The Tales of Nasreddin

In much of the world, stretching from China to the Swahili Coast of Africa and from the Balkans to the Middle East, Nasreddin is as common a figure as Aesop is to us. The people of the middle east tell tales of Nasreddin. He, like Aesop, lived in a small village in ancient times. His homeland is generally thought to have been someplace in the middle east, but the true facts have been lost to time. He told simple moral tales, usually humorous, but always with deeper meanings.

This is a 17th century depiction of Nasreddin. Public domain.

A Story Told by Nassreddin

A neighbor came to the gate of Mullah Nasreddin’s yard. The Mullah went to meet him outside.
“Would you mind, Mullah,” the neighbor asked, “lending me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town.”
The Mullah didn’t feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however. So, not to seem rude, he answered:
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent him to somebody else.”
All of a sudden the donkey could be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.
“But Mullah,” the neighbor exclaimed. “I can hear it behind that wall!”
“Who do you believe,” the Mullah replied indignantly. “The donkey or your Mullah?”

Look for the meaning behind the story (hint: the stories deal with human thought patterns more than human behavior patters) then read more Nasreddin tales. Look for books by Idries Shah, especially Tales of the Dervishes. The story above has been widely retold, but can be found in The Sufis by Shah.

Additional Layers

  • Look up “Mullah” to help you in understanding this tale.  If you don’t know what a Mullah is or what position a Mullah would have held in a town then you can’t understand the story so well.  Teach your kids to look up unfamiliar words or concepts.
  • Learning the stories of a foreign land can help greatly in understanding and accepting the people of that land.  Pair a study of a middle eastern country with some Nassreddin Tales.
  • I love the Nassreddin Tales because they highlight the foibles of the human thought process.  A basic study of logic can help you spot and avoid these foibles yourself.  Plan for a Logic Program for your children somewhere between 8th and 10th grades.
  • Make a drawing or puppets of the story and re-tell it in your own words.
  • Compare Aesop and Nassreddin: where they supposedly lived, what their tales were about, what kind of characters were in the tales, what the moral or “point” of the stories involved was.

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