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.

A Tryst in Baghdad


One day when the Sultan was in his palace of Damascus, a beautiful youth who was his favourite rushed into his presence, crying out in great agitation that he must flee at once to Baghdad and imploring leave to borrow His Majesty’s swiftest horse.

The Sultan asked why he was in such haste to go to Baghdad. “Because,” the youth answered, “as I passed through the garden of the palace just now, Death was standing there, and when he saw me he stretched out his arms as if to threaten me and I must lose no time in escaping from him.”

The young man was given leave to take the Sultan’s horse and and fly, and when he was gone the Sultan went down indignantly into the garden, and found Death still there. “How dare you make threatening gestures at my favourite?” he cried; but Death, astonished, answered: “I assure Your Majesty I did not threaten him. I only threw up my arms in surprise at seeing him here, because I have a tryst with him tonight in Baghdad.”



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