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.

Kashmir and civil war

Since the partition the situation in Kashmir has been problematic. The population is predominantly Muslim and during the Partition, which meant to create a Muslim and a Hindu state, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Himalayan regions were given the choice where they wanted to belong. The Kashmiri ruler, a Muslim who relied heavily on Hindu support wavered and finally decided to join India, even though the majority of Kashmiris were Muslim. He was counting on large-scale support from India, but when the Pakistani army began to move across the border, that support never materialized and he fled. Ever since then the border is heavily contested, opposing armies have been launching mortars at each other for thirty years and more. Sometimes there are heavy skirmishes. It has become a political point now, since neither country can safely concede anything without losing face. Of course losing face is a laughing matter for the people who really suffer and have suffered through two generations – the people and villagers of Kashmir. What is a matter of words and economics in Delhi and Karachi, is a matter of blood in Kashmir. The estimates about how many people have lost their lives in the conflict escalate into the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands.

In 1989 a large group of Muslim separatists began to revolt against New Delhi and Indian rule in the province. It seemed only natural to revolt against a country where Muslims are a minority that is hated by a large part of Hindus. Unwilling to lose the province, New Delhi began to send in soldiers. The army was now no longer just fighting Pakistani military, but separatists from their own country. The result is an ongoing conflict without answers and without much hope for resolution. The separatists demand a Muslim state, either independent or as part of Pakistan. India has traditionally taken a hardliner approach to such demands, reasoning that if you give in to one, others might follow. It is an old and unresolved fear about the cohesiveness of India, which despite assurances to the contrary is not a given. There have been many separatist movements, especially in the border region with Pakistan and the ongoing obsessions about the border and the border regions from both sides show the fear of instability.

For the people of Kashmir instability is not a fear as hasn’t been for a long time. It is a way of life. People can be abducted and killed for no reason at all, by Muslim separatists and their supporters or by the Indian army. They are caught between two powerful groups and their paranoia and fear of each other with almost no way out. Recent reports about unmarked mass graves found near villages confirm suspicions of massive, hushed-up war crimes.

In India Kashmir is often excluded from debate. To even bring it up makes you a pariah and a non-nationalist. Can you not look at the achievements instead?

Maybe it is a leftover of the British authorities that they drew the borders and left the Indians to sort out the problems – almost all the regions where massive problems are ongoing until this day show where the geographic and socio-political scalpel of the Partition and previous exploitation has cut deepest.