In the Muslim world there as been since early on movements of philosophical mysticism. Most of them are grouped under the name of Sufism, which means “woolly minded”.1 Sufism is not a religious belief system but a movement although various Muslim religious sects have arisen out of it.2
The influences on Sufism are Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and most notably Buddhism. However the influence of ancient Middle Eastern and Eastern traditions of wisdom should not be overlooked.3
One of the techniques of Sufistic contemplation is that of contemplating the “meaning” of various stories, sayings and jokes. That aside from having a surface meaning the stories etc., has layers of deeper more profound, mystical meaning.4
Thus we get to the Mulla mentioned in the title. The Mulla’s name is Nasrudin and no he is not a real person. He is a device to teach and to entertain. He is in the stories, jokes etc., the everyman, and he is commonplace, stunningly stupid and amazingly wise depending on the story. He is in other words as unreal as the Kilroy in the saying “Kilroy was here”.5
So now we get to the real point of this posting some of the stories. However before I go into the stories I must mention that some of the stories I am using come from a collection put together by Idries Shah. Idries Shah, (1924-1996) was a controversial character to put it mildly for all sorts of reasons. However in this case it is because his translations of material were often slipshod and his account of Sufism is not to be trusted. So it is with trepidation that I use Idries Shah’s collection of Nasrudin tales.6
Nasrudin returned to his village from the imperial capital, and the villagers gathered around to hear what had passed. "At this time," said Nasrudin, "I only want to say that the King spoke to me." All the villagers but the stupidest ran off to spread the wonderful news. The remaining villager asked, "What did the King say to you?" "What he said -- and quite distinctly, for everyone to hear -- was 'Get out of my way!'" The simpleton was overjoyed; he had heard words actually spoken by the King, and seen the very man they were spoken to.7
“What is fate?” Nasrudin was asked by a scholar. “An endless succession of interwined events, each influencing the other.” “That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect.” “Very well,” said the Mulla, “look at that.” He pointed to a procession passing in the street. “That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder: or because someone saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?”8
The dervish Nasrudin entered a formal reception area and seated himself at the foremost elegant chair. The Chief of the Guard approached and said: "Sir, those places are reserved for guests of honor." "Oh, I am more than a mere guest," replied Nasrudin confidently. "Oh, so are you a diplomat?" "Far more than that!" "Really? So you are a minister, perhaps?" "No, bigger than that too." "Oho! So you must be the King himself, sir," said the Chief sarcastically. "Higher than that!" "What?! Are you higher than the King?! Nobody is higher than the King in this village!" "Now you have it. I am nobody!" said Nasrudin.9
"Nasrudin, is your religion orthodox?" "It all depends," said Nasrudin, "on which bunch of heretics is in power."10
One day Nasrudin and his friends decided to play a joke on the people in a village. So Nasrudin drew a crowd, and lied to them about a gold mine in a certain place. When everybody ran to get their hands on the gold, Nasrudin started running with them. When asked by his friends why he was following them, he said "So many people believed it, that I think it may be true!"11
“When I was in the desert,” said Nasrudin one day, “I caused an entire tribe of horrible and bloodthirsty Bedouins to run.” However did you do it?” “Easy. I just ran, and they ran after me.”12
Nasrudin dreamt that he had Satan's beard in his hand. Tugging the hair he cried: "The pain you feel is nothing compared to that which you inflict on the mortals you lead astray." And he gave the beard such a tug that he woke up yelling in agony. Only then did he realise that the beard he held in his hand was his own.13
Nasrudin was throwing handfuls of crumbs around his house. ‘What are you doing?”, Someone asked him. “Keeping Tigers away”. “but there are no tigers in these parts”. ”That’s right. Effective, isn’t it?”14
Someone saw Nasrudin searching for something on the ground. “What have you lost, Mulla?”, he asked. “My key”, said the Mulla. So that both went down on their knees and looked for it. After a time the other man asked: “Where exactly did you drop it?” “In my own house.” “Then Why are you looking here?” “There is more light here than inside my own house.”15
While on a trip to another village, Nasrudin lost his favorite copy of the Qur'an. Several weeks later, a goat walked up to Nasrudin, carrying the Qur'an in its mouth. Nasrudin couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the goat's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!" "Not really," said the goat. "Your name is written inside the cover."16
When the Mulla was a judge in his village, a dishevelled figure ran into his court-room, demanding justice. “I have been ambushed and robbed,” he cried, “just outside this village. Someone from here must have done it. I demand that you find the culprit. He took my robe, sword, even my boots.” Let me see,” said the Mulla, did he not take your undershirt, which you are still wearing?” “No he did not.” “In that case, he was not from this village. Things are done thoroughly here. I cannot investigate your case.”17
Certainly a collection of amusing stories and jokes. Although I can see that some of them do indeed have deeper meanings, most seem to be simple amusement. If the Sufis were able to get more out these stories etc., than amusement more power to them.
1. Sufism, Wikipedia Here, Sufism, Wikibooks Here, Avery, Peter, Introduction, in Khayyam, Omar, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Penguin Books, London, 1979, pp. 9-41, at pp. 17-24.
3. IBID, Shah, Idries, The Wisdom of Sufic Humour, Here.
5. Sufism, Nasrudin, Wikibooks Here, Shah, Idries, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, Picador, London, 1966, pp. 11-12.
6. Idries Shah is to put it mildly controversial. The scholar Elwell-Sutton, L.P., was especially nasty, castigating Idries Shah for mistranslations, and general scholarly shoddiness along with claiming descent from the Prophet Mohammed’s family. See Elwell-Sutton, L.P., Mystic Making, New York Review of Books, July 2, 1970, Here.
What particularly grates is that in the late 1960’s Idries Shah published an alleged edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, allegedly a translation of a 800 year old manuscript owned by his family. When scholars attacked the translation as an obvious fake because of numerous anachronisms and other problems. Idries Shah and his brother refused to produce the alleged original manuscript. Idries Shah gave the lame excuse that there was no point in producing it because the scholars would only denounce it has a forgery. See Idries Shah, Wikipedia Here, Lessing, Doris, & Elwell-Sutton, L.P., Letters, New York Review of Books, October 22, 1970, Here. The lame excuses given by acolyte Doris Lessing are also amusing.
Idries Shah died in 1996 and the manuscript still has not been produced. But then what does not exist in the first place cannot be produced.
7. Sufism, Nasrudin.
8. Shah, 1966, p. 112.
9. Sufism, Nasrudin.
12. Shah, 1966, p. 38.
13. Idries Shah, Wikipedia.
14. Shah, 1966, p. 20.
15. IBID. p. 26.
16. Sufism, Nasrudin.
17. Shah, 1966, p. 52.