setting) the Mullah is transformed into a dignitary or a saintly person – he has been turned into Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, trickster figures from fairy tales and what have you. Of course one might argue that the Mullah is quite inimitable and he would have his own say if someone accused him of shapeshifting…

Mullah Nasruddin walked into a shop one day.

The shopkeeper came forward to serve him.

“First things first,” said the Mullah. “Did you see me walk into your shop just now?”

“Of course.”

“Have you ever seen me before?”

“Never in my life.”

“Then how do you know it is me?”

The stories are taken from Idries Shah’s collection.


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