Taking the mick out of Mullahs

Once there was a Mullah, who lived in a village in the mountains. One day there was a flood that swept the Mullah into the river. The villages saw this and ran to the edge of the river to try and help. “Give us your hand!” they shouted, as the Mullah was swept down the river. But the Mullah did not do anything. “Give us your hand!” the villages shouted, but the still the Mullah did not try to save himself. One man thought for a few seconds then cried out to the other villages still waiting downstream, “do not say ‘give‘; say ‘take our hand’!”

The Mullah took, and was saved.

Mullahs seem to have a hard time of it in Afghanistan, being the butt of many a joke, often along the lines of the one above. I’m not sure to what degree they really reflect a perception of them as greedy or what have you, but guess there must be a kernel of truth to it to sustain the jokes. I’d like to know more, and feel the need for a book on the anthropology of humour and a long car drive to discuss it with my colleagues.

A while back I arrived at a field office late in the evening and settled down for the usual round of food, tea and TV. Unusually, the television was turned off and one of our company was persuaded to stand up and recite some versus of the Koran. Several others followed, reciting poetry or singing songs, often to great amusement. It was an odd mix of religion and comedy; humorous morality tales was what I guessed at the time from the snatches I could understand or that were translated for me. The one I remember was of a mullah who told his son to catch a chicken, wring its neck, and stash it in a bag while he distracted the village with his Friday sermon, but who made the mistake of mixing versus of the Koran with instructions to his son shouted out through the window of the mosque.

The connection didn’t quite click then, but I was reminded of it the other day when I was told that joke about the Mullah, and got talking about the tales of Mullah Nasruddin.

Under various guises, Mullah Nasruddin is part of the literary history of several countries in the region. A slightly foolish character but sharp tongued and with a wise wit, there’s a whole series of short stories about him. Of the ones I’ve read, my favourite is this:

As Nasruddin emerged from the mosque after prayers, a beggar sitting on the street solicited alms. The following conversation followed:
Are you extravagant? asked Nasruddin.
Yes Nasruddin, replied the beggar.
Do you like sitting around drinking coffee and smoking? asked Nasruddin.
Yes, replied the beggar.
I suppose you like to go to the baths every day? asked Nasruddin.
Yes, replied the beggar.
…And maybe amuse yourself, even, by drinking with friends? asked Nasruddin.
Yes I like all those things replied the beggar.
Tut, Tut, said Nasruddin, and gave him a gold piece.
A few yards farther on, another beggar who had overheard the conversation begged for alms also.
Are you extravagant? asked Nasruddin.
No, Nasruddin replied second beggar.
Do you like sitting around drinking coffee and smoking? asked Nasruddin.
No, replied second beggar.
I suppose you like to go to the baths every day? asked Nasruddin.
No, replied second beggar.
…And maybe amuse yourself, even, by drinking with friends? asked Nasruddin.
No, I want to only live meagerly and to pray, replied second beggar.
Whereupon the Nasruddin gave him a small copper coin.
But why, wailed second beggar, do you give me, an economical and pious man, a penny, when you give that extravagant fellow a sovereign?
Ah my friend, replied Nasruddin, his needs are greater than yours.

These stories aren’t really about taking the piss out of Mullah Nasruddin, though I wonder if they’ve influenced the contemporary Mullah jokes. Taking the mick out of any authority figure is a good thing in my book, and I find these jokes all the better for running so contrary to the usual ideas about Islam as portrayed in the west. Say ‘Mullah’ in Europe or the US and I bet most people would say ‘Omar’. Better to think of Nasruddin instead. nasreddin

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4 Responses to “Taking the mick out of Mullahs”

  1. Paul C Says:

    It’s interesting that the Nasruddin tales are a Sufi tradition which show the extent that Sufi ideas have penetrated Islamic societies, even where Sufism itself is not particularly strong. I agree – if more people thought Nasruddin rather than Omar (Muslims included), we’d probably be living in a better world right now…

  2. Zartosht Ariana Says:

    The realities of mullahs are very different.While these Nasruddin jokes might give you a little comic relief which many people need,please don’t confuse them with realities of mullahs as they are indeed very painful and miserable.The mullahs in Islamic countries regularly molest children who are sent to the mosque to learn the koran.Sexual molestation of little boys by mullahs in islamic countries is pervasive .What is even worse nobody talk about it and all deny it.And the separation of men from women as stipulated in islam and practiced by moslems also greatly contributes to continuing this evil behavior throughout islamic societies which results in a lot of mental illness,bad behavior,violence in many forms,and etc.
    Alright,enjoy the jokes,but please,mullahs are no laughing matter.Those in the West: please stop glamorising islam and stop being apologists for this evil religion which the arabs imposed on our homeland by the sword.We all have a responsibility to confront evil and when you try to make islam credible,you unwittingly make yourself look foolish.I doubt this is what you want to come across,but be aware that is the net effect.

  3. Toups Says:

    cool picsxxx

  4. Theodora Verrelli Says:

    good site!

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