The Ecphorizer

Mullah Nasruddin
Cheryl Leff

Issue #26 (October 1983)

The Wisdom of the East

[quoteright]Soon after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Mullah Nasruddin was sent by the Ayatollah to investigate the lore of various kinds of Eastern mystical teachers. They all recounted to him tales

'...we have established that naft cans are mortal...'

of the miracles and the sayings of the founders and great teachers of their schools, all long since dead.

When he returned home, he submitted his report, which contained simply the single word, "Oil."

He was called upon to explain himself. Nasruddin told the Ayatollah: "The best part is buried; it is deep and dark; few know from the black surface that it is worth more than gold; you must work for it; and left where it is, it helps no one -- to realize its value, you must trade it away."

The Naft Cans

One day, Mullah Nasruddin's neighbor came to him and asked if he could borrow his naft cans (large metal cans used for kerosene). So the Mullah loaned him two large naft cans.

A couple of days later, the neighbor returned the two large naft cans, along with a smaller one.

"What is this?" said the Mulish, pointing to the small can. "This is not mine. I only loaned you the two large cans."

"Ah," said the neighbor, who was something of a joker, "that is a baby naft can. You know those two large cans you loaned me? Well, one of them was a male and the other was a female, and, well, you know how it goes -- and this is the result."

Some time later, the Mullah borrowed his neighbor's naft cans. When he still had not returned them several days later, the neighbor went to get them back.

"Mullah," he said, "where are the naft cans I loaned you?"

"Ah," said the Mullah, looking very solemn, "you recall that we have established that naft cans are mortal?"

"Ye-es," replied the neighbor.

"Alas!" said the Mullah. "Yours died!"

Waiting in the Gas Line

One day, Mullah Nasruddin was standing in a long line at the petrol station, waiting to fill his naft cans. He waited patiently in the cold for one hour; two hours; three hours. Finally, after six hours, he left off sitting patiently on his cans and began to walk about, up and down the line, looking fixedly up into the sky. His hand shading his eyes, he searched the heavens.

The other people in the line, having little else to entertain them, began to watch the Mullah's strange performance. Curious, many of them began to look up into the heavens to see what it was he sought there.

"Mullah!" called one of them. "What is it you are looking for?"

"A sign!" cried the Mullah, mysteriously, and continued to mutter under his breath, "A sign! Ayatollah Khomeini! A sign!"

Soon the whisper of "A sign!" and "Khomeini" began to pass up and down the long ranks of people waiting in the naft line. Knots of people whispered excitedly to one another, gesturing and pointing and looking expectantly heavenwards. Soon, all of the people in the long line were busy looking into the sky, watching for the sign.

Then Mullah Nasruddin picked up his naft cans and walked to the front of the line, got his cans filled, and went home, while all of the other people were still looking at the sky and waiting for a sign.

The Sacrifice

One evening about 9:00, the Mullah was just leaving his house to attend a party and enjoy the new curfew time, which had been raised by two hours. He stepped out of his door just as his neighbor was slaughtering a sheep on the doorstep, splattering blood all over the doorway and the Mullah's good clothes.

"Ali!" cried the Mullah to his neighbor. "Why are you out here in the dark, slaughtering a sheep on the doorstep?"

"Well, you see, Mullah," replied the neighbor, pointing to the rising full moon, "I am sacrificing this sheep in honor of the appearance of the face of Ayatollah Khomeini on the moon!"

Some time later, after many weeks of severe privation due to the oil strike, Ayatollah Khomeini announced from Paris that the oil workers could go back to their jobs, and that the oil might flow once again.

The next day, when the neighbor, Ali, came out of his house, he found Mullah Nasruddin on his doorstep, busily engaged in dismantling his motorcycle, chanting and bowing eastward all the while.

"Mullah!" cried the neighbor. "What are you doing to my motor?"

"Ah," replied the Mullah, sagely, "this motor is a sacrifice in honor of the reappearance of oil in the earth!" 

Mullah Nasruddin (rhymes with pass-the-bean) is a favorite subject of Sufi instructional tales.  Cheryl Leff wrote the pieces in this issue, dragging him into the twentieth century, while she and her husband were living and working in Tehran, 1978-1979.

More Articles by Cheryl Leff

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